Like studying for a test, when you step over the classroom's threshold, take a seat and begin to answer the questions, you're either fully prepared, or the lack of effort will show in your results.
It's no different on the football field.
According to everything head coach Al Golden and the his staff have stated this offseason, their are ready for what lies ahead.
How ready? The first measuring stick is two weeks out when tenth-ranked Florida visits Sun Life Stadium, but it's been well-documented that the Hurricanes have been putting in the work for nine grueling months, almost to the day.
On December 1st, 2012 the ACC Championship game took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Florida State eked out a 21-15 win over Coastal representative Georgia Tech.
Had NCAA sanctions not been hovering, it'd have been Miami taking on it's arch-rival in a feisty rematch, playing for a BCS berth or at worst, a mid-tier bowl.
Because UM chose to self-impose, there was no conference title game. Miami also sat out a second straight post-season bowl, as well, hoping to lay itself at the feet of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. An act of good faith in exchange for a desirable outcome, hopefully.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but it's been almost eleven weeks since UM pleaded its case (3-5 weeks past the standard turnaround time). What can be seen is that the Canes began putting in the work days after last season's finale at Duke.
While other programs took a week off or played in a conference championship game, Miami descended upon the weight room. When it was time for bowl practice, the Canes began preparations for this fall, letting the disappointment of no post-season serve as motivation.
Momentum carried over to Signing Day two months later.
Golden hauled in nineteen kids—a few who even showed up in January to get a jump on things. Last year's 7-5 campaign had its ups and downs, but most prevalent was seeing a handful of true freshman exploding onto the scene.
Multiple jersey options and XBOX set-ups in locker rooms and players' lounges across the nation have a hand in reeling in top recruits, but at day's end nothing sells better than a coaching staff that promotes competition and isn't afraid to reward hard work by starting the best players, regardless of age.
Duke Johnson carried 139 times for 947 yards, scored 10 touchdowns on the ground, threw for one and caught another. No. 8 also broke the freshman running record at "The U", which says a ton when playing who's-who regarding former Hurricanes running backs.
Safety Deon Bush, cornerbacks Tracy Howard, Antonio Crawford and Rayshawn Jenkins, linebacker Raphael Kirby, defensive lineman Tyriq McCord, offensive lineman Ereck Flowers— all seven saw significant playing time as freshman year one, and as a result Miami, even with sanctions hovering, landed some future greats in February 2012.
If last season is any indication, some current no names will go big time this season in Coral Gables.
Coaches have raved about linebacker Alex Figueroa since he arrived on campus last winter and the true freshman is currently neck-and-neck for a starting role, battling sophomore Thurston Armbrister on the outside.
Freshman wideout Stacy Coley is turning heads despite a depth chart featuring six other impact receivers and newbie Gus Edwards is working his way up the depth chart at running back, possibly providing a solid one-two punch with Johnson this fall.
The emergence of Coley and Edwards already sent a wideout and running back packing (Jontavious Carter and Danny Dillard), the competition getting too hot and both choosing to take their talents elsewhere, which falls in line with "The Process" that Golden has preached since day one.
Besides competition being king, Miami is again bringing in the right kids and—with potential sanctions on the horizon—scholarships at UM have never been more valuable. Time to lean up, trim fat and build a monster again. Just ask former head coach Butch Davis, who followed a similar game plan in the late-1990s.
Build remains the operative word going into 2013, as these Canes aren't quite "back", which means being in the thick of the national championship hunt. That might sound greedy to outsiders, but four national titles in a nine-year span (1983-1991) and leaving a handful more on the field during that span, set an unreachable bar, yet one UM continues to strive for.
Miami will field a very solid offense this season; maybe one of the best in the nation.
Stephen Morris, a veteran quarterback who worked on his field vision, brings experience, sports an NFL-caliber arm and is ready to lead while "The Duke Of Coral Gables" in again the backfield, already on a slew of watch lists and prepared to breakout year two. The offensive line is full of well-sized, gritty veterans and the Canes have a six-pack of solid receivers ready to carve up ACC defenses.
The Canes are certainly set to dazzle offensively, but the defense—ranked 116th nationally at the end of last season—is far from where it needs to be, long term.
Days back it was announced that defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio is moving from the field to the press box. A blatant sign that he has more trust in this squad and personnel year three, but it's still going to be baby steps early on for Miami's D.
The secondary is still young, the lineback corps is thin and the defensive line still lacks proper size and depth, as evidenced by two transfers—David Gilbert of Wisconsin and Justin Renfrow of Virginia—already working their way to second string, despite only being on campus for a few weeks.
The bodies are returning, as is the talent, but Miami is still at least a year away from fielding a legitimate Canes-caliber defense; the type the nation is used to seeing and opponents used to fearing.
Golden has twenty-six verbal commitments for an already-touted class in 2014 and over half are slated to play defense, with defensive line being the most focused-on position. The commitment to making things right is there, as is the buy-in from local athletes as fences have been mended after relationships were damaged, courtesy of past coaches.
Add it all up, combined with a less-challenging schedule than in years passed, and this Miami team truly can surprise, as mentioned this off-season by many writers.
Where Miami took on the likes of Florida State, Ohio State, Kansas State, Florida, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Clemson between games one through four the past five seasons, it's a favorable schedule early on for the Canes this fall.
Florida Atlantic for the season opener, a rare Friday night appearance, which gives Miami an extra day of rest before Florida visits for an already-sold out showdown week two. From there, a bye and then Savannah State at home.
The Canes then head to South Florida on September 28th and welcome Georgia Tech on October 5th for the ACC opener.
Four home games in five tries and only one monster challenge, where a win will plant Miami firmly in the Top 25.
While coaches and players have no right to look past opponents, fans absolutely do, and all eyes are already on a heated tussle with the hated Gators on September 7th; a game that will firmly plant Miami on the map if it can nab the upset.
Start the season with proper footing, nab a big win and the Canes have a legitimate show of a 4-0 record when the Yellow Jackets visit early October.
Early momentum is crucial for this Miami squad. Too much heartache early on the past few seasons, with reworked goals a mere two weeks into the season. Recent September losses had UM's coaching staff pumping kids full of, "we're still playing for a conference title" chatter while so many others programs still had national championship aspirations intact.
Golden Al has been selling these kids, in a healthy way, since day one. From conditioning, to leadership, attitude, effort and overall buy-in. The re-builder of a destroyed Temple program rolled into Coral Gables with a 300-page overhaul. (Pre-NCAA investigation. One would imagine a binder double the size had Golden known what was coming down the pike.)
"Inside here is what I've developed over 14 years of coaching,'' Golden told the Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde in early 2011 regarding his "Deserve Victory" binder.
"The mission statements for coaching, the five rules for student-athletes — and I only have five."
At the time Golden didn't divulge, but recently alluded to them in a radio interview days back with Joe Rose on WQAM, referring to the principles as "cultural aspects" opposed to rules.
Protect 'The U' and defend the team. Be Early For Everything (B.E.E.). Don't complain, don't whine and no negativity. Communicate no matter what. Treat others how you want to be treated.
Disorganization and a lack of structure undid a Miami program that was a well-oiled machine under Larry Coker a decade back and the failed Randy Shannon experiment only made things worse. Organization and the proper architecture are going to bring the Canes back.
Golden is combining the best of Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Davis as he creates a proper blueprint that should yield results in year three.
After a quick warm-up against Florida Atlantic, "that team from up north" heads south which will be a proper time to get out the measuring stick and gauge just how close to "back" Golden has the Hurricanes.
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