Scandal over, No. 7 Miami set to meet Wake Forest
Finally, the only thing Miami coach Al Golden has to worry about is football.
The Hurricanes already got a big win this week, in that closure came Tuesday when the NCAA released its long-awaited verdict about the case involving a former Miami booster and a slew of impermissible benefits. It was a scandal that hovered menacingly over the program for each and every of the 30 games Golden has coached since taking the Miami job.
Not anymore. When Golden runs onto the field Saturday, the only haze he'll be dealing with is the artificial one caused by the plumes of white smoke that accompany the Hurricanes as they emerge for home games.
No longer burdened by the probe, No. 7 Miami (6-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays host to Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2) with nothing to worry about except the team on the other sideline.
"I think it's been very difficult for our coaches and for the athletic program," Miami President Donna Shalala said this week.
All the more reason for Saturday to have a festive feel for the Hurricanes, perhaps the biggest surprise team in the very-early national championship picture. It's employee day for the university, meaning virtually all the seats inside cavernous Sun Life Stadium have been sold. This being South Florida, that typically doesn't mean much as far as guaranteeing a big crowd, but there's surely an element of fans who cannot wait to exhale about the mess being over.
And Wake Forest knows that this week is going to be emotional for the Hurricanes, too.
"That's a distraction that's not a part of the equation anymore," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "I think with players, I know our coaches and coaches throughout the country worry about keeping players focused on just playing football. ... I think with what they've had to deal with, with the NCAA, I think it would certainly be a relief to coaches and players alike that that's behind them now and they can really spend more time focusing on football."
Golden and his players haven't been available for interviews since the NCAA decision arrived. Before the university ordered them to remain tight-lipped, Golden said Wake Forest's two-game winning streak should be more than enough reason for his team to focus solely on the Demon Deacons — and not the annual rivalry game with Florida State that awaits next week.
Here are five things to watch when Wake Forest plays No. 7 Miami:
MORRIS' HEALTH: Against North Carolina last week, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris had the first zero-touchdown, four-interception game by a Hurricane since 2001, when Ken Dorsey did it in the school's last national-title season. Bottom line is, off nights happen, but Morris looked tentative at times presumably because of the ankle issue that has bugged him all season. The Hurricanes say the ankle problem is gone, so look for Morris to bounce back.
HOMECOMING WEEK: No, not for Miami. About a dozen Demon Deacons have family ties to the South Florida area, and since this is Wake Forest's first trip to Miami since 2008, this is a game the players with roots around Miami have been waiting their entire collegiate careers to play.
SAVVY PRICE: Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price is coming off a game where he had what the Demon Deacons described as a football hat trick — he recorded a passing, a rushing and a receiving touchdown last week in his team's 34-10 win over once-ranked Maryland. Price completed 26 of 36 passes in that game, making him 50 for 75 over the past two weeks.
RUSHING 'CANES: Miami ran for 19 touchdowns in the entirety of the 2012 season. The Hurricanes are up to 17 already this year, with Dallas Crawford leading the way with nine, and that's with him serving primarily as the backup to Duke Johnson — who's been banged up often this season and still ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing yards at the midpoint of the regular season.
AVOID TEMPTATION: Miami is 2-3 in the week immediately preceding the Florida State game since 2007. Looking ahead to the showdown with the Seminoles — one that already has the 8 p.m. national-broadcast time slot on Nov. 2, and surely will be hyped throughout the week — might get Miami in very big trouble against a Wake Forest team that's found its stride.