The Miami Hurricanes enter the offseason following a 36-9 drubbing at the hands of Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Offensively, the 'Canes could not overcome a very talented defensive line, struggling to find open running lanes and failing to provide quarterback Stephen Morris time in the pocket. Without Duke Johnson and Herb Waters, Miami was simply not able to counteract the Cardinals' speed.
After a strong initial effort, the Hurricanes' defensive unit was overpowered by one-time Miami commitment and top NFL draft prospect Teddy Bridgewater. Seven scoring drives later, 'The U' had surrendered at least 483 yards for the sixth time in eight games and a season-worst 554 yards.
Clearly, the offseason will be a wild ride, considering 24 seniors graduate and coaching changes appear to be very likely.
Out With the Old
One season after losing just two senior starters—both of whom were drafted—the Hurricanes' lineup will undergo some major shakeup.
Quarterback Stephen Morris, wide receiver Allen Hurns and fullback Maurice Hagens have run out of eligibility, while the trio of Brandon Linder, Seantrel Henderson and Jared Wheeler will no longer be on the offensive line.
On the other side, middle linebacker Jimmy Gaines and defensive end Shayon Green, the second- and third-leading tacklers, respectively, are the key losses. Curtis Porter, Justin Renfrow, Luther Robinson, David Gilbert, Tyrone Cornelius, A.J. Highsmith and Kacy Rodgers II each played significant time, so the 2014 defensive two-deep will have lots of new faces.
Additionally, junior linebacker Denzel Perryman will make his decision of whether or not to return to school, so the 'Canes could lose their top tackler as well.
Second-team All-America (USA Today) punter Pat O'Donnell averaged a school-record 47.1 yards per punt, so his contributions will be sorely missed. O'Donnell constantly flipped field position, blasting 12 punts of at least 55 yards, including a long of 71.
Casual fans may not be familiar with them, but long-snapper Sean McNally and short-snapper Paul Kelly will also leave, and the pair combined for just one truly bad snap this season.
Though the seniors were largely underwhelming at times, Miami still must replace such a large number, and that has not been easy to do in recent years
In With the New
Al Golden and his coaching staff addressed offensive skill positions on the recruiting trail very well.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya was locked up before he exploded onto the scene, and local stud running backs Joseph Yearby and Brandon Powell are making the short trip to The U. Braxton Berrios, Darrell Langham and Tyre Brady highlight a solid haul at the wide receiver spot.
Overall, it's not an eye-popping group, but each player fits specific needs for Miami.
On the line, however, it is a slightly different story.
A trio of four-star players, Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Reilly Gibbons, appear to be firm commitments to Golden. Add Nick Linder to the incoming unit, and the Hurricanes are replacing the departing seniors admirably.
Considering Miami is currently holding pledges from eight prospects, recruiting defensive linemen has been a priority.
What's more, three of the eight commits will arrive at Miami via the junior college ranks. Though recruiting JuCo players is not the preferred method, the 'Canes need immediate help on the D-line. Players like Michael Wyche and Calvin Heurtelou already have the size necessary to clog the interior.
At the high school level, Golden will attempt to keep Travonte Valentine from flipping to LSU while locking up local products Chad Thomas and Anthony Moten.
Behind the three linemen, linebacker Darrion Owens and safety Kiy Hester are the key recruits; plus, Juwon Young is a raw talent at linebacker. Mike Smith can be groomed to be used in the role Shayon Green and Al-Quadin Muhammad occupied this past season as an edge rusher who can drop into coverage.
As Hester recently tweeted, "the future is bright."
With that being said, it's time for the Hurricanes to actually reach the light, too.
Following the Russell Athletic Bowl, Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes Golden said he will "re-evaluate everything" about his staff this offseason.
Recently, many Miami fans have been calling for defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's job. The Hurricanes were absolutely dreadful defensively for the past three seasons, but much of the difficulty is because of a barren cabinet left Golden by his predecessor.
Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post notes Miami has been unable to contain ranked teams over the past two years.
Should D'Onofrio return, he will be on the hottest of hot seats during 2014.
But, if Golden chooses to part ways with D'Onofrio—and that is a big if—expect a coordinator who knows everything about a 3-4 defense. The 'Canes have been making a steady transition to that scheme, but it probably will not take full effect until Golden possesses a roster entirely of his own recruits.
First-year offensive coordinator James Coley's inaugural season calling plays seemed to flatline after Miami beat Georgia Tech. Of course, missing Duke Johnson certainly limited his ability to open the playbook as 2013 progressed.
Coley's job is more than likely safe, but he definitely needs to improve next year.
It's probably not a popular opinion, but it may be time for offensive line coach Art Kehoe to be replaced. Kehoe has been a part of every national championship in Miami history, but the O-line folded against top competition this season.
Louisville (four), Virginia Tech (three) and Florida State (two) combined to drop Morris for nine of his 15 season sacks, and he completed just 44 of his 84 attempts (52.4 percent).
Yes, Morris was not stellar against the 'Canes' best competition anyway, but he often was hurried or knocked down, and that did not help at all.
There are no definite answers as to which coach will be replaced, but something is probably going to happen.
Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel notes superstar running back Duke Johnson is likely to miss spring drills. The bright side, though, Duke's absence would give early-enrollees Yearby and Powell valuable reps during spring practice.
No, Duke missing any practice time is not a good thing, but there is a silver lining, no matter how small it may seem.
Additionally, a quarterback battle is expected, with the leading candidates being senior Ryan Williams and redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen.
For an unknown reason at this time, Olsen was left at home during the bowl game. As of Dec. 29, Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald reports the university says no player has been dismissed from the team.
Olsen is pegged as the quarterback of the future, so that will be an important situation to follow—if it actually is one.