The U. The Swagger. The Championships.
All the above have been missing for a decade now.
Head coach Al Golden likely had the second toughest job in college football (Bill O’Brien had the first) last season, ushering in a new era of Hurricane football after the Nevin Shapiro scandal had dissipated.
That NCAA cloud has been lifted and Miami is on level ground when it comes to recruiting and fair competition.
The 2014 season will be Golden’s fourth at Miami. He is 22-15 since taking over for Randy Shannon and has improved the Hurricanes record each season. The U was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country but lost four of their final six games after racing out to a 7-0 record.
Will Miami improve on its 9-4 record, this season?
It all comes to down to the quarterback and the defense.
The offense was not the problem for the Hurricanes last season. They averaged 33.8 points per game and were really good before star running back Duke Johnson broke his ankle against Florida State.
Quarterback Stephen Morris has moved on to the NFL. Although inconsistent, Miami will have trouble to find an adequate replacement after projected starter Ryan Williams tore his ACL in spring practice. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen was supposed to be that guy, but was suspended after failing his second drug test in two years.
Reports from Miami’s fall practices have transfer Jake Heaps and true freshman Brad Kaaya as the two who are atop the depth chart. Kaaya was expected to redshirt but has turned heads since arriving in Coral Gables. Al Golden has praised his poise and confidence while other coaches are convinced he’s a junior or a senior. Who ever gets the call will have to be ready, and fast.
Running back Duke Johnson returns after a season-ending injury and has gained about 15 pounds to better endure the consistent contact he receives. Through two seasons, Johnson has rushed for 1,867 yards and 16 touchdowns. The depth behind Johnson has potential. Sophomore Gus Edwards ran for 339 yards and scored five touchdowns during his freshman slate and is more thunder to Johnson’s lightning. True freshman Joe Yearby will certainly see some carries as well this year. The freshman is quick and more of a slasher at the position, very elusive with serious wheels.
At wideout, Miami has talent all over the field. Although they lost Allen Hurns, the Hurricanes still have Stacy Coley (591 receiving yards, seven touchdowns), Phillip Dorsett (1,261 career receiving yards, seven career touchdowns, missed most of last season due to injury), Herb Waters (406 receiving yards, five touchdowns, and tight end Clive Walford (454 yards, two touchdowns). Whoever is named the starter at quarterback will have plenty of weapons surrounding him.
The Canes will have to tweak the offensive line after losing four players who combined for 85 career starts. Left guard Joe Feliciano returns, as does left tackle Erik Flowers and center Shane McDermott. They will have to solidify the right side after losing Seantrel Henderson and Brandon Linder. True freshman K.C. McDermott and Trevor Darling are fighting for starting spots and most believe one or both will see playing time against Louisville on Labor Day night.
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has taken a lot of heat from Hurricane fans the past few years. Many have called for him to be fired but head coach Al Golden still believes in his running mate and close friend. Miami was pretty bad on defense to say the least last season, mainly due to the depth on the defensive line. The defense was 52nd in the country with 29 sacks, 65th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game), and 89th in yards per game allowed (426.4).
Not good enough.
The Hurricanes need to improve drastically on the defensive line. The question remains though, is there enough talent at the position to really see an improvement this season?
As of now, junior Calvin Heurtelou and Olsen Pierre are the starers at defensive tackle. Anthony Chickillo has remained at defensive end while sophomore Al-Quadin Muhammad, junior Tyriq McCord and true freshman Chad Thomas will be tough to deal with if Golden decides to rotate those players in-and-out.
The linebacking corps lost potential starter Alex Figueora and backup Jawand Blue after the two were dismissed from the program amid sexual battery charges. Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman returns for his senior season and is the unquestioned leader of the defense. On the outside, senior Thurston Armbrister (29 tackles in 2013) and junior Raphael Kirby (nine tackles in 2013) are expected to start.
Secondary should be the the strongest unit for Miami this upcoming season. The Canes return their top four cornerbacks, including junior Tracy Howard who led the team with four interceptions. Dallas Crawford switched from running back to safety and has adjusted very well. He is expected to start alongside Deon Bush. If Bush can stay healthy, Miami will have a formidable defensive backfield.
Stacy Coley averaged over 25 yards a return in 2013. He is one of the most dynamic players in the country and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He will return both punts and kick-offs this upcoming season. It is still unclear if Duke Johnson will be a return man this year. If he is, teams might be better off kicking it out of bounds.
If Miami can find consistent quarterback play and if the defense improves, there’s no reason they can’t find themselves in their first ACC championship game since joining the conference.
However, the Hurricanes have tough road games against Louisville, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech and their two toughest home games will be versus Florida State and North Carolina, hardly cakewalks.
All-in-all, Golden firmly believes he has put together a team that can compete against the best.
We will find out soon if he is right.