Regression to the (Hurricane) Mean

A Regression to the Mean? A What? Well, the old adage is that after uncommonly superior or inferior performance, the inevitable is that everything must return to its mean, its average, a relative normalcy. Here's the better question: How does this relate to the University of Miami football team? Hurricane football is currently experiencing "turbulence" in the once almost inexplicably clear skies that it freely roamed.

However, the reaction to a swing in perceived power has been met with unnecessary exaggeration.

The Creation of Unrealistic Expectations

Is the dominance that was witnessed over a three-year period ('00-02) truly understood and appreciated? In 2000, with a first year Quarterback at the helm, the Hurricanes managed to beat their opponents by an average of over 26 points (42.1 to 15.4 on average), going a mere 11-1 (ending the season on a ten game winning-streak) amidst a BCS controversy that many "experts" openly acknowledge should have placed them in the Championship Game. Well, the following year, after an unbelievable performance such as 2000, they would surely "regress" to what can be defined as more "ordinary" results, right?

In 2001, the Hurricane football team simply started where they had left off, both in terms of winning and sustained dominance; this despite it being Larry Coker's first year as Head Coach and having 4 players drafted in the 1st Round of the 2001 NFL draft (Damione Lewis, Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, and Reggie Wayne). All they did was win 12 Games in a row, beating opponents by an average score of 42.6 to 9.75, capped off with a resounding victory against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Rose Bowl (The BCS Championship Game). Alright, well everyone gets the point; the next year that they would come down from the magical clouds of unprecedented superiority, correct?

Miami fans should have appreciated the previous two years, but could not realistically expect to witness a continued level of utter supremacy after losing 5 first rounders (Phillip Buchanon, Byrant Mckinnie, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, and Jeremy Shockey) and facing what critics argued was "too imposing of a schedule to dominate," could they?

No, they did regress to a "mean": this team, in relation to the two previous years, only outscored its opponents 40.53 to 18.5, going on to finish the year 12-1. However, this was a completely different "mean" apparently, a "Hurricane mean". If some time after the last game of the 2002 season a Hurricane fan, player, or coach would be asked what their reaction was to the season as a whole, an outsider would have deciphered that the team drastically dipped toward mediocrity. Why? The disappointment was clear. The lofty expectations of those within the Hurricane community had not been met. This Hurricane team had lost in the Fiesta Bowl, the BCS Championship game, and they had temporarily come down from levels of perceived invincibility.

Where Do the Canes Go From Here?

So what does this all really signify? Did Hurricane fans witness a Golden Age where expectations were permanently skewed? Are the Miami Hurricanes "doomed" by the looming statistical phenomenon that is ominously dubbed, a "regression to the mean?" The fact is that the Miami Hurricane football team and a core of steadfast followers understand the effects of unfeasible expectations, even if these expectations are the product of the team's own success. It is understood that there is actually a "bigger picture," and therefore though disappointments to this perceived regression exist, the drastic reactions are tempered, and a perception bias is minimized.

What the College football world will seemingly perceive now is that it--the imminent collapse of greatness--has finally occurred. The Hurricanes have lost 2 games in one season. The once astronomical statistical comparisons mightily leaning in the direction of Miami have quietly subsided, as if to allow statisticians' calculators and scoreboards across the country a chance to "pause, and refresh for the next onslaught of potentially wielding force." Yes, the Miami Hurricanes do not project the same aura of dominance witnessed over the past three years, but is a knowledgeable college football follower led to believe they have instantaneously reverted to adequacy?

