Team: Miami Hurricanes
2012 W-L: 7-5 (5-3)
Head Coach: Al Golden (13-11; third season)
Returning Starters: 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)
Miami has consistently had a ton of talent on the roster for over 30 years now. Obviously, that’s resulted in a lot of wins, but since the school’s move to the ACC, the same can’t be said anymore. Despite the talent brought in every season, the ‘Canes have been fairly disappointing in their new conference, made worse by the ongoing Nevin Shapiro nonsense that has followed them like a black cloud. But maybe this year’s different. After two years of willfully missing the postseason, this Hurricanes team may finally be able to realize its potential and compete for a conference championship — like they were supposed to do all along. That doesn’t mean success is assured, however.
Last year’s offense was nothing short of spectacular at times last season. Seven different times they managed to score at least five touchdowns in a game. But three more times they couldn’t top 14 points. This was a unit that capitalized on subpar defenses and struggled against solid-to-great ones — and the key was balance. Despite having Duke Johnson as one of two primary ball-carriers (Mike James being the other), the team still only picked up 1,737 yards on the ground. Johnson — by all accounts a stud playmaker — was mostly underused and yet still put up monster numbers. That self-induced rushing inequity was offset by a bipolar passing game that folks should still be intrigued to watch this fall, because unlike previous Miami quarterbacks (hi, Jacory Harris), Stephen Morris actually has the talent to lead a team — most notably because the talent around him can actually produce. Again, this has not been the case in South Florida lately, which is why many (myself included) think this is the year they get back to being an upper-crust program in college football.
As proof of what Morris can do, see his record-breaking 566-yard performance against NC State last season. His accuracy was solid (58 percent) and when he started making some smarter decisions with the ball to end the year, you even saw attempts drop down to more reasonable levels, while accuracy was above 60 for each of his last three games. Now with a full year of starting under his belt, a full offensive line returning and his two top targets (Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott) also back in the fold, it’ll be interesting to see if he takes it as a cue to pass more, or be more efficient in passing the ball. He has a security blanket in Johnson, just like he did last year. Hopefully, the offense is designed to take advantage of it more so than it was in 2012. Getting the lion’s share of the carries this season (he only had 37 percent of the team’s runs last year), Johnson should be able to well surpass the 947 yards and 10 scores from freshman year — hence why he’s been climbing so many preseason Heisman lists.