2010 Miami Hurricanes Football Preview
2009 Results: 9-4, Lost Champs Sports Bowl vs. Wisconsin
Head Coach: Randy Shannon (4th Year @ Miami, 21-17 Overall)
Home Venue: Sun Life Stadium (75,000), Coral Gables, Florida
Miami had a breakout season in 2009, as the Hurricanes powered their way into the top ten for the first time since 2005 with a strong September showing that included wins over three ranked opponents. With nine wins and a top 20 ranking, it was the first time in half of a decade that ‘The U’ was really a force on the national scene. However, they’re still far from being ‘back’, showed by Wisconsin’s physical domination in last season’s Champs Sports Bowl defeat. Can the Hurricanes take the next step with a very experienced class of juniors and win the ACC Championship in 2010?
The biggest reason for Miami’s success offensively last season was quarterback Jacory Harris (3,352 yards, 24 TDs, 17 INT), who had a breakout campaign despite a thumb injury that limited him for most of the season. Harris still has a long way to go, as he collapsed down the stretch and his 17 picks were the 2nd most by any quarterback in D-1A football, but he is considered by many to be one of the country’s best quarterbacks this season. He also missed all of spring practice rehabilitating from his thumb injury, so keeping him healthy will be of the utmost concern this fall. However, he is one of the league’s best passers and should cut down on interceptions this fall with a healthy throwing hand.
Harris also has a great set of wide receivers, as their top five pass catchers are back from 2009. Senior Leonard Hankerson (45 catches, 801 yards, 6 TDs) is their top option while juniors Travis Benjamin (29 catches, 501 yards, 4 TDs) and LaRon Byrd (33 catches, 460 yards, 1 TDs) are exceptional athletes in their own right. These three are the main trio that should be on the receiving end of Harris’ passes this fall and all three should have excellent seasons. I think that Miami will have the best wide receivers in the ACC in 2010.
Unfortunately, the Hurricane running game doesn’t have the same amount of returning talent. Senior tailback Graig Cooper is expected to miss the season after tearing his ACL in the bowl game, a stroke of really bad luck caused by a field in terrible condition that will cost ‘The U’ their starting tailback. However, senior Damien Berry (616 yards, 8 TDs) is expected to be the starter this fall and he was a strong producer last season behind Cooper. Furthermore, freshmen Lamar Miller and Storm Johnson were impressive in the spring, so I think that the Hurricanes have more than enough talent to field a solid running game this fall.
If their offensive line lives up to expectations, that is. After a tough spring where injuries hit the O-Line particularly hard, there are a lot of questions up front heading into camp in August. Seniors Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa are the only two returning starters from 2009 and the only position that appeared to be filled in the spring was at center, where junior Tyler Horn was very impressive. That leaves one tackle spot and one guard spot to be filled this season and I can guarantee that Miami fans will be howling for elite tackle recruit Seantrel Henderson to see the field right away. But is a true freshman really going to be the solution when road trips to Ohio State, Pitt and Clemson come early in the season? On top of that, Miami’s line really struggled against physical teams last year (Wisconsin and Virginia Tech owned the line of scrimmage against the Canes) and I don’t have any confidence that this group will be better, especially with their best lineman (1st Team All-ACC tackle Jason Fox) playing in the NFL. I expect this group to play well against weaker fronts but they are going to have major issues against some of the elite D-Lines that they play against this fall.
Overall, there is a lot of talent on this offense, especially amongst their junior class. The last two years have seen a ton of freshmen take the field for Miami and I think that will pay off this year. The passing game should be one of the best in the ACC with a strong fleet of receivers for Harris to throw to and I think that the running game will surprise some people with their depth. While I do have some concerns about the offensive line, I think that they will be good enough to protect Harris most of the time and open up space to run. The Hurricanes are definitely going to have one of the ACC’s best offenses this season.
Miami’s defense has not yet recaptured their former elite status under Randy Shannon, though last season’s 22 points allowed per game was the best result of his coaching tenure. Much like on offense, Shannon has played a ton of young players in each of the last two years and those youngsters are now savvy veterans. Can the Hurricanes reclaim a spot among the elite defense in the ACC?
The defensive line has been a recruiting focus for Shannon since the day he was named Head Coach and that will definitely pay off this season. At defensive end, senior Allen Bailey (34 tackles, 7 sacks) was a 1st Team All-ACC choice last fall after a season of harassing opposing quarterbacks. He will pair with junior Marcus Robinson (17 tackles, 4 sacks) in the starting lineup and senior Steve Wesley (17 tackles, 3 sacks) and sophomore Oliver Vernon (25 tackles, 1.5 sacks) should provide great depth. The theme of depth continues at defensive tackle, where senior Josh Holmes (22 tackles, 1 sack) is a space eater whose life will be made a lot easier with the return of sophomore Marcus Forston, who redshirted last year due to injury after being named a Freshman All-American in 2008. This is going to be a loaded D-Line that is among the best in the country.
