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By Richard Cirminiello
Few programs in America are looking forward to the start of a new season more than the Hurricanes, which had to deal with all kinds of off-field problems a year ago.
Head coach: Al Golden
First year: 6-6
Off. 17, Def. 22, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Miami Players
1. DE Anthony Chickillo, Soph.
2. OG Brandon Linder, Jr.
3. LB Denzel Perryman, Soph.
4. RT Seantrel Henderson, Jr.
5. FS Vaughn Telemaque, Sr.
6. RB Mike James, Sr.
7. LB Ramon Buchanan, Sr.
8. DT Darius Smith, Sr.
0. WR Allen Hurns, Jr.
10. WR Phillip Dorsett, Soph.
Sep. 1 at Boston College
Sep. 8 at Kansas State
Sep. 15 Bethune Cookman
Sep. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sep. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 at Notre Dame (in Chicago)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Oct. 27 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke
The NCAA scandal that cast a long shadow over Al Golden’s first season as the head coach of Miami has gradually been displaced by a sense that the purging is gradually entering its final stages. And the more indelible that the coach’s fingerprints become, the better off the school will be in the long term.
Considering all of the mayhem that Golden stepped into, no one would have blamed the coach for bolting at the end of 2011 for a more stable environment. Instead, he doubled-down his commitment to the ‘Canes, which desperately need his discipline and vision in order to reverse field in the coming years.
In the meantime, Miami is working hard this offseason to improve its overall depth, which has been chiseled by injuries and a slew of early departures to the NFL. Competition at just about every position on the depth chart is going to be fierce right throughout the summer, which is exactly the way Golden and his staff want to see the process unfold over the next couple of months.
No battle for playing time will get more attention this summer than the one between quarterbacks Stephen Morris and Ryan Williams. Williams is in his first year since transferring from Memphis, while Morris sat out the spring following back surgery. Behind center is a microcosm for much of the Hurricanes roster; there is a mess of quality athletes, but not enough sure-things on either side of the ball to be thinking seriously about a Coastal Division crown in 2012.
The shoe has yet to finish dropping, as Miami awaits the final verdict from the NCAA infractions committee. In the meantime, Golden is gradually changing the culture in South Florida, one player at a time. The coach has the blueprint and the determination to turn things around for the Hurricanes. Patience, though, is going to be a must for a fan base that is still at least a year away from backing a champion, a goal shared by everyone associated with this once-powerhouse program.
What to watch for on offense: The identity of the starting quarterback. The staff is truly looking at a toss-up involving the transfer, sophomore Ryan Williams, and the holdover, junior Stephen Morris. Williams played well up until the spring game, and received most of the first-team reps, because Morris was limited following surgery. Now that both are expected at full strength in August, Miami is bracing for a protracted competition behind center for the second consecutive summer. Morris took a backseat to Jacory Harris in 2011, and will be looking even his record in these battles once he returns to action.
What to watch for on defense: That chick is hot. Now that LB Sean Spence, last season’s only defensive all-star, is a Pittsburgh Steeler, Miami is in the market for the next generation of playmakers. Sophomore LB Denzel Perryman is one of them. So, too, is DE Anthony Chickillo. Just a little over a year removed from high school, he’s already operating like one of the Hurricanes’ two or three best defensive players. He darted out of the gate as a rookie, starting nine games and making a team-high five sacks. With a full season of training and preparation, he’s capable of blossoming into one of the ACC’s top pass rushers.
The team will be far better if… it gets better results in the turnover battle. In 2010, Miami was unable to protect the ball, throwing more interceptions than any program in the FBS. A year ago, the ‘Canes were a respectable 32nd nationally in turnovers, but created a measly 15 takeaways to finish 105th in the country. The program has to figure out this critical aspect of the game soon, or else it’s doomed to a level of mediocrity that it no longer cares to tolerate.
The Schedule: The Hurricanes have a ton of work to do, and they don't have an easy schedule to ease into the season. It would've been nice to have played Bethune Cookman first, but instead Miami has to start out on the road against an improved Boston College followed up a trip to Kansas State. Throw in the road trip to Georgia Tech, and the Canes are away from home for three of the first four weeks and four of the first six thanks to a trip to Chicago to face Notre Dame. The midsection is a bear, but North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia Tech all have to come to Miami with a week off before facing the Hokies. Because things aren't difficult enough, South Florida will be an emotional game late.
Best offensive player: Junior G Brandon Linder. Linder is not just the most consistent player on offense for Miami, he’s also the most valuable. On an inconsistent unit, the 6-6, 310-pounder is the anchor, creating daylight for the backs, and keeping the pocket clean for the quarterbacks. In 2011, he graded out at 90% to tie for the team-high, which included All-ACC C Tyler Horn. While he doesn’t generate a lot of pub, especially on a front wall that includes former can’t-miss OT Seantrel Henderson, the staff is grateful that they have Linder for two more years.
Best defensive player: Sophomore DE Anthony Chickillo. The
five-star recruit who played like a five-star
recruit in his first season on campus. The 6-4,
258-pounder started the final nine games, finishing
with 38 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and five sacks.
A third generation Hurricane, he blends ideal
athleticism with the passion and intensity coaches
look for in a pass rusher. With a full offseason to
get in the weight room and digest the system, he’s
poised to make a national splash in Year Two
Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Mike James. Whether it winds up being Williams or Morris taking snaps, neither figure to remind the locals of Jim Kelly or Gino Torretta. No, if the Miami offense is going to percolate, especially with Golden calling the shots, it’ll be because of the ground game. No one is going to do for the attack what RB Lamar Miller did in 2011, but someone, like James, will have to eat up carries, and keeping the chains moving. If the running game sputters, the likelihood that Williams or Morris manages the game efficiently goes down markedly.
The season will be a success if ... Miami makes a return to the bowl season. Naturally, the NCAA could squash that pursuit a year after the Hurricanes slapped themselves with a self-imposed postseason ban in 2011. However, if the program has the green light, playing an additional game in December or January would be a tangible goal that the second-year staff is seeking. The schedule is no doubt thorny, but there should be at least six wins on it needed to earn a 13th game and 15 additional practices.
Key game: Oct. 6 vs. Notre Dame. This primetime affair in Chicago will have absolutely no impact on the ACC title chase, but then again, the Hurricanes probably aren’t going to be in the hunt on the final weekend of the regular season anyway. A nationally-televised game, and the first regular season meeting with the Irish since 1990, will be the kind of stage that affords Golden and his kids an opportunity to showcase their progress to a much larger than normal audience. It’s the type of marquee event that could propel Miami into the second half of the season.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Miami 18 – Opponents 8
- Interceptions thrown: Miami 11 – Opponents 6
- Red-zone touchdowns: Miami 66% - Opponents 40%
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