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Orange Bowl: Mark Richt, Miami look for leap into elite

FORT LAUDERDALE — Miami coach Mark Richt ticked off the list of things at stake for his No. 11 Hurricanes in tonight's Orange Bowl against No. 6 Wisconsin.

Eleven victories for the first time since 2003. A top-10 finish to fuel a loaded 2018 recruiting class. A chance to end the season on a positive note after back-to-back double-digit losses.

Here's one more: The Hurricanes get another opportunity to try to excel on the big stage — something they must learn to do if they're going to return to glory and resume competing for national championships.

"The more experiences we have like that, the more you can have a comfort level with it," Richt said Friday at the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Cruise Port Hotel. "You can describe things all you want, but until you live them out, sometimes you can't learn a lesson until you go through the trial."

Miami's last trial didn't end well. The 'Canes (10-2) were overwhelmed physically in Clemson's 35-point drubbing in the ACC championship.

As importantly, they were overmatched mentally. Miami looked like a program that had been out of the national spotlight for more than a decade.

The only way to figure out how to succeed in that sort of environment is experience, which leads to tonight's prime time game. Miami's first Orange Bowl appearance since 2003 will be at an amped-up, pseudo-home game at Hard Rock Stadium.

"It is an iconic bowl in our country," Richt said. "So here we are playing in it, playing against a great team, a team that's going to challenge us in every way, shape or form … the whole thing, a big stage. So all those experiences add up to guys that will have a greater comfort level when it comes around the second time."

With the way Richt is building the 'Canes, it looks like there will be a second time, and maybe a third and fourth after that.

Miami's 2017 accolades — the program's first Coastal Division title, a shot at its New Year's Six bowl win since beating Florida at the 2004 Peach Bowl — came despite a series of significant injuries. It will lose only eight seniors from its two-deep lineup and return almost everyone else, including starting quarterback Malik Rosier (assuming he can keep that title ahead of promising freshman N'Kosi Perry). After the first signing period, Miami's recruiting class sits sixth nationally with 14 blue-chip recruits, led by five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard.

But if Richt, the ACC coach of the year, is going to lead his alma mater from good to elite, recent history suggests the leap has to happen now.

Since 2000, every national champion coach except Clemson's Dabo Swinney won at least 11 games or a current New Year's Six bowl in his first or second season.

Richt can accomplish both feats tonight by beating one of the nation's most consistent programs — and showing that his Hurricanes are starting to learn how to star when the lights are brightest.

ORANGE BOWL ODDS AND ENDS: Richt suggested complacency could have contributed to Miami's two-game losing streak. "We won 15 in a row," Richt said. "We kind of got used to that — and maybe too used to it." … Yes, Miami is playing at home, but this does have a bowl-game feel. Richt said none of his players live on the beach, which they're doing this week at a hotel in Hollywood. … Wisconsin is one of only seven Power Five teams with at least 100 wins over the past 10 years. The others: Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Florida State and Oregon.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Tonight: Orange Bowl

No. 11 Miami (10-2, ACC) vs. No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1 Big Ten), 8, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami

TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

Line/OU: Wisconsin by 5; 45

Orange Bowl: Mark Richt, Miami look for leap into elite 12/29/17 [Last modified: Friday, December 29, 2017 9:09pm]
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