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An (almost) grand return of 'The U'

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Teddy Mitrosilis

Teddy Mitrosilis edits and writes college football for FOXSports.com. He previously worked on college football, MLB and other sports for ESPN.com and ESPN Insider, and played college baseball at Long Beach (Calif.) CC and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in journalism. He also blogs about reading, writing and other things on his personal site. Please send tips and ideas to tmitrosilis@gmail.com.

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Florida-Miami, Michigan-Notre Dame, Mark Richt and links for what you need to know from Week 2 of the college football season.

STIRRING UP ‘THE U’

It’s been 20-plus years now, and as it is with any period of that length, our memories mostly conjure up only what we let them.

So we remember Michael Irvin and Alonzo Highsmith and Bennie Blades. Guns-blazing Randy Hill and hard-running Melvin Bratton and sweet-talking Jimmy Johnson. Army fatigues and impossible swagger. All of the best bravado-baked scenes and none of the bad ones.

Miami beat No. 12 Florida on Saturday, 21-16, and inside a simmering Sun Life Stadium, it didn’t take much for that nostalgia to boil. It was a big football game – possibly the biggest in this particular region in some time – and when the Canes come out on top of those, Miamians begin to dream.

There are some distant days in which that happened a lot, and those days high-stepped to a certain song. It sounded like this:
 

Yes, ‘The U,’ a time when Miami football rolled through town with a tailwind.

The Hurricanes produced four national championships in the ‘80s and three in five years spanning ’87-91. From Howard Schnellenberger’s final season in ’83 to Dennis Erickson’s last in ’94 – with five seasons of Johnson stuffed in between – the Canes won double-digit games 10 times, failing only twice.

They won loud and lost loud, everything a tumbling piece of debris in this orange-soaked twister.

WHO SETS THE CURVE?

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Now it’s been nine seasons – 2013 would mark a decade – since the Canes have won 10 football games, and again there is hope. Al Golden has his team 2-0. Ahead of it is a top-25 ranking and opportunities for more. So the chatter about the return of ‘The U’ has begun, and there’s a buzz around this program, with people so desperate for those old days.

Only this is not the return of ‘The U,’ for a few reasons, but nor does it need to be. There can still be something said for what’s building at Miami.

Let’s first talk about the game. The highlights:

 

Miami was strong on defense and in its ability to not impair itself with penalties and turnovers, unlike Florida. It had only one turnover – a Stephen Morris interception – and gave the Gators five flags for 58 free yards. Florida produced five turnovers – two picks by quarterback Jeff Driskel and three lost fumbles – and had 10 penalties for 70 yards.

Florida running backs Matt Jones (47 yards on 18 carries) and Mack Brown (29 yards on 10 carries) couldn’t break off a run longer than 11 yards, forcing Florida to sling it with Driskel, which was a source of occasional success. Solomon Patton should be mentioned, with six catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.

But those were merely subtle gasps of life in an offense that left everyone wondering afterwards what Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease can do to revive it.

And, well, here’s where it gets a little sobering for the Canes: That mostly dismal Florida offense produced 201 more yards than Miami.

Morris connected on only 12 of his 25 passes, for 162 yards, and star running back Duke Johnson could muster only 59 yards (and one TD) on his 21 carries. The Canes had only three drives that resulted in more than 4 yards. At one point, this summed up the mood of an entire national audience:
 

It wasn’t the most proud day for offensive football, but because the Canes turned two of their three more-than-four-yard drives into touchdowns and didn’t engage in acts of offensive dismemberment like Florida, they were rewarded with the football game.

Miami will improve. Morris will get better, and Johnson won’t be held to fewer than 60 yards many times. Savannah State, South Florida and Georgia Tech are next on the schedule. Nothing in the ACC can be overlooked, but after those comes a Thursday night game at North Carolina and then Wake Forest at home.

If not probable, it’s at least plausible the Canes can be 7-0 going into a Nov. 2 game at Florida State. What a show that would be, what a moment for Miami fans and every college football romantic.

Because Miami-Florida kicked at noon ET Saturday, media outlets had all day to recap Miami’s win and regurgitate the “return of ‘The U’” narrative. Much time shouldn’t be spent considering the veracity of this narrative, because there are two obvious reasons why it can’t be more than over-stimulated (understandably) glee from a big win:

1) Today, how far does Miami feel from winning a national championship? Pretty far, right? Well, the Canes probably need to win at least two championships to even begin making honest mentions of the program’s glory days. Sorry, but there’s some work to do here.

2) ‘The U,’ in all of its delicious villainy, couldn’t even exist today. Our sports and media culture literally wouldn’t allow it. Seriously, when will we ever see this again?

When will we ever see two players call an opponent at 5:30 a.m. before a noon game and verbally torture him, like Bratton and Highsmith famously did to Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth?

