As spring practices commence around the nation, I’ll be looking at each of Notre Dame’s 12 opponents in the 2012 season and addressing some key questions and some potential breakout players.
In this edition, we’ll look at Al Golden’s Miami Hurricanes, who return to the Irish’s regular-season schedule for the first time 22 years.
They take the field for the first time on March 3rd, with their spring game coming on April 14th.
Later this week, we’ll look at Oklahoma and BYU, as they prepare to start practice on March 5th.
Date: October 6th
Location: Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 33, Miami 17 (2010 Sun Bowl)
Last Meeting in Chicago: None
Current Streak: Notre Dame – 2
Record: 6-6 (3-5 ACC)
Leading Passer: Jacory Harris (Sr.) – 195-of-300, 2,486 yards, 20 TD, 9 INT
Leading Rusher: Lamar Miller (So.) – 227 rushes, 1,272 yards, 9 TD
Leading Receiver: Tommy Streeter (Jr.) – 46 catches, 811 yards, 8 TD
While Jacory Harris showed some flashes of brilliance over three-plus seasons, he never displayed the consistency necessary for the program to return to the level at which it was a decade ago.
Against Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl, four of Harris’ seven passes didn’t hit the ground. Three of those four, however, were caught by Irish defenders.
Junior Stephen Morris, who threw three touchdowns in El Paso in relief of Harris, is the expected starter heading into the spring. Morris started the season opener last year when Harris was suspended but threw a damaging interception that was returned for a touchdown in a loss at Maryland.
This year will be when the decommitment of 2011 recruit Teddy Bridgewater will begin to hurt the Hurricanes.
He was seen as the eventual replacement to Harris before signing with Louisville. The ‘Canes do add freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey, both in school for the spring, but neither are expected to significantly push Morris.
Third-year sophomore Lamar Miller took his talents out of South Beach and declared for the NFL draft after rushing for 1,272 yards last season. The best candidate to replace him may be incoming freshman Duke Johnson.
Johnson, a south Florida native, committed to Miami early in his junior season, not having second thoughts after the coaching transition from Randy Shannon to Al Golden. Senior Eduardo Clements returns but is more of a third-down player, finishing 2011 with only one fewer reception than carries.
Rising senior Mike James had 72 carries a year ago but is more of a short-yardage specialist with limited playmaking potential.
Early departures will impact almost every position group, but none had the impact of Miller.
Tommy Streeter was one of the more surprising players in the ACC last year with over 800 yards and eight touchdowns, but the junior declared for the NFL draft. Second-leading receiver Travis Benjamin also must be replaced.
Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett are the only returning receivers with more than 50 yards. The Hurricanes do add 4-star receivers Malcolm Lewis and Robert Lockhart, as well as versatile athlete Angelo Jean-Louis, who could play receiver or defensive back.
Miami has produced four elite NFL tight ends over the past decade, and next in line may be rising sophomore Clive Walford.
The 6’4”, 245-pound Walford came on strong late in the 2011 season and will be one of Morris’ primary weapons this fall.
Much of the Hurricanes’ fate in the trenches lies with whether or not star 2010 recruit Seantrel Henderson can stay healthy. Ideally, he will replace Brandon Washington at left tackle, who left after his junior season.
Center Tyler Horn and guard Harland Gunn also depart, but the right side of the line returns intact. The loser of the Malcolm Bunche vs. Jon Feliciano battle at right tackle could shift to the other side if Henderson can’t stay healthy.
The Hurricanes finished in the middle of the pack in both the ACC and the FBS a year ago in sacks allowed, but this unit overall is weaker.
Stabilizing the left side of the line is a primary concern for the spring, with Henderson’s development a major factor.
This is the biggest concern for the ‘Canes heading into the spring. Not only was Adewale Ojomo’s request for a sixth season of eligibility denied, but Marcus Fortson and Olivier Vernon both turned pro with eligibility remaining.
Defensive end Anthony Chickillo had an impressive freshman season in 2011, finishing third in ACC Freshman of the Year voting. Mammoth 360-pound tackle Darius Smith played significant minutes last year filling in for Fortson and should lock up one of the starting spots this spring.
2012 signee Dwayne Hoilett graduated high school early and is already on campus but is more of a long-term project. Expecting Hoilett be a significant contributor in 2012 may be too much to ask.
Sean Spence is a major loss in the middle of the second level. His replacement, James Gaines, has limited game experience.
A breakout candidate is strongside linebacker Denzel Perryman, who had a stellar freshman season and became a starter by November. He’s a bit undersized at only 6’0” but finished second on the team in tackles.
Four-star recruit Raphael Kirby will participate in spring practice and could push Ramon Buchanan for the starting weakside spot.
The last line of defense should be the strength of the 2012 Hurricanes, with three senior starters. Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong’s return to school was a silver lining after six other Hurricanes elected to turn pro early.
Armstrong will team with Vaughn Telemaque to make up the best safety duo in the ACC. Both are big, physical players who will need to provide leadership for a young team.
Transfer Ladarius Gunter and senior Brandon McGee are the expected starters at cornerback, with incoming freshmen Deon Bush and Tracy Howard pushing for playing time once they arrive in the summer.
Jake Wieclaw returns after a solid 2011 season in which he connected on all 39 of his extra point attempts and 11-of-14 field goals.
Punter Dalton Botts should be one of the best in the ACC, although the Hurricanes would like him to be on the field less after having to punt 19 times in the team’s final three games.
Losing Benjamin is a big blow for the receiving corps but maybe more so for the return game. He was first in the ACC in kick returns and fourth in punt returns.
The ‘Canes will hope to have some clarity at the return positions by the end of spring.
Golden has pledged his loyalty to the Miami program despite likely NCAA sanctions being handed down later this year. The program should remain afloat, having used USC’s model for dealing with scholarship losses by signing a large class this year.
That said, over half of last season’s starters need to be replaced. Golden and his staff have a number of question marks at key positions heading into the spring. The freshmen class will need to make an impact, but many of them won’t arrive until the summer.
All six of the Hurricanes' losses a year ago were by one score. This team isn’t that far from being a player in the ACC race. The defense should be fine by September, but the offensive skill positions have to be addressed over the coming weeks.