Dorsey as the Microcosm for Perception Distortion

The perception of the current circumstances surrounding the Hurricane football team is at the epicenter of this issue. Hurricane fans allowed themselves to idealistically believe a period like '00-'02 was not only a goal, but a standard from which future teams would justifiably be measured. Is it fair to the teams, like this 2003 version, to be forced to face a menacingly dark cloud of perceived failure if they would not meet this perceived standard? It seems about as iniquitous and illogical as expecting the Quarterback, any Quarterback that followed, to meet the standard set by Ken Dorsey, who went 38-2 as a starter, set records for Touchdowns (86), passing yards (9,565), and total offense (9,165), while garnering one of the most eye-popping TD/INT ratios (86/28) imaginable, and leading the ‘Canes to two Championship games. All of this, apart from the fact that Dorsey was the paradigm for "cool, calm, and collected QB's," and the constant in the equation of Hurricane football that avoided any perceived regression during the a three year span.

Dorsey's menacing shadow would act as the "yeah, but..." that would inescapably have to be answered after any Quarterback performance, and would decisively structure the perception of those who followed. There is no better illustration of how this very detail of setting a "high bar" would eventually transcend Dorsey's specific Hurricane football teams and reach the ‘Cane QB's that would follow than what could be witnessed moments after this years 38-33, twenty-three point come-from-behind victory over rival Florida.

The scene is the vaunted West End Zone of the Orange Bowl, where the electricity was only exceeded by a collective sense of relief and exhaustion:

Two Hurricane fans, seemingly knowledgeable about the "State of Hurricane football" (shown by their wide-range of relevant comparisons to past "Hurricane thrillers") are discussing the victory, between gasps to regain their breath:

"That [Brock] Berlin sure brought us back tonight. He really stepped it up when the pressure was on," says the middle-aged man draped in a sweat-engrossed Willis Mcgahee #2 jersey.

"Yeah, he did what he had to do, but #11 wouldn't have even gotten us into that ordeal, and he is far more clutch than Brock can even hope to be," the other man, seemingly about the same age as the previous man, sporting his ever-popular #11 jersey.

The first man quickly shoots back, "Come on, don't be so narrow-minded, remember Boston College a couple years back? Washington in Dorsey's first year under center? You can't say Dorsey always played perfectly, but he won, just like Brock did tonight."

A final quip from this short excerpt of the two fan's discussion: "Whatever he does, short of a perfect season for the team, he won't surpass what #11 was, not in my mind," almost proudly in defense of the player whom he clearly holds in the highest regard.

The Price of Unprecedented Success

So where did this change in perception originate? Ken Dorsey, the once highly-criticized (perceived lack of physical attributes), now seemingly infallible former Hurricane QB, is the symbolic model for what Miami fans yearn to be at the controls of their offense, as well as the basis from which the perception of current and future ‘Cane QB's will be measured. The irony is too great to elaborate upon, but where was this perception of Ken, undoubtedly a winner, leader, and excellent fit for the Miami system, while he was wearing a Hurricane uniform? Is there a touch of hindsight bias being displayed? Did anyone expect the RB position to "meet" the standards left by the seemingly super-human season that Willis Mcgahee accomplished in 2002? Would it not have been absurd to expect someone to fill the shoes of a Bryant Mckinnie? Players like James Jackson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Jeremy Shockey left the program, and yet the Hurricanes continued to reload with minimal pause. Even in this so-called "down-year" the cupboard remains plentiful, with upwards of four possible 1st Round draft picks in next April's NFL draft. However, regardless of Miami's penchant to "reload," the lack of patience in understanding the natural dips that all College teams experience is seemingly hindering the ability to "refresh" the strict perceptions and expectations that have been created. The difference is clearly in the reaction to this relative downswing that has been perceived as "unacceptable."