You know how each year the Rose Bowl participants hold an eat-off called the Lawry’s Beef Bowl? OK, now can you imagine one player standing up in that room – after he stripped down to army fatigues – and preaching to his teammates, “Did the Japanese sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed her?” like Jerome Brown did at the ’87 Fiesta Bowl?

No, of course you can’t, because that’s insane.

What if there actually was a team that acted like that, and the coach of that team was a man who said, “Just win and I’ll worry about the rest?” And some people think Kevin Sumlin is still being a bit lax with Johnny Manziel.

‘The U’ couldn’t possibly exist today. We’d nourish the phenomenon, only to fatten it for our feeding, and then we’d tear away at the flesh and bones. We wouldn’t kill it off, of course. We’d build it back to relative health and then tear at it again. Again and again. It’d be a bloody mess that, while good for business, nobody would truly benefit from. But that’s the cycle today.

WE ARE FIRED UP!

College football fans are some of the most passionate in sports. See them in action.

There’s plenty of evidence against the case of something like ‘The U’ ever really returning again, and so I thought about what it is about ‘The U’ that people actually long for, what it is that those Canes represent now.

I don’t presume to know the truth, but I do think the truth might be something as simple as this: Good Canes football reminds us of Miami’s vibrancy and its historical synergy with college football.

Miami, the place, doesn’t manifest in sub-par Dolphins teams and some corrupt carcass owned by Jeffrey Loria. Miami is a city meant for a stage, and ‘The U’ provided that.

You didn’t have to be from there to understand its magnetism. It might have even been greater from afar, during cold fall and winter months when tan and beautiful people filled a sun-lit Orange Bowl and warmth reflected off the turf. Those images could almost transport you to Miami. On screen, even, the Canes felt like the habitants of an important place, somewhere that looked and seemed something less than real, almost imaginary.

To actually be part of Miami through ‘The U’ years, to be a witness to Irvin and Highsmith and Bratton, there was probably nothing like it. There was probably nothing like being a local and having Jimmy as your coach then. I don’t know – I’m not from there.

However there did seem to be an aura that emanated from Miami but was not exclusive to the people, some kind of pure energy that, for some reason, ended up being transmitted through the Hurricanes. When that faded, it seems, from afar anyway, that something more than just football went with it.

And I think that’s why we’re quick to reach for the “return of ‘The U’” narrative now, even if only a very minimal part of it is true. Miami fans, and college football fans on a general level, are feeling the stirring of that energy again and hope that it’s something that can be, perhaps partially, regained.

It probably can, because it’s almost inarguable that college football is better off when the Canes are good. But it will take some time. It will take more than one win against Florida, more than one good Al Golden season.

There probably was nothing like being in Miami for those rocking Orange Bowl days. I imagine, when the time comes again, there’s probably still nothing like it.

CAN WE, YOU KNOW, FINALLY LET MARK RICHT COACH?

Every season now it seems Georgia loses an early game and Richt is put back on the hot seat only to be saved by his team, which then wins enough games in the SEC to pull his name back from the flames.

After losing last week to Clemson, that cycle began again with this question: What happens to Richt if Georgia loses to South Carolina, starting 0-2, and all but eliminating the possibility of playing for a national championship, with a team and schedule that was supposed to give him possibly his best shot yet?

Richt is in his 13th season at Georgia. He’s won a lot of football games. South Carolina on Saturday was his 119th victory in Athens. He’s a very, very good coach. It seemed telling that after the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game Saturday, Richt pulled a surprise onside kick that Georgia recovered. It was something Spurrier would do and almost as if Richt was saying, “I’m done with this crap about coming up short – we’re taking it to them today.”

Who knows if he actually felt that way, but something was different about Georgia this week compared to last Saturday at Clemson. Aaron Murray had a much better game – going 17-of-23 for 309 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions – committed only 16 yards in penalties and no turnovers.

It’s only Week 2, and we forget how long the season is. Georgia has North Texas, LSU, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt before facing Florida. Sure, something could go wrong in that stretch, but things will likely turn out all right for Mark Richt. They usually do.

THE BRILLIANT, AND DEVELOPING, DEVIN GARDNER

I’m not going to wade into the morass of sorrow and dwell on the cancellation of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry for the foreseeable future.

It’s happening, and if the leaders of those prestigious universities want to spend upcoming winters going home, building fires in the den and wrapping themselves in their insolence, well, there’s other football to watch.

I just want to make one observation about Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. For the vast majority of Michigan’s 41-30 victory, he was brilliant. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Wolverines in rushing, with 82 yards and a TD on 13 carries. It was so obvious he added a certain dynamic to Michigan’s attack that Denard Robinson never could, despite all of Shoelace’s own brilliance.

I’m no George Whitfield, but it’s fairly obvious the distinct advantage Gardner gives Michigan is that, when he gets outside the pocket, he’s not automatically giving himself away. He’s still a threat to throw the ball downfield in those situations. He’s not just a scrambler fleeing danger.

