GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Word has gotten around about Miami by now, so there's no reason to hold back.
"That's a brutal schedule," Clemson's C.J. Spiller said.
"That's tough for them," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said rather unsympathetically.
"When [the schedule] first came out, we went 'whoa!' "
That last quote happens to be from Miami senior defensive back Randy Phillips so, yes, word has gone out and come all the way back to Coral Gables that it's hopeless. That's one perception from a skeptical outside world of a first month of football so bleak it needs a funeral dirge.
|It could get awfully chilly in South Florida for Randy Shannon if his Hurricanes get overwhelmed in the early going. (Getty Images)|
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Coming out of that forced march, 3-1 would be a miracle. Go .500 and they should tear down the goalposts. Miami could play its ass off and still end up 1-3. Try digging out of that hole in the depths of the program's worst five-year period since the 1970s.
"You're never OK with being 1-3 at Miami," AD Kirby Hocutt said Sunday during the ACC media days.
That's the risk Hocutt and coach Randy Shannon are taking. At a key point in its resurrection, Miami faces either a punch to the gut or an unequaled opportunity. Guess which way the Canes are leaning?
"Miami is never scared to play anybody," left tackle Jason Fox said. "We wouldn't have it any other way."
That '80s-vintage bravado would make sense if these were the '80s-vintage 'Canes. But they're not. Shannon's rebuilding effort is in Year 3. Miami hasn't won nine or ended the season ranked since 2005 under Larry Coker. Some suggest Shannon is on shaky ground having won only 12 combined games in his first two seasons.
Hey, who wouldn't want to add more weight to see how much they could bench? Just about everyone in the scheduling biz. In an era when most major schools are scheduling microscopic deep-sea marine life for non-conference beatdowns, Miami has gone contrarian. In addition to Oklahoma, Miami will play at Central Florida and at South Florida.
It's fine to play those three in, say, a five-year period. But to play them in the same season?
The Canes already are seeing invading Gators come into South Florida to recruit with increasing success. Now they're going to put their rep on the line against (relative) upstarts like the Knights and Bulls? In one season? On the road?
Miami has been both a victim and a willing participant in this schedule from hell. The Oklahoma game is the second of a home-and-home and a lucrative gate for the program, which has seen season-ticket orders increase a modest 1 percent. Hocutt said he gave no thought to trying to move the game to a later year.
How many wins will Miami have after the first four games?
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While other schools have comparable non-conference schedules, few if any teams are starting the season with three ranked conference opponents followed by a team the likes of the Sooners.
That OU game had to be played on Oct. 3, a week after a trip to Virginia Tech, because of a scheduling conflict with the Florida Marlins. The baseball team has scheduling priority in Land Shark Stadium for the next two years.
But when ESPN approached with an opportunity to play FSU on national TV on Labor Day night, Hocutt and Shannon had a tough decision. Surrender to TV and move the game knowing the potential consequences, or leave the Hurricanes a bit of early breathing room. (The Florida A&M game was eventually moved from Sept. 5 to Oct. 10.)
"It's what you want," Hocutt said. "You dream of playing college football for the big games."
It's also "strange and it's not normal," Fox said of playing three consecutive conference opponents to begin the season.
"But what are you going to do, make an appeal?"
It's also borderline suicide for such a vulnerable program. Miami is 1-3 in its past four against FSU. It has lost four straight to Georgia Tech (giving up 472 rushing yards last season) and four of the past six to Virginia Tech. Two years ago, Oklahoma embarrassed the Canes 51-13 in Norman.
It wouldn't be a total shock to see a similar margin of victory this season.
"I'm from Texas," said Fox, a senior from Fort Worth. "If there was one team I want to beat this year, it would be a close call between Florida State and Oklahoma. I know so many guys on that team. That game was so tough two years ago.
"I'm not shying away from any team."
Good luck, Jason. The good: The first two games against FSU and Georgia Tech are nationally televised. The Canes get a 10-day break between those games to get ready for the Yellow Jackets' triple option.
The bad: National television can be cruel when it is showing the world what 0-2 looks like. The last time Miami started that bad was 1978.
Shannon has won himself some time with two excellent recruiting classes, but sooner or later the potential is going to have to show on the field. There is front-line talent but Shannon is a twisted ankle away from disaster at quarterback. That's what would happen if promising sophomore Jacory Harris gets hurt.
The defense must get better at two things -- creating turnovers and stopping the run. No biggie, right? The Miami D got only 15 turnovers all of last season and had some horrendous meltdowns against the run.
Those are the kinds of issues you want to address in September before the conference season starts, not when it could cripple you.