Team: Miami Hurricanes
2011 W-L: 6-6 (3-5)
Head Coach: Al Golden (6-6; one season)
Returning Starters: 9 (5 Offense, 4 Defense)
When the ACC recruited Miami a decade ago, it was going after a program that had spent the past two decades as the sports’ most dominant program. Five national championships, nine conference championships and two Heisman trophy winners, all for a team that had also developed a bit of a (warranted) lawless attitude. While they’ve dealt with some issues before, the gauntlet for this program, after an ever-growing scandal involving former booster Nevin Shapiro, may yet to have been dropped. But as they await their fate, the Hurricanes still have some football to play. How well they manage to do so this season is up for some serious debate.
As part of the “sinking ship” mentality adopted by many in the Miami program last year, the ‘Canes offense lost six offensive starters, including all of its primary playmakers. So while there’s a pretty steep ramp at all of the skill positions, they will play with the benefit of an experienced O-line in front of them. Obviously, with so many departures, Miami coaches are also faced with decisions on who’ll be getting the ball as they try to kick-start an offense that scored around 26.5 points per game last year (good for middle-of-the-road in FBS). With their depth largely made up of new, young talent, it will not be an easy task.
At quarterback, it does appear the team is set on Stephen Morris, who has played in 11 contests over the past two seasons (with four starts in 2010). Since arriving at the U, Morris has shown glimpses of what made him such a highly-coveted recruit out of college, yet has yet to put the total package together. He’ll have the ramp to do so in 2012, though redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams is also waiting in the wings.
From the running back position, it’s expected that senior Mike James will handle a good portion of carries, but again, there’s ample room for a dual-back system. James has yet to truly impress beyond some red zone situations and will still have some work to do to prove he deserves the full workload. The running game will need to be up-to-snuff, too, if Morris can’t seem to get in rhythm with his inexperienced receiving corps. Miami returns less than 50 receptions overall from last season, and they’ll need to establish who the main targets will be this season.
On defense, much talk will likely still be made about departed safety Ray Ray Armstrong, but let’s be clear — he was just another U of M recruit that could never find a way to live up to his numerous abilities. Still, with some new question marks in the secondary, there are a good deal of concerns about this ‘Canes defense. Of all the departures last year — on either side of the ball — the most important may have been linebacker Sean Spence, who truly guided the team from the middle of the field. On that side of the ball, the mantle is now taken up by Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo. The two sophomores may still be young, but with Perryman handling things from the linebacker spot and Chickillo applying pressure, they can at least attempt to live up to a group that finished 18th in scoring defense last year.
Despite what ended up being a disappointing campaign, Miami’s 2011 was not all that bad, on the field. In their six losses, they lost by an average of less than a touchdown, and actually had a chance to win each of those come the end, too. Since last year’s group of veterans couldn’t get it done, could this year’s youth-infused lineup? Time and time again, whenever we believe Miami to have put “the U” imagery behind them, another player seems to step out of line. We were duped again this offseason until Armstrong’s Twitter activities and dismissal. Can the rest of the team muster up the maturity to close out games amidst a brutal 2012 schedule?
The answer, unfortunately for ‘Canes fans, is ‘not likely.’ All of those highly-ranked recruiting classes have done little for this program of late, and while Golden’s group may see players with better character than the past, they’re still young and still have plenty to learn about college football. Beyond the offensive line, there are simply too many pieces that must be replaced, and not enough experienced bodies to fill those roles. With the impending NCAA decision on sanctions, the last thing this school needs is a losing season to add insult to injury. Sadly, that’s likely what they’re going to receive unless Golden and Morris perform a few miracles. As mentioned earlier, the schedule is brutal and there’s too many distractions getting in the way of success.
Prediction: (3-9 (2-6); no postseason