CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Forget about the nine wins, including one against rival Florida.
Forget about the personal achievements.
The University of Miami football program’s most important development took place Oct. 22.
That’s when the NCAA investigation dealing with improper benefits from a booster finally came to an end after 28 months.
With the saga behind them, the Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3 ACC) will play in a bowl game for the first time in three years. Other schools can no longer take advantage of the NCAA uncertainty while recruiting.
If Miami wins its yet-to-be-determined bowl, it will notch its first double-digit victory season in a decade.
”I think that’s important to our program and to our team,” head coach Al Golden said Saturday in a teleconference. “That’s our mindset. We have a chance to get better and move the program forward and a chance at 10 wins, which is obviously progress.”
Even with that off-field distraction and national hype following a 7-0 start, Golden’s players fully bought into a bunker-down mentality.
One would easily lose count of the number of times guys reiterated the “one game at a time” mantra.
“It’s been a rough couple years, so all said and done let’s keep recruiting, keep moving the program forward,” Golden said. “We’ve got some opportunities here the next four weeks that we haven’t had the previous two years.”
1. Career years for Hurns, Perryman
Senior Allen Hurns became the fourth wide receiver in program history with a 1,000-yard season, joining Willie Smith, Andre Johnson and Leonard Hankerson.
Hurns leads the team with 60 receptions and 1,138 yards, just 19 shy of breaking the top mark. He ranks seventh in Miami history in both career catches (119) and yards (1,867) and eighth in touchdowns (14).
Aided by an injury-free season for the first time, Hurns earned second-team All-ACC for his performance.
Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman, who started all 12 games, led the Hurricanes with 104 total tackles — 65 solo — and five tackles for a loss.
Perryman has tallied 10-plus tackles in six games this season. He was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
Along with punter Pat O’Donnell, Perryman received an All-ACC first-team honor.
2. Newcomers welcome
Freshman Stacy Coley became the only FBS player this season to record a touchdown via receiving, rushing, punt and kickoff return.
Coley is second on the team with 30 catches and 559 yards (18.6 average). He has a team-leading seven touchdowns. Tack on the special teams scores and Coley is the third Miami freshman in the past 20 years to record 10-plus touchdowns — joining Willis McGahee and Duke Johnson.
Out of Oakland Park’s Northeast High, Coley was one of the top commits for the Hurricanes this past National Signing Day. He and other freshmen like Artie Burns and Gus Edwards stepped up after injuries to older players.
O’Donnell, a graduate student previously at Cincinnati, ranks third nationally with a 47.3 yards-per-punt average, which leads the ACC. He has booted 20 kicks of 50-plus yards and 17 inside the opponent’s 20.
Named the ACC Specialist of the Week, O’Donnell also recorded his first career forced fumble on the opening kickoff at Pittsburgh this past Friday.
1. A regression
It’s not to say quarterback Stephen Morris had a bad season, especially considering he earned an All-ACC third-team selection.
Morris, who threw for 1,131 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over the final four games of 2012, entered his senior year with lofty expectations after glowing reviews at the Manning Passing Academy.
In his second year starting he went 186 for 317 (58.7 percent) with 2,868 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Compare that to his 2012 stats: 245 for 421 (58.2 percent) with 3,345 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Hampered by an ankle injury for more than a month in the middle of the season, Morris didn’t look like the same player, particularly on short and intermediate throws.
Still, Morris is the only quarterback in the nation this season to throw a 50-plus-yard pass in nine different games. He ranks third all-time in Miami history with 7,736 yards and 49 touchdowns. For the second straight season, Morris has posted four 300-yard passing games.
2. Playmakers gone with injuries
When sophomore running back Duke Johnson went down with a season-ending ankle injury during the Florida State game, he was just 80 yards from 1,000.
Even though it closed out his year, Johnson still received a second-team All-ACC accolade. In eight games (seven starts) he ran the ball 145 times, averaged 115 yards per game (6.3 per carry) and scored six touchdowns.
Two weeks earlier Johnson had exited the North Carolina game as a precaution following a hit to the head.
Junior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett partially tore his medial collateral ligament in that UNC matchup, missing a month of action.
Before the setback, Dorsett collected 13 catches for 272 yards (team-leading 20.9 average) and two touchdowns. Dorsett returned in the season finale against Pittsburgh, but did not record a reception.
Imagine how much more productive the offense would’ve been had Morris, Johnson and Dorsett been healthy the entire season.
1. Defense in three-game skid
During the troubling three-week stretch that completely changed the complexion of Miami’s season, the Hurricanes looked uncharacteristic on defense.
A week before that, however, showed a sign of things to come: Entering the Oct. 26 Wake Forest contest Miami ranked sixth in the nation in third-down defense (28.3%).
Over the next three games opponents converted 60 percent of those situations.
The scoring defense, which ranked 11th with 17.2 points allowed, surrendered an average of 44 during the three-game slide. Overall, opponents tallied an average of 536 total yards.
It almost takes away from the progress made by the unit from last season when it was statistically the worst in program history.
Miami intercepted 18 passes as opposed to 11 in 2012, and more than doubled its sack count from 13 to 28.
2. Success of rivals
Florida State and Ohio State rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively.
What could be worse for Miami fans?
The rival Seminoles routed the visiting Hurricanes 41-14 last month, and look poised for their first national championship game since 2000. Their opponent could be the Buckeyes, who beat Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and are led by former UF coach Urban Meyer.
Meanwhile, Duke (10-2, 6-2 ACC) represents the Coastal Division in the ACC title game this weekend. The host Blue Devils beat the Hurricanes 48-30 three weeks ago.
Last year, Miami relinquished its spot in the championship with a self-imposed sanction. Since joining the league in 2004, the Hurricanes have yet to make the ACC’s marquee matchup.
Ironically enough, the men’s basketball team won the ACC regular and tournament championships over perennial powerhouse Duke this spring.