Miami also has great linebackers. Senior Colin McCarthy (95 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is the team’s top returning tackler and was a 2nd Team All-ACC selection in 2009. The ‘backers should also get a big boost from junior Sean Spence (36 tackles, 3 sacks), who struggled with injuries last season after a Freshman All-American campaign in 2008. Junior Ramon Buchanan (28 tackles) played a lot in Spence’s absence and that experience should pay off as he will fill out the starting lineup this fall. The Hurricanes have very talented linebackers.
The part of this defense that concerns me is the secondary. While junior cornerback Brandon Harris (58 tackles, 2 INT) was a 1st Team All-ACC pick and a 3rd Team All-American last year, he is by far the most veteran player in among the defensive backs. Obviously, the presence of a shut down corner like Harris will make life easier for the rest of the secondary, but both safeties are probably going to be sophomores this season. Vaughn Telemarque (48 tackles) and Ray-Ray Armstrong (21 tackles) showed great physical skills last year but I do worry that they won’t be prepared to hold up against a difficult early schedule. However, there are a ton of great athletes in this secondary and I think that they will turn out to be quite strong through the air by the end of the season.
Overall, Miami is extremely talented. Their defensive line is going to be one of the deepest in the country and should be strong against the run while generating a great pass rush. Paired with a very talented set of linebackers, I think they will be a nightmare for opposing tailbacks. Where I have some concern is with the defensive backs, as they’re a young unit that has to gel during a very difficult early schedule. While I think that they will become a very strong unit by the end of the year, that early learning curve could be costly. Concerns about the defensive backs aside, I think that the talent is definitely on hand for Miami to reclaim their status as a top tier defense this season.
Miami has one of the most difficult schedules in the entire country this season. Outside of ACC play, the Hurricanes have monster September games as they visit Ohio State for the first time since the classic 2002 National Championship game before visiting Pittsburgh on a Thursday night two weeks later. If those two games weren’t difficult enough, Miami also osts their newest in-state rival, South Florida, giving the Canes eleven games against BCS Conference opponents, the most in the entire country!
Their ACC draw also does them zero favors. Atlantic Division co-favorites Florida State and Clemson are on the docket, which puts them at a major disadvantage as they have the toughest inter-division draw of any team in the Coastal Division. That also means that Miami and North Carolina are the only two teams predicted to finish in the top half of the league that have to play every other team from that top group! With their extremely difficult non-conference portion, I think that Miami has the toughest schedule in the entire country.
There is no doubt that Miami is a contender in the ACC Coastal Division this season. Jacory Harris is one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league and he has a great group of wide receivers to work with. I also really like the depth at tailback, even if Cooper doesn’t see the field this fall. The front seven on the Hurricane defense is also impressive and they should be very strong against the run this season. Furthermore, this team’s juniors and seniors are far more experienced than your average upperclassmen, as Shannon has put an emphasis on playing young talent in the past two seasons.
However, for all of the positives about this team, there are a few things that really worry me. First of all, Miami’s O-Line was very inconsistent last season, allowing three or more sacks in six games, and they have to replace three starters, including a 4th round NFL draft pick. On top of that, their defensive backs are going to be very young and I worry that they will take a little while to gel, especially at safety.
Normally, these would be issues that would be worked out in the early going and they wouldn’t receive so much focus. However, Miami has a brutal opening stretch for the second consecutive season (they played four top 25 teams in the first four games last year) and that magnifies these concerns. After opening against D-1AA Florida A&M, the Hurricanes travel to Ohio State, Pittsburgh (on a Thursday night) and Clemson before hosting archrival Florida State! No team in America plays a tougher four game stretch this season and it comes at the beginning of the year!
I think that brutal opening schedule won’t turn out nearly as successful as the opening run did in 2009. I don’t see Miami beating an extremely talented Ohio State team and the other three games are going to be very difficult outings as well. It really hurts that the hated Seminoles will be coming off of games against lowly Wake Forest and Virginia when the Canes are finishing that wicked early run. While Miami will certainly rebound from a tough opening stretch, they play the toughest schedule in the country and the attrition that comes along with playing such hard competition is going to rear its ugly head this fall. As for the Coastal Division, primary contender Virginia Tech doesn’t play either Clemson or Florida State from the Atlantic Division, giving them a much more favorable slate. I think that all of those factors will conspire against them and prevent them from winning the division. Even with all of those difficulties, this will still be an excellent team and the Miami Hurricanes are my choice to finish 2nd in the ACC Coastal Division in 2010.
PREDICTED RESULT: 8-4 (6-2 ACC)
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