Oh, the players still enter the stadium through a billowing cloud of smoke. That familiar “U’’ remains on the side of the helmet. They still look just like the Hurricanes.
But make no mistake, the University of Miami’s football program is very much in transition. The head coach (Randy Shannon) is still establishing himself. The athletic director (36-year-old Kirby Hocutt) is new. The roster is incredibly young. And the backdrop for it all has changed drastically.
The Orange Bowl, once an ultra-intimidating setting for Miami’s biggest nights, is gone — literally.
Miami’s city game has shifted to the suburbs — Dolphin Stadium, an antiseptic NFL venue that won’t have the sights, sounds or smells of the old ballyard. But it’s not an antiquated relic, either, so Miami has addressed its future financial viability.
As for the present, the Hurricanes aren’t ready to compete for an ACC title, let alone a national championship. The program has slowly eroded since the superstar-laden era of five years ago, when the Hurricanes had a 34-game winning streak and nearly back-to-back national titles.
So we bring up that word again — patience. It’s not exactly an easy concept for a program known for win-now results. But after a 5-7 season and a roster makeover, there’s really no other way to go.
Shannon’s 33-player recruiting class was widely praised. In fact, some pundits even ranked it No. 1 nationally. It seems like Shannon is taking a page from Howard Schnellenberger’s time-honored strategy — close the gates around South Florida’s prep programs and keep those players home to play for Miami.
The problem is many of Miami’s first-year players — anywhere from eight to 10 — are legitimate candidates to become starters. That’s not how it works at most football powerhouses. But that’s where Miami is now.
Nowhere is the youth more obvious than at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Robert Marve is expected to start. For the first time since 1983, the Hurricanes will open with a quarterback who has never taken a college snap.
Potentially scary stuff, especially when studying the early schedule. There are roadies at Florida and Texas A&M, followed by home ACC games with North Carolina and Florida State. Marve has no safety net. The other candidates are true freshmen Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith.
Kyle Wright’s disappointing tenure has ended. Kirby Freeman transferred to Baylor. So that likely leaves it in the arms of Marve, who might’ve seen some action last season had he not been derailed by a serious offseason car accident.
How good is Marve? How good is any young highly touted quarterback just coming into college football? Wright was supposed to be all-world and that never happened. So who can really say?
I’ll just tell you what I know. Marve, from Tampa’s Plant High School, is arguably the most electrifying prep quarterback to emerge from the Tampa Bay area (a list that includes Shaun King, Tommie Frazier, Kenny Kelly and John Reaves).
Marve threw 48 touchdown passes as a senior, breaking the Florida prep record of Tim Tebow (the record was broken again last season by Aaron Murray, Marve’s former teammate at Plant, who tossed 51 TDs). Marve was sensational in leading his state-champion team to a 15-0 season.
In high school, he had all the intangibles, the “it’’ factor. He made plays with his arm and his feet. Often, when a pattern broke down and Marve improvised, it was the prelude for pure magic.
There was a time when Marve wasn’t considered the best quarterback in his Tampa senior class (Stephen Garcia, who signed with South Carolina, had the better reputation). But Marve, who originally committed to Alabama then switched to Miami after the firing of Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula, improved drastically and appeared on everyone’s radar screen.
Obviously, it has been some time before Marve threw his last meaningful pass. And it’s not realistic to expect a first-year player to thrive in environments such as Gainesville and College Station. But by all accounts, Miami has a player to build around in Marve.
He could very well be the cornerstone of a bright future. But remember that word? Patience. The future is in the distance. First, the Hurricanes must negotiate the present.
Forget about a major bowl. Just a bowl appearance — period — would be enough of a jump-start for Miami’s young program.
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