Miami Football: 5 X-Factors for Hurricanes to Have Success in 2013
Although the Hurricanes finished last season at 7-5, there were a lot of exciting things many of us saw from the young team.
The offense, which only returned four starters from the previous year, had seven games in which they scored over 40 points per game.
Quarterback Stephen Morris broke school and ACC records while true freshman Duke Johnson proved to the entire country that he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The only problem with the Canes last season was defense. The unit finished No. 116 in the country in total defense and if they don't improve over the offseason, we may see another subpar year from Miami.
Here are five X-factors for the Hurricanes' 2013 season if they want to improve on that 7-5 record.
Geoff Burke/Getty Images
This one is a no-brainer because if the Hurricanes want to win the ACC, Stephen Morris will need to be just as good, if not better, than he was last season.
Now that his team is more experienced, mixed in with him being able to have a full spring (he missed last spring recovering from a neck injury), I expect him to have even a better 2013 campaign.
Morris will need to continue to limit his interceptions (only seven last season) and improve his accuracy a little bit (58 percent last season) in order to have that breakout season I am predicting.
If he does that, the Hurricanes offense will be unstoppable and the Hurricanes should end the season as ACC champions.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
I know a lot of you don't understand why running back superstar Duke Johnson is an X-factor, but I believe he will need to provide that same spark he did last season, especially on special teams.
We already know that Duke will be the starting running back, and anything less than 1,000 yards rushing next season would be a disappointment.
What the Hurricanes really need Duke to do is average 30-plus yards on kickoff returns, just like he did last year. Shortening the field for a great offense will only provide more scoring opportunities for Stephen Morris and the rest of the offense.
If Duke can provide great field position and be one of the best offensive weapons on the team, the Hurricanes will have no problem averaging 40-plus points per game.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
It seems kind of strange to put an X-factor label on a soon-to-be sophomore cornerback, but Tracy Howard could be the most important piece of the defensive backfield next season.
The Hurricanes lost their only good cornerback last season when Brandon McGee graduated, and now backup Thomas Finnie has parted ways from the university after being arrested for theft and burglary.
That leaves the Hurricanes short-handed and means that Howard will have to step up and fill the shoes left by McGee. Howard has the athleticism to do fulfill such a responsibility, but he struggled at times last season.
If he is able to have a good spring and summer, there is no doubt in my mind that he can step up and be a dominant cornerback for the next few years.
Geoff Burke/Getty Images
If the Hurricanes want to get to 10 wins next year, the defensive line must drastically improve. I am not exaggerating, either; the line was atrocious last season. If they do not find the right personnel to rectify the problem, it is going to be another long season for the Canes'.
I won't get into the statistics on how bad the defense was because, quite simply, I am tired of writing about it. We will just say the entire unit must tackle better, shed blockers, create sacks and fill lanes.
Now, I wish I could give you a specific player that needs to excel, but there isn't anyone from last year's team that proved his worth. That may sound harsh, but if you watched any Hurricane games last season, you will agree with me 100 percent.
So it's as simple as that. If the line can turn around a dismal 2012 showing, it will single-handedly make the Hurricanes a true contender for the ACC title and give them a shot at a BCS bowl game.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
I am not even sure where to begin when talking about Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. I will say that when he came to Miami in 2011, I read how great of a coordinator he was. I read how he helped Al Golden turn a horrible Temple team into a bowl-eligible football team in just a few years.
Unfortunately for D'Onofrio, Miami doesn't play in the MAC, there is much more talent in the ACC and his defensive schemes just aren't cutting it.
Miami built five national championship teams around great defenses and unworldly offenses. The offense was terrific last season, but D'Onofrio's defense was completely useless.
Now, I won't blame everything on D'Onofrio. I think there are players on the defensive side of the ball that wouldn't even start at Temple, let alone should be on the field for Miami.
It may sound harsh, but what positivity do you expect out of a defense that finished No. 116 (out of 120 teams) in total defense?
D'Onofrio either has to start over and change his defensive schemes or start filling out applications for a job elsewhere. He has this year to improve the defense and if he can't, he will be gone.