CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The past week in south Florida has had a familiar feel to it.
It’s felt almost exactly the way it did in Blacksburg, one week ago.
Not the climate or the traffic or the population base, of course. The football stuff. The anger directed at the head coach, where fans wonder aloud if he’s the right fit to bring a proud program back where it belongs. The shock and disgust that inevitably follows a bad loss. The quarterback quandary. The offensive line issues. The general malaise.
Everything Miami is dealing with heading into Friday’s home game with Virginia, Virginia Tech dealt with last week. It’s like the Hokies came down here, dumped all their troubles on the Hurricanes and scurried back to the mountains.
That’s just life in the ACC Coastal Division, this round robin of mediocrity and, if it’s not your week, misery.
But then there’s Virginia. Here’s a team that was picked to win the division and hasn’t lost an ACC game yet. For now, at least, the Cavaliers are the ones above the mosh pit, dodging all the flailing hands that want to pull them back down.
That’s what makes Friday’s matchup so interesting. Can Virginia begin to create some serious separation atop the division? Or will Miami, with its roster full of high-level recruits, do what the Hokies did last weekend and temporarily transfer their problems to someone else?
“It’s not like we’re not part of that,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the Coastal parity. “Our style to this point and what has emerged over last season and this season seems to be less way up and way down, but it’s not far removed if it is. And the rest of the season will show if it is.”
Longstanding program identities die hard. It’s a big reason Miami is a two-point Vegas favorite against a ranked UVa team coming off an open date. It’s why you can forgive UM wideout Dee Wiggins, when asked about UVa’s evolution into becoming a force in the division, says: “We view them as just another team in our way.”
Worried about the Cavaliers? That’s not what Miami’s been about. The Hurricanes have won three straight home meetings with UVa, and they don’t plan for that to change now.
“We understand they’re a good football team, but we face good football teams all the time,” UM safety Amari Carter said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re not the only good team in college football. We go to the University of Miami, so that’s what we expect. We expect competition. They have a good program; we have a good program.”
UM coaches have spent the past six days trying to remind their players of that. Mendenhall, meanwhile, spent the open date reframing the season for his players, stressing the importance of upcoming division games.
He compared a full football season to being at a carnival and sampling the various attractions. The non-league attraction was a relatively smooth one for his 20th-ranked Cavaliers.
“Now here is the Coastal ride,” Mendenhall said. “And we’re going right into five straight Coastal games, and those are more meaningful and they are more impactful. … And holy cow, you never know what’s going to happen when you’re on that ride.
“There is very little margin for error for any team in this league at any time, especially in our division,” he added. “And I think when the teams play, you never quite know what’s going to happen when the opponents match up. My hope is that we have become or [will] become the consistent team.”
It’s the only way to avoid becoming the next team to feel that all-too-familiar feeling.