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Miami plays, but can't find escape from speculation

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Even when it's game time, there's a cloud over Lamar Miller and the Hurricanes. (US Presswire)  
Even when it's game time, there's a cloud over Lamar Miller and the Hurricanes. (US Presswire)  

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Well, at least Nevin Shapiro didn't lead Miami on the field Monday night.

Shapiro, the rogue booster whose allegations have turned the Hurricanes' program upside down, wasn't on the Miami sideline and wasn't in Maryland's Byrd Stadium. Neither was Miami president Donna Shalala, who was in Cleveland for her mother's 100th birthday.

It's likely, though, both were tuning in on national television Monday night to watch their Hurricanes play their first game since Yahoo's report chronicling Shapiro's payments to players and coaches from 2002-10.

Despite getting outgained and outplayed for most of the rainy night, the Hurricanes still led 24-23 with 4:01 remaining. However, Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien drove the Terps 60 yards to set up Nick Ferrara's go-ahead 32-yard field goal with 1:39 remaining. Then exactly one minute later, Cameron Chism's 54-yard interception return for a touchdown accounted for the final margin and drove home the final nail in Miami's coffin in the 32-24 setback.

Whether the program is going to be buried 6 feet under has been debated and speculated for weeks. Personally, I don't think Miami will receive the death penalty, but, then again, I would argue the Hurricanes already got a death sentence the instant Yahoo's report went public last month.

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Since Aug. 16 when the story broke, it basically paralyzed the program. Dead Program Walking. With the uncertainty of how hard Miami will get hammered by the NCAA, how in the world can Miami get any recruits to come on board?

Heck, even NCAA president Mark Emmert has been quoted that he's not opposed to the death penalty. Emmert, of course, was not speaking specifically about the Miami situation -- wink, wink, nod, nod, you know what I mean -- but speaking in only hypothetical terms. Well, don't think for a second that opposing recruiters don't have Emmert's quote on save-recall in their cell phone to text any high school recruit who's even considering Miami.

The best thing for Miami is for the NCAA to finish its investigation as quickly as possible. Then, and only then, will the Hurricanes finally know what penalties await them and they can deal with them and move forward.

Until then, there's no way they can combat the endless speculation: Death penalty? Postseason ban? Massive scholarship hits? TV ban? Vacate all their wins for an entire decade?

They might get all of those sanctions or a combination, but the truth is no one really knows -- and that's the worst thing for Miami right now: dealing with the unknown and the perception.

In a small, crowded tent after Miami coach Al Golden's first game with the Hurricanes, he spoke to reporters. Even without eight suspended players, the Hurricanes had a chance to get Golden a victory in his UM debut.

Instead of questions about his Miami debut or what happened on this night, the majority of the questions were about how Golden and the team have been dealing with the allegations and the unknown future of the program.

"We'll get some guys back now, and the further we get away from this game and the story breaking, we'll be able to focus on ourselves," Golden said. "But, you know, there's no excuses. We had enough talent to win tonight and we didn't do it."

Pretty much all of the Hurricanes echoed their coach's comments. They've been coached up well. They all say they're focused only on what they can control and they don't worry about what others are saying.

"It hasn't been hard [not thinking about the allegations] since we've been having school, and before that, we were in camp, just straight football," Miami sophomore wide receiver Allen Hurns said. "We couldn't have too much on our minds.

"Every game is important. We've got a goal that we're trying to get to, and we got to take every game one at a time."

Hurns was asked what the Hurricanes' goal was and if it's still attainable after Monday night's loss.

"I'm not allowed to share [what the goal is]," Hurns said.

Hurns added "there's no doubt, no doubt" the Hurricanes can still reach that goal.

Whatever that goal is, it certainly won't be easy. Even Mother Nature is against the Hurricanes. After Maryland went up 26-24 with 4:01 remaining, the wind and rain instantly kicked up again, meaning Miami would not only have to overcome the glare of Maryland's Rollerball-circa style helmets, but also drive into wind gusts and a downpour for the potential game-winning field goal.

Miami never got that far. Chism stepped in front of quarterback Stephen Morris' sideline route and raced 54 yards down Miami's sideline for the touchdown.

Yes, on this night, when it rained ... it poured.

Despite the Hurricanes' unified front afterward, it's only human nature for the coaches, players and even the fans to wonder what lies ahead for the program. How often do you think it pops in Golden's mind that Shalala and former athletic director Kirby Holcutt gave him absolutely no indication that these allegations were a possibility when he interviewed for the job?

"If they knew this was percolating," Golden said last month, "I believe they did have a responsibility to tell me."

But they didn't. They kept quiet, so Golden took the job.

Still, Golden isn't into excuses. He isn't playing the pity card. He said his job is based on how the team performs. The team didn't perform very well Monday. Too many mistakes.

"No moral victories," Golden said. "The things we can control today -- the penalties and the turnovers -- we did not. And it cost us the game. If you had said to me we could hold them to 20 [offensive] points in this opener with all the things that we had to rearrange on defense, I would have said this would be a great job. And that's what we did."

With Miami playing without five defensive starters, Maryland rolled up 499 yards on offense, including 348 yards passing. During some stretches of the game, it appeared part of Miami's secret NCAA immunity meant the Hurricanes' defensive backs weren't allowed within five yards of Maryland's receivers.

Yet the Terps, in coach Randy Edsall's debut, scored only once in seven trips inside the 20, allowing the Hurricanes to hang around.

"We have too much experience on offense to turn the ball over and have those kinds of penalties," Golden said. "That starts with me, and we'll get it fixed. Clearly I'm disappointed, because it hasn't been something we've been doing [in practice] or that I'm accustomed to.

"All we can do is what we're in control of, and that's improving every day and taking care of our business, going to class, and focusing on things we can focus on. Everything else is out of our control."

And since Aug. 17, that's what has made it so tough on Miami and the program's future.

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