- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is not much sense in going around and around in circles over what Miami lost this season.
There certainly was disappointment in the locker room following a win over Duke on Saturday. But that disappointment has given way to excitement, and a look toward a future that appears extremely bright.
Yes, Miami lost a chance to play for the ACC championship because of a self-imposed bowl ban. But coach Al Golden says his players are more motivated than ever, knowing they made it so far with such a young team.
"I sense the kids understand," Golden said Tuesday during his season-ending news conference in Miami. "They have a vision of what we need to do in the Coastal Division, and what that will ultimately lead to. Despite all the things we were not this year -- and we were not a lot, there are a lot of things we need to correct, which is good -- we could have been in the championship game. You have to give yourselves that opportunity, and I think those kids see that now.
"The way you do that is to eliminate the things that cause you to lose and eliminate distractions. There's a sense of excitement. The last two days downstairs outside my office, energy in the weight room, it's almost perplexing, to be honest with you. I think they're moving forward, they're just taking care of business. I haven't had a lot of guys on lists. Last year it was a different deal ... I haven't had anyone on a list Sunday, Monday or so far today. It's a group that understands what just happened to them, and what they can and want to be moving forward."
Miami loses two senior starters, and will be one of the favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the Coastal next year. Imagine what ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson will be able to do next season. Imagine what we will see out of a much more experience defensive group, one that will not rely so heavily on first- and second-year players.
Imagine what we will see out of junior quarterback Stephen Morris, who ended the season on a high note, with 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his last four games.
"That's probably, in addition to the other 99 things that keep me up at night, the one that hurts the most. We have maybe the hottest quarterback in America right now over the last four games," Golden said. "He is white-hot. We would have had a chance to bring a hot quarterback into a championship game. He has been spectacular, he has been. I'm excited for him. He's so mature, the way he has handled these last two weeks -- he's growing into a man. He is a tremendous leader. He's going to work hard, get his weight up, and be a great leader off the field. I know he's excited to come back and get all those wideouts and young guys, get them moving forward."
There is no sense wondering about "what could have been" when Golden sees so many reasons for optimism in Coral Gables.
"I'm sitting in Greensboro in early August and we're picked to finish fifth and have no one on the all-conference team," Golden said. "We finished tied for first and won seven games. I'm excited about moving forward. I'm excited. It was a little tenuous at the beginning there -- you're lining up a lot of young people, and it can get scary. I'm proud of the way they held together. A lot of our upperclassmen really grew up and were leaders and embraced the young guys and developed a team unity and chemistry that could withstand the schedule we went through."
2dDavid M. Hale
3dDavid M. Hale