CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — It had been 1,082 days since Miami players could walk outside their locker room, hit the fields adjacent to the school’s athletic complex and have a bowl practice.
On Saturday, that all changed.
No longer having to worry about the anvil of an NCAA probe hanging over the program and national attention focused on conference championship showdowns, the Hurricanes started practicing Saturday for what will be their first bowl game since 2010. By Sunday night, Miami will have accepted an invite somewhere, probably to either the Russell Athletic Bowl to play Louisville or the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
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“It felt great,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “It was unbelievable. The whole week felt great. I didn’t answer one question about the NCAA. It was unbelievable. Got a great recruiting group in here today. We just took care of business. I know they’re excited about going to the postseason and growing and learning. You can see it. They were giving good effort. It was hot but they gave a good effort.”
Miami self-imposed bowl bans in 2011 and 2012 because of the NCAA investigation, one that revolved around the actions of a former booster who was also running a $930 million Ponzi scheme. If Miami had chosen not to sit out those postseason contests — three in all, since the Hurricanes also passed up a chance to play in last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game — then it’s possible the NCAA may have kept the school out of this bowl season.
All that reason for worry is gone now. The NCAA has ruled, and Miami is back in bowl business.
“It feels good,” said Allen Hurns, who leads the team with 1,138 receiving yards and is 19 yards shy of a Miami single-season record in that department. said. “The last two seasons we weren’t able to go to a bowl practice, but now we can, so we’re enjoying every moment of it.”
Hurns was one of about two dozen upperclassmen who were not in uniform on Saturday. The Hurricanes gave them all the day off and are expected to do so again on Sunday. Miami is getting its top players some more time to rest and without knowing the team’s next opponent yet, coaches are focusing on the younger players who will be back in 2014 anyway.
When the Hurricanes truly start on-field game-planning for whoever the opponent is Friday night, everyone who’s healthy will be back to work. Per NCAA rules, Miami can practice up to 15 times before the bowl game, and missing those workouts in 2011 and 2012 has prompted many around the team to say that the Hurricanes on-field growth was held back considerably as a result.
“They mean everything, to be honest with you,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “Just think about it in terms of it being spring ball. That’s what you get in the spring and we would like 30 practices in the last two years. Not to make any excuses, but it is what it is. We had 30 less practices than our competitors had. I’m glad we have them.”
Miami was 9-3 in the regular season, and a bowl win would give the Hurricanes their first double-digit win total since 2003.