CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A year ago, Bethune-Cookman visited Miami (Fla.) and lost by 31 points. The next week, the Wildcats lost to North Carolina A&T.
Since then, they’ve been perfect.
There are more than 600 college football teams across the FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III levels — and only five have longer current winning streaks than the Wildcats (2-0), who will try for a ninth consecutive victory Saturday at Miami (1-1). Bethune-Cookman lost 45-14 at Miami last year, but outgained the Hurricanes 422-335 and trailed by just a touchdown late in the third quarter.
“We see these games as heavyweight fights,” Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins said. “We think that much of our opponent. … You’re going to face a lot of hard hitting, and you’re going to have to overcome some serious situations. It’s going to be another tough obstacle for us. But we’re going to prepare and work through the process to be ready to play a team of such high caliber.”
Getting ready for Miami, that won’t be an issue for the Wildcats.
Most of them have been thinking about Hurricane football for much of their lives.
Bethune-Cookman, located about 260 miles north of Miami in Daytona Beach, Fla., has a roster loaded with players with ties to South Florida. Many of them hoped to be recruited by Miami when they were in high school, or have memories of attending Hurricanes games. Even Jenkins, the Wildcats’ third-year coach who grew up in nearby Fort Lauderdale, makes no secret of his affinity for the Hurricanes.
He was asked this week what Miami football means to him. He barely stopped to take a breath during his long answer, most of which was him raving about Hurricane history and how so many inner-city kids across South Florida have been positively impacted by their traditions and championships.
“That school has just done so many things and touched so many people that it is truly impressive,” Jenkins said.
That being said, he’d love nothing more than to have a breakthrough moment against Miami on Saturday.
“Probably 70 percent of their team is from Florida and a good portion of them from down here,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “There’s a connection, and there’s no question they’re coming in with something to prove.”
The notion of Bethune-Cookman, an FCS school, knocking off a program like five-time-national-champion Miami probably seems preposterous to some, even in a season like this in which the Hurricanes are young — 17 freshmen and sophomores on the defensive two-deep, for example — and in a rebuilding phase.
But FCS-defeating-FBS outcomes do happen.
The Appalachian State win against Michigan in 2007, well, something like that isn’t all that uncommon anymore. It’s happened eight times already this season, perhaps most notably with Pittsburgh falling to Youngstown State and Colorado losing to Sacramento State.
And if there was a time for Bethune to have a chance at something monumental against Miami, it might be now. The Hurricanes are coming off a 52-13 loss at Kansas State and have given up 84 points and 1,035 yards in their two games.
“We respect those guys,” Bethune-Cookman wide receiver Eddie Poole said. “As kids, most of us growing up, we dreamed that we would be wearing that ‘U’ helmet. Guys who wore that, some of them were our favorite players. So we respect that team.”
“We have a lot of players who’ve seen a lot of football,” Poole continued. “And one thing we know is, they’ve got to put those pads on, just like us. It wasn’t too big of a moment last year, and it won’t be this year.”
Poole caught a touchdown pass to open the scoring last year against Miami, and the Wildcats didn’t trail until late in the second quarter.
“They came in here and gave us all we could handle a year ago,” Golden said. “And we expect much of the same.”
According to the NCAA, only Wisconsin-Whitewater (46), Case (10), Grand Valley State (9), Harvard (9) and TCU (9) have longer win streaks than Bethune, which has outscored its last eight opponents 305-126.
Clearly, the Wildcats have the Hurricanes’ attention.
“Great team, great coaches, great athletes,” said Miami defensive back Brandon McGee, whose best friend is Bethune-Cookman quarterback Jackie Wilson, who threw the scoring pass to Poole and ran for another touchdown against the Hurricanes last season. ”We grew up with a lot of those guys. They come out and play with chips on their shoulders. You have to respect them.”
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