How big a threat are Hurricanes to Jackets?

Miami — Randy Shannon refuses to live in the past. He deflects any references to the past. Maybe that's because it's his unenviable task to recapture the stratospheric glory of that past.

“I don’t like to compare,” the University of Miami’s third-year head coach said Sunday of a five-championship football tradition to which he has contributed both as a player and an assistant coach.

But Shannon, also a bit of a control freak like most in his profession, cannot squelch this inevitable national reaction to UM’s frenzied 38-34 victory over rival Florida State on national television a week ago. Are the Hurricanes back?

Randy Phillips, a fifth-year senior defensive back, surely followed the lead of his coach when he responded to the question: “We can’t say, ‘We’re back! We’re back!’ because of one game.’ ”

A hefty burden of proof remains following a three-season span of 19-19 mediocrity. And the bar is set unreasonably high by a fandom spoiled by UM success for the better part of a quarter-century.

But neither will Shannon, Phillips or anyone else associated with the UM program deny that the Hurricanes ride a wave of optimism into yet another stiff challenge Thursday night here against No. 14 Georgia Tech.

“That was a huge confidence-builder,” senior cornerback Chavez Grant said of the FSU win. The Canes erased FSU leads of 23-17, 31-24 and 34-31 that night in the fourth quarter alone. “It showed a lot of maturity, a lot of fight, a lot of heart.”

Maturity is the key, said Micheal Barrow, who joined Shannon’s staff after a 13-year NFL career. Few are better qualified to relate UM past to UM present. He earned All-American honors as a senior linebacker in 1992 and contributed significantly to the Canes’ 1989 and 1991 national title seasons.

Though reluctant to suggest the program had made the leap from mid-pack back to elite status, Barrow said reflectively, “I don’t think we’re that far off.”

Miami remains a very young team. But Barrow recognizes the talent and senses a returning swagger. The experience will come, he reasoned. “Just add the water. ... [It’s a matter of] going out there and getting baptized,” he said.

Like anyone who has seen the Canes lately, he can see the fruits of Shannon’s recruiting prowess, especially in South Florida.

“Coach Shannon is always emphasizing, ‘Make sure we secure our backyard,’ ” Barrow said.

Imperturbable sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, whose national stature skyrocketed with the victory at FSU, symbolizes Shannon’s concentration on keeping the best of the best from south Florida high schools at home.

Harris is the leader among seven Hurricanes who propelled Miami Northwestern High to a perfect 2007 season and national championship (USA Today) and then marched in lockstep to UM.

Like Grant, who attended Miami’s Booker T. Washington High, they grew up on “the U.” In their grade school years, they relished the 2000-2003 dominance reflected by a cumulative 46-4 record and the 2001 national championship season. Shannon served as defensive coordinator that year.

“It was all about the Canes,” Grant said. “The Orange Bowl [since demolished] was the place to be.”

In recruiting Harris, who riddled the Seminoles for 386 yards and two passing touchdowns, Shannon must have recognized a kindred spirit. On the sideline, Shannon is a study in stoicism. By contrast, Harris almost makes the coach look like a kid hyped on too much chocolate.

“He’s like me,” Shannon said with a soft chuckle.

Shannon’s self-restraint after the FSU victory would not surprise anyone familiar with his all-business approach. The joy of victory and the agony of defeat don’t look a whole lot different in his demeanor. He began the season on the proverbial hot seat and UM football remains a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.

He knows that had FSU quarterback Christian Ponder’s final pass into the end zone been a foot higher and Jarmon Fortson made the catch, the conversation today would be starkly different.

Similarly, if the Yellow Jackets administer a beating anything like the 41-23 rout they celebrated in Atlanta last November, perceptions in Miami will spin 180 degrees.

Jimmy Johnson, who coached the Hurricanes from 1984 through 1988, had the logical answer to an ESPN radio interviewer’s question, “Are the Hurricanes back?" Noting not just the Georgia Tech test but also a trip to Virginia Tech and home game against Oklahoma the following two weeks, he replied, “We’ll find out.”