Not only did the Miami Hurricanes football team have a special 2012 season, they gave fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful in 2013.
This year's team was supposed to be the fifth-worst in the Coastal Division. No, the prediction wasn't an overall finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it was for the Coastal.
Hey, "experts," try this one on for size.
Though it was ugly at times, Miami finished 7-5 and won a share of the division crown for the first time in its ACC history.
A second consecutive self-imposed bowl ban keeps the Hurricanes from playing in the postseason. Despite being ridiculously unfortunate, it was probably the right call due to impending NCAA sanctions.
Anyway, I won't say that "I knew this team was going to be special from the start," but I, like others, had a good feeling about something watching the season opener against Boston College.
Down 14-0, the defense was getting worked and Miami's offense wasn't on the same page. Last year's team would have mailed it in and waited to board the plane. But something was different about this 2012 Hurricanes' team. After cutting into the lead, Miami appeared to be heading into the second quarter down 14-7.
Then suddenly, magic.
And so, the Hurricanes' "never give up" attitude was officially born. Miami won 41-32 and jumped to an ever-important 1-0 start. Miami ripped off four close wins in its first five games, capped by one of the best plays and performances of 2012 by Stephen Morris against NC State.
Will Miami repeat as Coastal Division champions in 2013?
After a mid-season lull, the junior quarterback returned to his impressive form to finish the season. Head coach Al Golden had a huge compliment for Morris during the postseason news conference according to Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post.
The new holder of the school's season total offense record will be back for his senior season, and that alone would give plenty of hope for Miami fans.
But have you met Duke Johnson?
The kid who gave a verbal to Miami exactly 500 days before he could sign an official letter of intent and never wavered in that commitment?
Well, the sensational freshman won the ACC Offensive and Overall Rookie of the Year.
He finished the year with 947 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns while sharing duties with senior leader Mike James. Duke even threw for one touchdown, added 221 receiving yards and a score to go with a 31.9 kick return average and two more touchdowns.
He also came up less than 60 yards short of setting a school record for all-purpose yards in a season. Imagine what Duke can do next year says Milian of the Palm Beach Post.
I could go on for days about him, but simply put, this freshman is going to be great.
Offensive linemen will never get the credit they deserve. As a high school coach once told me, "you never hear fans screaming for the big guys making combination blocks and climbing to the next level."
Johnson and James would not have had the stellar seasons without the "big guys." Here is their well-deserved thanks—and yes, I will name them all.
Malcolm Bunche, Jon Feliciano, Shane McDermott, Brandon Linder, Seantrel Henderson and Ereck Flowers paved the way for the running backs and protected Morris all season long. Guess what? Barring a questionable move by Henderson declaring for the NFL Draft, every starting lineman (plus Flowers) returns.
So everything looks awesome and I can't wait for next year and I'm not breathing because of excitement...but then I remember the defense.
By the end of the season, I couldn't bear watching the atrocity and neither could B/R's David Mayer.
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, however, will likely return next season and Golden is still confident in his longtime friend, said Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald.
The Hurricanes suffered the worst statistical defensive season in school history. If Miami hadn't finished 7-5 thanks to its high-powered offense, Onofrio (you know, no D) would probably be out of a job.
But the embattled DC gets back 10 starters and a plethora of second-stringers next season. It is highly doubtful that the Hurricanes struggle that much in 2013.
All in all, the Hurricanes return 20 starting players and will add somewhere around 15 recruits this offseason. Mike James, Brandon McGee, Jake Wieclaw and Dalton Botts will be missed though, there is no doubt about it.
However Miami fans, isn't it a cool thought that half of the team's top departing players—Wieclaw and Botts—are on the field for 10-15 plays per game?
ESPN's Andrea Adelson says that Golden senses excitement and is optimistic about the 2013 season.
Well coach, I feel excitement and see it, too.