Al Golden reeled in 26 quality players in his fourth year at the helm for the Miami Hurricanes.
A quality bunch was reeled in on national signing day, but due to a few late decommits and overblown expectations in Coral Gables, some focus remains on the ones who wound up elsewhere, instead of on those who signed on.
While the sentiment is that Miami should be "back," truth be told, based on what Golden inherited and spent two years dealing with, the fact the Hurricanes are even relevant is a bit of a miracle in itself. The Same can be said for a consensus Top 10 class mostly put together last season when the talk of NCAA sanctions still hovered.
When judging Miami's recent selections, the past half-decade-plus must be factored into the equation.
There's Randy Shannon's 28-23 record amassed over four seasons. There's also the broken culture, sense of entitlement and lack of conditioning. Golden walked into a hot mess—and that was six months before Nevin Shapiro even became a household name.
There weren't any signing-day surprises for Miami this year, which tends to happen when all heavy lifting on the recruiting front is taken care of by Thanksgiving. Golden and staff had upward of 30 verbal commitments weeks before bowl season, while other major programs possessed half of that.
The Hurricanes lost a few late and hoped for some last-minute pickups, but in reality, anything else would've been gravy based on what had already been accomplished.
Miami notched a top-ranked class in 2008, which sits as a benchmark for the anti-Golden contingent.
Numbers were a big reason that group was No. 1, as the Hurricanes signed 33 kids. Still, it was a free-for-all with some big-name talent—including eight standouts from national champion Miami Northwestern—with no focus on recruiting proper depth, while focusing on key positions.
The group included seven wide receivers. There were too many high-risk, low-character kids—a few of which were dropped by Miami before signing day. Chances were taken on little-reward-type players—especially at quarterback.
In December 2010, Golden took over a program with four verbal commitments and the first-year coach threw everything at the wall over the next two months, hoping something would stick.
The Hurricanes reeled in 19 kids and had a few standouts in Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo, but they took some chances on some third- and fourth-choice-caliber players, seven of which were asked to leave the program.
A year later, Golden pulled in his second class—six months after "Shapirogate" hit. Last season, a third class was signed, while the NCAA stench hovered and rivals chanted "death penalty" with Miami caught in the crossfire.
Year four was finally more laser-focused regarding filling voids.
The Hurricanes picked up seven quality defensive linemen, in order to address the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. A few offensive linemen graduated, and a handful of this year's best signed up for the challenge. Miami also nabbed a few versatile athletes who will be plugged in where appropriate.
Equally as important is the fact that Golden and staff are getting back to recruiting what Howard Schnellenberger dubbed "The State of Miami." Some of the Sunshine State's best signed on, while more than half of this class is South Florida-bred.
Players like Chad Thomas, Mike Smith, Joseph Yearby, Trevor Darling, Demetrius Jackson and Anthony Moten were some of Dade County's best. All had offers from major players—Florida State, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, LSU and the list goes on. Yet in the end, they believed in Golden's process and chose to call the University of Miami "home."
The Hurricanes' 2014 recruiting class is a culmination of the past few years finally coming together. Even in the face of adversity, Miami built momentum by nabbing some big names here and there.
Last season it was Artie Burns, Jamal Carter, Stacy Coley, Jermaine Grace, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Kevin Olson. The year prior, local stars like Duke Johnson, Tracy Howard, Deon Bush and Jelani Hamilton believed, when most others didn't.
Come 2015, the tide will finally shift, and Miami is starting to see it.
The Hurricanes already have two kids on board next season and two for 2016—a result of Golden-themed summer camps, coupled with inroads that began when all this started three-plus years ago.
Where the recruiting process used to begin when a top-notch athlete was a sophomore or junior, today's kids are tabbed in seventh and eighth grade. As of late, Miami's circumstances have prevented that type of reach, while the past staff didn't till that soil.
Aside from bridges burned with local high school coaches during the Shannon regime, all and any sanction talk trickled down to the junior-high level the past few years.
The Hurricanes are just now turning the corner.
Next year's senior class of 2015? They were eighth graders when Golden took over the Miami program and immediately UM's radar in early 2011—recruited since and finally comfortable with the program as the NCAA storm is no more.
In short, the near misses in 2013 and 2014 will no longer be the case in 2015, 2016 or beyond.
Miami's signing-day upgrade is a proper foundation that will continue gaining momentum come fall—both on and off the field. This year's class is a bridge from where the Hurricanes were to where they're going.
This time next year? Bank on Miami closing strong like powerhouse programs in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa and Gainesville did Wednesday.
A shift is underway.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
**Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.