CORAL GABLES — From unranked in the preseason to No. 9 last week, the University of Miami made a wild leap in the AP poll.
A leap of faith, you might call it, in what the program once was, coming with a fresh dose of chaos delivered by the rebounding, ransacking Hurricanes.
Let’s face it, though. No legitimate top-10 team loses 31-7 the way Miami did Saturday at Virginia Tech. What’s called for here is some serious recalibration, which is exactly what happened the last time the Hurricanes played Oklahoma in 2007.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was busy with other matters that fall, namely leading Miami Northwestern High School to an unbeaten season and a state title, but the impact of that merciless Sooners rout remains with him now.
“I remember watching that game on television when the score was close,” said Harris, “but I had to leave or something and when I came back it was 51-13. That was a shock to my system because I thought Miami was going to win the game.”
For no good reason other than Miami pride, he nurtured that belief, for Randy Shannon had only just begun his adjustment of overblown Hurricane attitudes as a rookie head coach.
All Shannon had done to that point was beat Marshall 31-3. He packed just 48 players on the plane to play the Sooners, who were ranked No. 5 at the time and defending champions of the brawny Big 12.
By the end of the afternoon, Miami had punted 10 times and missed on 14 of 17 third-down conversions. Into Norman the Hurricanes swaggered. Out they staggered.
“That game showed us how far we were from really competing against the best teams in college football,” Shannon said as Miami, now ranked 17th, continued preparations for Saturday night’s Land Shark Stadium rematch with the Sooners, still a top-10 team at No. 8. “We stuck with them early in the game but their depth eventually got to us.
“We knew that day that turning this program back to where it was, that wasn’t going to happen overnight. It was a good measuring stick.”
How tall the Hurricanes are two years later is the open question. Miami’s players believe this time they can match Oklahoma’s speed and muscle and depth, but it will take more proving than any early-season poll vault.
Just last week, remember, Miami was ranked higher than Oklahoma, a team that played for the BCS championship in January. Just last week, the Hurricanes were No. 9 and the Sooners No. 10, with Harris being mentioned as a Heisman candidate despite having started only four games in his Miami career.
The fantasy phase of this Hurricanes season is over, though, the avalanche of enthusiasm that said beating Virginia Tech and Oklahoma would be the obvious and unstoppable progression for a team that opened the season by beating FSU and Georgia Tech.
“The media and ESPN amped it up to be something that it wasn’t,” Harris said. “Last year, we didn’t have too good of a season. We wound up being 7-6. Out of nowhere, we won two games and everyone thinks ‘the U’ is back and we’re going to win the national championship. Maybe in our mindset, we think that’s what we’re going to do, but at the same time, you don’t know how a lot of people take stuff.”
What people will ultimately make of Miami is what they see on Saturday night against Oklahoma, a team still capable of taking another shot at the national title whether or not Heisman Trophy quarterback Sam Bradford returns from an early-season shoulder injury.
Win that game and it’s more than wishing. More than paper rankings, too.
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