As Miami rolled to a 28-0 second quarter lead in the 2002 Rose Bowl, I remember thinking This might never end.
That Nebraska was the opponent was irrelevant. The Hurricanes would have embarrassed anybody.
Miami won the national championship that night, as well its 22nd straight game – a streak that would grow to 34 – and an unprecedented era of dominance seemed sure to follow.
It unquestionably was the best team in college football history. Frank Gore was the third-string running back. Kellen Winslow Jr., an eventual unanimous All-American tight end, wasn’t a starter that year. Eventual NFL All-Pro Antrel Rolle was the fourth-best player in the defensive backfield.
A shocking loss in the following year’s title game derailed a chance at rare back-to-back titles, but it seemed so temporary at the time.
Miami was a program with unlimited potential.
Frankly, it still is.
A decade of mostly mundane, surprisingly average teams followed the one that was upset in January 2003, but the Hurricanes are mounting their best attempt to return to prominence since then.
Ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 for the first time since 2009 – part of the tantalizing Jacory Harris era, which never quite came to fruition – Miami could be on the way back. And make no mistake: Miami is a program that regularly should be challenging for national titles.
Forget all of the talent in Southern Florida; what about Miami itself? The city had 24 of its own on opening day NFL rosters, 33 percent more than any city in the country. Miami-Dade County is the single best metro area for high school football in the country, and Miami barely has to leave town to build a team that can contend for championships.
It’s no secret how to win at that job. It’s a matter of selling the program again, something coach Al Golden has done very well in his three years in charge. Golden and his team were admirable last season in charging past an inherited NCAA mess, and the current version of Miami is a veteran squad that already has been through the worst it will see.
Two things have been fitting about Miami’s early-season run. First, Miami took down Florida, who is more of a peer than has been let on in the past decade. Second, the Hurricanes’ best player, sophomore running back Duke Johnson, is a product of Miami Norland High School.
The question is what Golden can do with the talent he can bring to Coral Gables, Fla. It bares mentioning that Golden’s teams at Temple were the most talented in the Mid-American Conference in both 2009 and 2010, yet failed to even win their division.
An important part of a resurgence is taking care of dangerous games – like Thursday’s nationally-televised contest in Chapel Hill against a so-far underperforming North Carolina squad coming off a bye – and challenging top teams in the conference.
As we watch Florida State march into Death Valley to play Clemson for ACC supremacy Saturday, let’s not forget a program that was the unquestioned ruler of college football in three separate eras in the past 30 years.
Miami’s return might not come this year. It might not come at all.
But a sleeping giant in Coral Gables has opened his eyes.