When Manny Diaz was hired as Miami's coach prior to the 2019 season, one of the slogans promoted by the team and program for all of the hashtag happy fans and recruits was "The New Miami."
The Hurricanes were coming off a disappointing 7-6 season that appeared to take two steps back after claiming the ACC Coastal Division title for the first time in 2017. As Diaz, the defensive coordinator for both the success of that ACC Championship Game appearance but also the disappointing 4-4 conference record that followed, looked to avoid falling back into old habits from the ACC era, the messaging focused on turning the page.
But "The New Miami" looked a lot like the old ACC-era Miami, with a three-game losing streak to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech to close out another middling season. So what do we call Miami now, surging to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll with a new-look offense led by quarterback D'Eriq King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee? The New-New Miami?
Miami fans have already started claiming "The U is back" and Diaz is trying to move the program forward, but the truth is the Hurricanes will be stuck in place until they are able to sustain high-level success in the ACC. Miami has shown signs of getting over the hump several times -- notably in the 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2016 seasons -- but before that ACC Coastal title in 2017 had not really broken through in the championship game era (since 2005) and has yet to record a top-10 AP Top 25 poll finish since joining the ACC in 2004.
So stop claiming "The U is back" when all Diaz needs to do is move forward, because most of Miami's history during the lifetime of its current players includes taking expectations or flirtations with success and letting it get in the way of finishing the job.
"What we've told our players, it shows you how quickly things change and things can change quickly in both directions," Diaz said. "We were a team that no one was talking about two weeks ago and if we don't do it right, no one will be talking about us two weeks from now. It just goes that fast in college football. All we've done is go 1-0 in our conference and we're 2-0 overall. I think our players appreciate the difficulty of coming to Louisville and winning, but they know there's a lot more meat on the bone."
Player to watch in Week 4
Pitt safety Paris Ford vs. No. 24 Louisville: One of the best X's and O's battles we'll get all week in college football is going to be Louisville's offense against No. 21 Pitt's defense. We know the Panthers to be among the best in the country up front, but one of the real keys to that defense is on the back end with Ford. Currently, Ford is tied for the national lead with two interceptions in two games, but a big part of his value to this team is as a run defender. Ford has great vision, finds the ball and closes quickly to be a part of the action, and in this game he'll have his hands full both in run defense against Javian Hawkins and in pass defense keeping up with Tutu Atwell. Pat Narduzzi and the staff also love Ford's "contagious" energy on the field and the sideline, something they say is a huge boost with no or limited crowds in the stadiums. A two-way defender and All-American candidate with a nose for the big play, Ford deserves your attention in one of the better games on the ACC slate this week.
Game of the Week
Florida State at No. 12 Miami (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC): No need to overthink this, there's just so much "stuff" packed into this game, even on top of it being a rivalry game. We have "The U is Back" storyline, Florida State looking to bounce back from yet another blown fourth-quarter lead and will have to do it with coach Mike Norvell sidelined by COVID-19. The Seminoles appear to be the midst of a four-way quarterback competition after James Blackman's struggles, but the game-week depth chart still has the redshirt junior listed as the team's starter.
Expectations are sky-high after Miami lit up the scoreboard at Louisville and whether or not the offense can be as productive against Florida State will largely determine whether the remaining skeptics are going to buy stock in this new D'Eriq King-led up-tempo attack. Florida State's main issues, not just in the opener but over the last two years, have been on offense, particularly with the offensive line and the quarterback play, while its defense has remained mostly stout. Both teams have a ton at stake in the game --- not just the result, but their performance, and, oh yeah, it happens to be one of the biggest rivalries in all of college football. Like I said, there's a lot of "stuff" going on here.
Each week, we'll be offering these top-half power rankings for the 15-team, one-division ACC. Results matter, but won't match the standings necessarily as we look to identify the teams that have the best chance to contend for one of the top two spots (determined by winning percentage) and play for the conference championship in December.
1. Clemson (Last week -- 1): While there are two ACC championship contenders with plenty of positives coming out of Week 3, there's still no threat to the Tigers' hold on the top spot. The biggest takeaway of Clemson's early season continues to be the new stars up front on defense, with Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy getting plenty of spotlight time against The Citadel's triple-option offense. Also while not a young player, another new name for fans to keep an eye on is redshirt junior defensive tackle Jordan Williams. The depth along the defensive line is outrageous.
2. Notre Dame (2): After sputtering out of the gate against Duke, Ian Book and the Irish offense found a rhythm against South Florida and appear to be turning a corner. Unfortunately we won't see Notre Dame for a while after Saturday's game at Wake Forest was postponed and its next scheduled game is Oct. 10 against Florida State.
3. Miami (3): Last week's promotion of Miami to third place felt aggressive and maybe an overreaction to its season-opening victory vs. UAB, but the Canes' status as the next team up behind Clemson and Notre Dame feels like a consensus across the conference. Now the challenge is subverting old habits of playing down to competition, entering the rivalry game against Florida State as a double-digit favorite with expectations of continuing that offensive success.
4. North Carolina (4): The Tar Heels get more time off after Charlotte had to cancel in Week 3 and no opponent was booked for Week 4. Mack Brown is treating this like a second start to the season, and when the team in back in action at Boston College on Oct. 3 it will be with expectations that exceed the resume compared to the rest of the teams at the top of the conference.
5. Pitt (6): There were handfuls of mistakes in a sloppy win against Syracuse, but Pat Narduzzi, like most coaches, relish the opportunity to file those coachable moments away while also celebrating a conference win. This week's matchup against the Cardinals will be a defining moment in our judgement of the Panthers, who are incomplete as a championship contender but have shown enough to be dangerous to anyone in the league.
6. Louisville (5): We're going to see if what appeared to be drastic, structural issues with the Louisville defense are going to be a season-long storyline or something that can be corrected with a week of practice. Pitt hasn't fielded an offense that stacks up to Miami's in terms of production, but the Panthers have enough athletes at wide receiver to take advantage of those pastures of grass that D'Eriq King found last Saturday night. The Cards have a top-three ACC offense, but the defensive concerns are a limiting factor for their ACC title hopes.
7. NC State (NR): All of the positive momentum around NC State this week will be put to the test in Blacksburg, Virginia, where reestablishing that dominant ground game is going to be essential to competing against Virginia Tech. There are concerns about how Wake Forest had its own success moving the ball against the Pack defense and what might happen if they need to make up points quick with the passing attack, but right now NC State appears to do one thing really well and that's run the dang football.
8. Georgia Tech (7): I think UCF is one of the 10 best teams in the country, so losing to the Knights doesn't result in any punishment here. Until we see Virginia and Virginia Tech on the field, the Yellow Jackets and their ACC road win at Florida State serve a tiebreaker to sneak into the Elite Eight.
Dropped out: Duke (8)