Examples of the Irrational Reactions

One perfect example of the manner in which fans have seemingly allowed the media to induce a perception shift on the current team is the general consensus that this current Miami team is apparently devoid of talent. What is the proof given for this? Jarrett Payton was caught from behind during a long run toward the end zone against the Tennessee Volunteers. If this is not a perfect microcosm of the conveniently selective perception being perpetuated by the media (see the Miami Herald) and accepted by the general public as truth, than there is a clear reluctance to accept reality. Surely the Hurricanes have had "faster" Running Backs, and admittedly being caught from behind is a clear sign of a drop in talent from the recent past, but what must be taken into account is the players of the recent past: NFL star Clinton Portis and 1st round draft pick Willis Mcgahee. Before them? A fan would be able to find the solution to the inquiry that directly implies a depletion of talent, by answering when the last time a ‘Cane back was caught from behind--James Jackson, during the 2000 season, where he was questioned for "lack of breakaway speed due to gaining too much weight." Why was this not emphasized during that year? Why was it not emphasized while Jarrett Payton put on a very similar performance against FSU ('03) to Jackson's hard-nosed display on a victorious afternoon in 2000 against the same ‘Noles? The Hurricanes were winning (quite soundly as previously shown in the stats) so the perception was different, and excuses and accusations that "make sense of it all" were not needed to rationalize a situation-- like they obviously are now.

The bottom line is this: making a conclusive generalization about the overall talent of a Hurricane team, based on an individual example like Payton being caught from behind, is not only an example of a "less explosive offense than the usual ‘Cane teams", but it is a microcosm of the irrational reaction that can be seen throughout the media, and is being accepted by fans across the nation.

…But wait, more examples of this distortion?

Basically, where success begets success, the current "State of the Miami Hurricanes" is more along the lines of success resulting in impatience. From media suggestions that declare with absolute certainty that Miami simply does not have the talent "once had," to open assertions proclaiming Miami is at a "low point." Want another example of the type of downright devastation being perceived in Miami? Read a highly publicized article at popular sports website proclaiming that a former all-everything recruit like Ryan Moore has failed to live up to expectations. This, of course, is affirmed about a Redshirt Freshman WR who with three games left in the regular season has two fewer catches than former #3 overall pick in the NFL 2003 Draft, Andre Johnson, had in his entire breakout season of 2001 (where he had 37 catches). This is not to say Ryan Moore will reach the status of Johnson, but it is to show the clear distortion of perception by those within the "College Football Kingdom."

Ultimately, all of this can actually be taken as an unintended compliment. The expected regression was inevitable, but if this swing is a "low point," as media-types have called it, should the Hurricane community not be proud that while they cannot escape the phenomenon of the "regression to the mean", it is but a minimal downswing in relation to the rest of College Football teams? Conflicts will obviously occur, considering the numerous variables that come into play. Currently, the Quarterback position is a point of conflict, and this is partly the product of the QB position being a constant for an extended period of time. The most important question is if the Hurricane community will minimize the perceived conflicts, understanding that the majority of current reactions are based on improbable expectations caused by past performance?

Pendulum of Perception

Is it not obvious that this entire situation is but a simple, unrefined microcosm of the "Current State of Hurricane Football?" This circumstance (a QB controversy, currently inept offense, and seeming despair after two losses), like the hindsight of Dorsey's commonly lauded accomplishments, rises above the surface to rear its unknown face and represents the current discrepancy between the reaction to expectations and reality. The Miami Hurricane fans, as well as a serious portion of the "nation of College Football," are being duped by an uncontrollable factor, a seeming pendulum of panic-induced opinion that is unfortunately missing the bigger picture while magnifying the present.

The College football world, and its schizophrenic mentality, currently is emphasizing the past two week's losses as if it were the fall of Rome, circa 2003, and understandably it can be interpreted that during the last three years, like Rome's Empire, Miami Hurricane Football dominance knew no bounds. However, the fact remains that the pendulum of success would swing downward at some point. For a team like the Miami Hurricanes, it is obvious that the regression to the "mean" is completely different than the common definition of what "normalcy" may be.

The temporary swing is being perceived as an irreversible trend, while the distinct and likely possibility is that this natural move will eventually lead to the momentum that can possibly mark a similar, yet inexorably unique, footprint on the vast landscape of College Football, much like the three-year "Golden Rule" powerfully engraved.

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