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Season wrap: Miami ends Al Golden era, starts anew under Mark Richt

There can be no mention of Miami’s 2015 season without circling back to Oct. 24.

The Hurricanes entered Sun Life Stadium against undefeated Clemson at 4-2, and 1-1 in ACC play. They had rebounded from a tough loss at rival Florida State to beat Virginia Tech. The Tigers would be, if nothing else, a true measuring stick for Miami.

And then the game started, and Clemson kept scoring. And scoring. And scoring some more. The Tigers posted 42 points in the first half, 58 points for the game and shut the home team out.

The end result was Miami’s worst loss ever. Miami notched six first downs and surrendered 33. The Canes were outrushed by a 567 to 146 margin.

The next day, head coach Al Golden was fired, with less than five full seasons under his belt in Coral Gables.

By December, Georgia’s loss was Miami’s gain, as the Bulldogs fired Mark Richt -- who won 74 percent of his games in Athens -- and the Canes pounced on the opportunity to bring their former signal-caller back home to his alma mater.

All of a sudden, hopes are high again at Miami, which landed an established head coach and enters 2016 looking to make the kind of noise in the ACC that was expected of the Canes when they began play in the league in 2004.

They haven’t so much as played in a league title game since then, but there is reason for optimism beyond the Richt hire.

For one, they return a quarterback in Brad Kaaya who is entering his junior year and looks as polished as anyone in the league this side of Deshaun Watson. Kaaya trailed only Watson among his conference peers in passing yards (3,238) in 2015, and his five interceptions were tied for second fewest among ACC starters. With 25 career starts under his belt, Kaaya should only improve, especially under a new staff -- which may just be highlighted by defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.

Kuligowski’s 15-year run at Missouri speaks for itself. He has placed four former Tigers into the first round of the NFL draft since 2009 alone, and he should help the Canes’ defensive front play with the edge it has been lacking in recent years.

There’s the finish to 2015, too: After Golden’s firing, Miami won four of its final five regular-season games before a close bowl loss to Washington State. There was the controversy-filled win at Duke in the immediate aftermath of tight ends coach Larry Scott’s appointment as interim head coach. There was the rout of defending Coastal champion Georgia Tech. And there was the impressive ACC finale at Pitt, which entered the game with just one ACC loss.

If nothing else, the talent at Miami is evident. And with a new staff coaching plenty of those familiar faces in 2016, “The U” will enter a new era with its sights set on restoring the glory from years past.