The career of a college football player usually lasts three to five years. A highly touted prep player may be out the door before he is finished decorating his locker, opting for NFL riches after honing his skills in college for the required three years.
On the other hand, an oft-injured second-team player, who may now be more equipped for a career as an athletic trainer than a football player, usually elicits cries from the public such as, “This guy’s been around forever!” or “I thought he was drafted last year.”
Given the high turnover rate, coaches cannot be overly patient in developing a quarterback or cornerback. There is a smaller window of time for players to prove themselves and perform to their highest potential before they are forced to either pursue professional football options or join the rest of us in the bleachers.
Somewhere between the early draft entrants and the sixth-year medical redshirts lies the core of a program.
Every team has its leaders, captains and playmakers who have paid their dues. These are the players who carry a team for a year or two while the younger talent learns the college game.
The best coaches have a firm grasp of this revolving door—including giving the NFL-star-in-waiting the appropriate amount of playing time, true freshman or not, so as not to waste his limited time on campus. While concepts and schemes remain the same, player strengths and weaknesses can dictate a team philosophy.
This is why some college teams seem to come out of nowhere any given year and find themselves in the middle of the national championship race. The right mix of talent and experience can propel a team to an unexpectedly magical season.
The turnover rate can also spell the end of an era for some teams. Teams that lose their most prolific players, without strong recruiting or significant improvement of the returning players, are more often than not forced to rebuild.
HOW ‘BOUT THEM CANES?
The 2009 version of the U will go down in Hurricane lore in the same fashion as the 2000 group that was inexplicably left out of the BCS title game.
While they are not mirror images of each other, and the season is not quite at the halfway point, there are enough similarities to make Canes fans believe the rebuilding project is almost complete.
Led by a lanky true sophomore quarterback (Ken Dorsey) and a former assistant coach (former defensive coordinator, Butch Davis), the 2000 Canes won 10 games in a row after being embarrassed on the road at Washington in the second game of the season.
They secured a thrilling signature win at home against a BCS title game participant from the previous year (FSU) who also featured the reigning Heisman trophy winner (Chris Weinke).
Building upon that 2000 season, the Canes reloaded after losing Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Dan Morgan, Damione Lewis AND Butch Davis to the NFL, as well as 1,000-yard rusher James Jackson and the leader of the secondary, cornerback Leonard Myers.
The voids at wide receiver, linebacker, defensive tackle, running back and defensive back were filled by highly regarded yet unproven players such as Andre Johnson, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Ed Reed.
Larry Coker replaced Davis as head coach and was named Coach of the Year. Those 2001 National Championship Hurricanes are regarded by many as the best college football team ever.
The Canes were well on their way to claiming their spot atop the college football world. The following season, 2002, resulted in another BCS title game appearance and, by all rights, a repeat National Championship.
But everyone knows how that 2003 Fiesta Bowl ended.
Despite the obvious highway robbery (still a tough pill to swallow) that occurred, the Canes were back to being the Canes we all knew and loved (or hated; it’s one or the other). The future looked bright as Hurricane Nation was thrilled with the prospects of one Brock Berlin, a top-rated quarterback prospect who transferred from rival Florida and was the heir-apparent to Heisman trophy candidate Dorsey.
The Canes were primed for another run similar to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
SO, HOW ‘BOUT THEM CANES?
The return of the Miami Hurricane dynasty was cut short. Berlin did not fulfill the lofty expectations, Coker failed to recruit in-house, and UM stumbled to mediocrity.
There are some important differences to consider between 2000 and 2009.
These Canes will lose some significant pieces next season—Javarris James, Daryl Sharpton, Dedrick Epps, Randy Phillips, Joe Joseph—but the main contributors are still in their first or second years.
Also, there is no reason to think Randy Shannon will leave. He’s in the last year of his contract and a long-term extension should be in the works.
Despite his detractors, Shannon needs to remain Miami’s coach. Part of the reason UM could not sustain its momentum earlier this decade was the lack of strong recruiting classes, particularly in the talent-rich pool that is South Florida.
Shannon has consistently proven his recruiting prowess. The game-changing high school athletes have been put on notice. UM is a favored destination again.
The fact that an extension has not been finalized also keeps the pressure on Shannon to perform. Any setbacks the rest of the season will give the slightest credibility to those still not convinced that Shannon is the coach for the Canes. It's something he undoubtedly knows.
The coach and his team may have a slight sense of accomplishment with their 4-1 record, but there is no sense of entitlement. This coach and his team still have plenty to prove to the country, their fans and, more importantly, themselves. The foundation, with Shannon, will be stronger than the early part of the decade.
REBUILDING OR RELOADING?
There is no telling how the rest of the season will play out. If everything goes according to MY plan, we will meet the Florida Gators (or USC) in Pasadena for the National Championship.
It is also entirely possible that the Canes can win their remaining games and still be left out of the BCS title game, again.
And there is still the possibility that these Canes will lose another game or two this season. While any loss the rest of the regular season would be a major step in the wrong direction, these Hurricanes do not display any characteristics consistent with overconfidence or underachievement.
The main concern for UM the rest of the year is to continue to rebuild, with the expectations that we will only have to reload in the future.