Now for the one ugly blip of the night: Fourth quarter, Michigan up 34-20, 13:39 on the clock, third-and-11 on the Michigan 16, Kirk Herbstreit just got done imploring on the broadcast for Garder to “manage the game.” OK, so Gardner drops back, feels pressure, spins, scrambles, scrambles some more into the end zone, and just before being sacked he heaves the ball away … and Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt makes a diving catch in the end zone for a touchdown.

Yes, it was a freak play for a 6-foot-6, 320-pound man to make, but that’s Tuitt – a freak. More importantly, it was an impossibly ill-advised decision for Gardner to make. He shouldn’t have drifted back into the end zone to begin with, but once he found himself there, taking a safety was a better play than risking the worst possible outcome.

“He can make some very good plays, but at the same time, he’s gotta be more consistent once in a while,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke told reporters after the game.

So there’s room to grow. Still a great night for Gardner and, of course, Michigan.

THIS WEEK’S EVIDENCE TODD GURLEY IS A GROWN-A$$ MAN

If the 134 yards and a TD on 30 carries don't suffice:

THE BUZZER

Five completely non-football related things that happened Saturday.

After Miami beat Florida, Warren Sapp changed his dinner plans:
 

So Eminem joined the ESPN booth during the Michigan-Notre Dame broadcast, and man did it get awkward with Brent Musburger.

Know a good place to get married? How about a Tennessee tailgate?

After South Carolina’s defense forced a three-and-out against Georgia, two South Carolina defensive coaches almost fought on the sideline.

Get your ‘Muck Fanziel’ shirt, courtesy of Sam Houston State.

NOTES FROM THE NATION

An assortment of links from around college football.

SEC

Aaron Murray answered his critics, writes Bill Shanks.

It’s officially Alabama-Texas A&M week, and here are three storylines from Andrew Gribble.

LSU is off to a great start, but ‘The Hat’ is still taking some heat, writes Scott Rabalais.

Vanderbilt rolled past Austin Peay, writes Jeff Lockridge.

Mark Stoops got his first win at Kentucky and was wowed with a game ball, writes Jennifer Smith.

Pac-12

USC got cooked at home by Washington State, writes Gary Klein. In related news, Lane Kiffin is still searching for his quarterback.

Stanford was sharp in its season-opening win against San Jose State, writes Jon Wilner.

Against Virginia, Oregon learned it's good enough to be sloppy and still win big, writes Jason Quick. Something tells me Mark Helfrich would vehemently fight against that statement.

Cal squeezed by Portland State, writes Annie Gerlach. Next week: Ohio State.

Oregon State’s defense came up big in its first win of the season, writes Lindsay Schnell.

ACC

In the final scheduled game between Miami and Florida, the Hurricanes got the Gators, writes Susan Miller Degnan.

No. 4 Clemson soared past South Carolina State, writes Aaron Brenner.

NC State rallied past Richmond on a late field goal, writes Joe Giglio.

North Carolina was mistake-prone but still able to beat Middle Tennessee, writes Andrew Carter.

Maryland hammered Old Dominion, writes Harry Minium.

BIG TEN

Devin Gardner made it his night in every way, writes Bob Wojnowski.

After three QB bombs, it’s time for Michigan State to try freshman Damion Terry, writes Jeff Seidel.

Penn State found some balance in its win against Eastern Michigan, writes John McGonial.

Steve Batterson looks at the Iowa freshmen who saw time in a win over Missouri State.

After routing Tennessee Tech, Wisconsin is looking ahead to Arizona State, writes Jeff Potrykus.

BIG 12

A punishing loss to BYU leaves Texas looking for answers, writes Chuck Carlton.

Josh Friemel gives five observations from Baylor’s blowout of Buffalo.

Kansas State beat Louisiana-Lafayette but questions remain, writes Kellis Robinett.

It’s time for Oklahoma to find out what Blake Bell can do, writes Berry Tramel.

Clouds couldn’t dampen Kliff Kingsbury’s Texas Tech home debut, writes Don Williams.

OTHERS

Louisville isn’t satisfied after smacking Eastern Kentucky, writes C.L. Brown.

In the worst news of the weekend, Cincinnati QB Munchie Legaux suffered a terrible leg injury, writes Tom Groeschen.

Boise State bounced back from a Week 1 loss to beat UT Martin, writes Chadd Cripe.

A last-second field goal lifted Tulsa past Colorado State, writes Bill Haisten.

Maine stepped it up against UMass and improved to 2-0, writes Glenn Jordan.
 

You can follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter (@TMitrosilis) and reach him at tmitrosilis@gmail.com.

Tagged: Miami (FL), Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Devin Gardner, Stephen Morris, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Driskel, Alonzo Highsmith, Clemson, Michigan State, USC, Oregon, Tulsa, Texas A&M, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bell, Mack Brown, Aaron Murray

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