ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Sophomore Duke Johnson Headlines a Powerful Miami Offense for 2013

Sophomore Duke Johnson Headlines a Powerful Miami Hurricanes Offense for the 2013 Season

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.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Defensive Line

Senior James Gayle Leads the Hokies' Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

Senior Defensive End James Gayle Leads the Hokies’ Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

A little over 40 days from the start of the 2013 college football season! And it is indeed that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off until August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the defensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line). For several teams that have been churning out elite defenders for years, this is simply another group of stud performers. For others, this is a sign of some serous rebuilding. The ACC has plenty of stars on the defensive line this season, but there’s also plenty of question marks too. We’ll get to both. though as you’d expect, the questions increase as we head further down the list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual end or tackle is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of defensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Defensive Line

1. Virginia Tech Hokies: Looking for experience? The Hokies have plenty, as they bring back all four starters from last season and are chock full of juniors and seniors on the depth chart. As a whole, Tech’s defense recorded 35 sacks last season (16th in the FBS), most of which is attributable to this group. With another year of playing together under their belt, the unit — led by senior defensive end James Gayle — could be in for a monster season as the motor that drives Virginia Tech’s success.

2. Clemson Tigers: You might be surprised to see Clemson here, but that only means you haven’t been paying attention. The young Tigers that watched the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle are all grown up and have become a pretty frightening foursome (34 sacks last year; 20th in the FBS). Yes, they did lose Malliciah Goodman and his seven sacks, but considering who’s replacing him at defensive end (Vic Beasley), there’s very little to worry about in terms of a drop-off in production. Expect Brent Venables’ men to be even more aggressive getting after the passer this season.

3. Florida State Seminoles: FSU replaces every starter from last year’s potent pass-rush, but all is not lost in Tallahassee. Last year’s deep group received plenty of reps as the line was ravaged by injury, so this still ends up being a pretty veteran defensive line. Tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister will anchor them from the tackle positions, but they’ll also rely on Mario Edwards to take a leap as a sophomore and become the threat he was projected to be as a recruit.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year's Hurricanes Team

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year’s Hurricanes Team

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Miami Hurricanes

Spring Practice Start Date: March 2

Spring Game Date: April 13

The ‘Canes offseason has been a mess of rumors; from Al Golden leaving the team, to the botched NCAA investigation and then the “lack of institutional control” verdict passed down. But on the field, things are actually looking up quite a bit for Miami. Should they be able to compete in this year’s postseason (I say it’s likely), they’re one of several contenders for the Coastal division crown, sporting some of the conference’s youngest offensive stars. And after robbing one of Florida State‘s top coaches (new offensive coordinator James Coley) and scoring another highly regarded recruiting class, suddenly things are appearing sunny again in South Florida.

In 2012, Miami’s offense fluctuated between awful and amazing with regularity, at times struggling to top 20 points, and at others, looking like a runaway freight train (scored 40 or more on five separate instances). So the goal this spring while installing James Coley’s new offense is to harness the latter energy even more often. With playmakers like QB Stephen Morris and halfback/returner Duke Johnson (darkhorse for conference player of the year), that doesn’t seem too hard on paper, and no doubt returning all 11 offensive starters is set to pay huge dividends. Though Coley’s value is mainly on the recruiting trail, his move within the state was actually about play-calling. Not handling those duties up in Tallahassee is what drove Coley to look elsewhere, and now he’ll look to re-harness what made him such a hot commodity after a stint as FIU‘s head play-caller. Coley relies on speed and a balanced attack — both of which Miami’s well-suited to handle, meaning we’re in for an up-tempo spring, the likes of which should please everyone at the U.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Miami Head Coach Al Golden Has Already Come Under Tons of Fire Since Taking the Job for the 2011 Season

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. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Miami Hurricanes

Veterans Like Jimmy Gaines Will Be the Key to This Miami team Having a Productive Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Miami Hurricanes

After a respectable 6-6 season amidst off-the-field distractions, there was a predictable mass exodus for the Hurricanes on both sides of the ball. While senior quarterback Jacory Harris was an expected departure, underclassmen like RB Lamar Miller and WR Tommy Streeter declared early to avoid the repercussions of an NCAA investigation, sprinting from Coral Gables as fast as their 40-yard dash times (each recorded a 4.4) would imply. To replace them, head coach Al Golden will rely on a cast of young, unproven players. Just four offensive starters returned for the ‘Canes in 2012, none of whom beyond senior receiver Allen Hurns play at the big-three skill positions. The leadership role in this young, retooled group then falls to junior QB Stephen Morris — or rather, it would if he wasn’t missing spring practice due to back surgery. Without Morris for the time being, Miami stands little chance at developing the type or rhythm and comfort with the system necessary to succeed at this level. Adding in the fact that you’re dealing with an inexperienced team at nearly every position and it’s a recipe for disaster. The only senior starter is predicted to be running back Mike James, who put up seven touchdowns in limited relief of Miller last year. For the spring at least, he’ll be the glue that helps these players mesh while they wait for their quarterback to heal up.

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