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Miami, The Perfect Storm

By Carlos Pineda
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In just Mark Richt's sophomore season at Miami, the Hurricanes are College Football Playoff contenders.

In just Mark Richt's sophomore season at Miami, the Hurricanes are College Football Playoff contenders.

UM was ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday afternoon following its 41-8 throttling of third-ranked Notre Dame the night before.

This is Miami's highest ranking since the 2003 season.

Miami, which entered the year with hopes of winning the Coastal Division title for the first time, accomplished the feat with a Virginia loss to Louisville.

"It was a big day to win the Coastal," Richt said. "So much was put into that very thing. We wanted to win the Coastal. We wanted to go to Charlotte. We wanted to win the game when we got there. We talked a lot about that. It was one of the things we felt like we could control. We weren't ready to talk much bigger than that. By the time we got to this game, it became more than a Coastal Division championship, it became an opportunity to truly be in the conversation for a Playoff bid."

It's been a long time coming.

For the better part of a decade the Hurricanes hit mediocrity. A far cry from their glory days of the 1980s, early 90s and the early 2000s.

Miami joined the ACC in 2004 on the heels of its resurgence after being hit with sanctions in the mid-90s. From 2000-03, UM won four straight Big East titles, a fifth national championship in 2001, and played in four consecutive BCS Bowl games. The Hurricanes had a 46-4 record during that span.

The team had a chance to win the ACC title in '04, one year before the league added a conference championship game, but lost at home to Virginia Tech.

Losing anywhere from four to six games became pretty common from 2006 until Richt's arrival in Coral Gables. Miami went 71-56 during that decade.

It became a recurring theme each year to wonder if this was the year the Hurricanes would be back.

The Richt-led Canes answered that question Saturday night with a resounding and emphatic yes.

For Miami to get back it needed focus and a vision. For too long, UM found itself losing to inferior opponents and unable to win close games.

That hasn't been the case this year.

Miami finally beat FSU to end a seven-game losing streak. It beat Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina in close matchups.

Despite starting the season with seven straight wins, there was plenty of skepticism across the board.

Pollsters dropped Miami a spot after a lackluster five-point win on the road at UNC.

The Hurricanes didn't waver, knowing the next two games would define their season.

UM made a statement with its 28-10 win over Virginia Tech in prime time last week.

Even so, not many gave them a chance against Notre Dame. Again, the national perception was that Miami's No. 7 ranking was inflated.

That changed this past Saturday night.

Richt's squad embodied the great UM teams that used speed to overwhelm and over power its opponents. Miami's 33-point victory over the Irish too easy.

Clearly, the players haven't paid too much attention to the noise.

Miami enters its final stretch firing on all cylinders. UM faces Virginia and Pitt to close out the regular season, and No. 4 Clemson in the ACC title game, with the winner punching their ticket to the College Football Playoff.

It's been fascinating seeing this team being led by its youth. Many believed that next year was when Miami would make its grand return. Someone forgot to tell these guys.

It's been the perfect storm in Coral Gables.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.