Next step to­ward great­ness starts now

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - Dave Hyde

There comes a mo­ment in ev­ery good plan, ev­ery build­ing dream, when you re­al­ize the time for dreaming is done. A flag of re­al­ity must be planted. The mo­ment comes for the Mi­ami Hur­ri­canes as the sea­son kicks off tonight against Louisiana State in Dal­las.

This is their mo­ment to progress to the next stage, to find the na­tional plat­form. No one thinks Mark Richt’s pro­gram is at the tip-top level of Alabama or Clemson in Year 3.

But this is the first year Richt’s pro­gram en­ters a sea­son with the fun prom­ise, and oc­ca­sional bur­den, of high ex­pec­ta­tions. The next step is clear: A big bowl win? Top-10 fin­ish?

On the front end of that comes this na­tional game against a known pro­gram in LSU.

“This is ex­actly what we were hop­ing for when we all came here,” line­backer Shaq Quar­ter­man said. “It’s been the idea ev­ery year, re­ally.”

For those in­side, you see, the bar isn’t higher this year. That’s be­cause the stan­dard never changed, they say.

“If you come to Mi­ami, there are things de­manded of you,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Manny Diaz said. “You have to beat Florida State. You have to win your divi­sion, got to win the con­fer­ence and you have to com­pete for a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

“So from the first day we got here in Jan­uary of 2016, no mat­ter what the out­side thought about what we had to do, we told play­ers in a meet­ing this is things you must do when you come to Mi­ami. That doesn’t mean you’re go­ing to ac­com­plish them all right away.

“But the stan­dard of ex­pec­ta­tion has al­ways been set from when coach Richt ar­rived. Our play­ers are aware of it. Now once you set those ex­pec­ta­tions, how do you get there?

“That in it­self can’t be a goal,” Diaz con­tin­ued. “But you have to fig­ure how to work to­ward them, what you need to do to get there. That gets back to how we play, what our goals are on de­fense — if you do that, you’ll win and ac­com­plish what you want.

“What our guys fig­ured out, when we play well, we win. When we don’t play well, we don’t win. That’s what it comes down to. We can get beat by any­one on our sched­ule.”

Here’s the larger point: They’re ex­pected to play well most Satur­days now (or Sun­day, as this opener is). They took a good, pro­gres­sive step last year. Now comes this third year where Richt’s meth pro­gram

ods are set, his ros­ter is de­vel­op­ing, his way is clear­ing mov­ing the for­ward.

“We’re pro­gress­ing, but we can’t just beat our chests and say, ‘Here we are,’ ” Diaz said. “I think ev­ery­one un­der­stands that.”

Win tonight against a name pro­gram, if not a highly ranked one at No. 25, and No. 8 Mi­ami takes an­other step. Win, and the needed start gets scripted. Win, and it means the rest of September against Sa­van­nah State, Toledo, FIU and North Carolina could vault Mi­ami into a top-five rank­ing head­ing into Florida State.

Lose, and it will take the first half of the sea­son to dig out of.

Tonight, in other words, sets up the early sea­son for Mi­ami. It ar­rives with the ques­tions, as any new sea­son does: Is quar­ter­back Ma­lik Rosier bet­ter? Are the de­fen­sive tack­les ca­pa­ble?

Is some of the magic needed to start 10-0 last year more grounded in fun­da­men­tal de­vel­op­ment and some of the warts to fin­ish 0-3 gone, too? Again, no one ex­pects Mi­ami to be there for a na­tional ti­tle game. But is the mar­gin re­duced to get there?

A few weeks ago at the start of his Au­gust prac­tices, Richt was asked about his pro­gram fac­ing high-end ex­pec­ta­tions for the first time. He didn’t un­der­stand that view. Richt, you see, faced th­ese ex­pec­ta­tions ev­ery year at Georgia.

But for his play­ers th­ese ex­pec­ta­tions are a new thing. It means they’re ready to win. Start­ing tonight comes the next step: They have to go out and do just that.

JOHN MCCALL/STAFF FILE PHOTO

There are many high ex­pec­ta­tions at Mi­ami Manny Diaz said.

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