As we move into the ever approaching summer months and approach the beginning of another thrilling season of college football, one must ask the question, "The Hurricanes finished 9-4, can they do better?"
The Hurricanes were a lot better than most people predicted in 2009, led by then-sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, who was complimented offensively by RBs Greg Cooper and Javarris James and wideouts Travis Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson.
Defensively, the Hurricanes were led by DBs Vaughn Telemaque and Brandon Harris and All-ACC linebacker Sean Spence and they had moments where they didn't disappoint, but also again had moments that showed they still had some growing ahead of them in defensive coordinator John Lovett's first season at the helm of the 'Canes defense.
The defense was the driving force in Miami keeping its hated arch rival Florida State from going two yards in 14 seconds in the Labor Day win at Doak Campbell Stadium, and they were also key in Miami throttling the eventual ACC Champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 33-17, thus breaking a four-game losing streak against one of the few teams that has a multi-game winning streak against the 'Canes.
As the team progresses through spring training and completes scrimmages in preparation for the 2010 campaign, I will look at 10 reasons why Miami may finish even better, and thus prove once and for all that "The U" is definitely back, and here to stay.
10.) No Reason to Panic: This season's recruiting class, headed by RB Storm Johnson and DB Latwan Anderson, four and five star recruits respectively, lead an otherwise "weak" class of new 'Canes, and fans have panicked that Miami has not added more "juice" to the team.
Need I remind you that Ed Reed and Santana Moss, two Hurricane alums that turned into NFL stars came from "weak" recruiting classes? Give these young men a chance to shine before judging them, because they may be better than advertised.
9.) Maturity: I'm sure people remember the scandals and incidents that plagued the program in the 1980s and 1990s and even in the early 2000s that gave Miami the reputation as "Thug U" among other labels.
One example was when the 'Canes showed up to the Fiesta Bowl national title game versus Penn State on January 2, 1987 dressed in full military battle fatigues in game they were heavily favored to win, but went on to be a part of one of college football's most significant upsets, as the Nittany Lions pulled off a 14-10 upset of the top ranked Hurricanes after a last minute interception of Vinny Testaverde in the end zone by Penn State's Pete Giftopoulos.
This edition of the Hurricanes under HC Randy Shannon has learned to support each other as a team, and not only excel on the field, but off the field as well, after the shooting of Hurricanes alum and Redskins star safety Sean Taylor during a failed burglary, and the shooting death of DL Bryan Pata in former HC Larry Coker's final season.
8.) Restored Winning Tradition: Miami's football program for the first time in five years was in the national spotlight at No. 8 in the country after starting the season with a huge test against a non-conference ranked opponent (Oklahoma) and tough ACC battles with Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Georgia Tech, coming out of that stretch with a 3-1 record and the toast of not only the ACC, but college football as a whole.
7.) A Decent Coaching Staff: Led by Randy Shannon, the coaching staff at Miami has turned away from that of their predecessors, by wanting to play not only the best players on the roster to give the team the best chance to win, but also wanting the best character guys as Coach Shannon has ripped the popular opinion that UM players do whatever they want, whenever they want." said the coach during an interview in response to the "Thug U" label and all the recent UM deaths.
''This has nothing to do with the University of Miami,'' Shannon said. "Sean was in the NFL. This happens all across the country. Until people stop thinking we're Thug U and start looking at what we really have done, I don't know how much more we can improve our image. No matter what I think about what we do, the image is going to be there until people start writing positive things about the school. "And I don't know if that's ever going to happen."
6.) Conference Opponents in Transition: One of the greatest coaches in college football history in Florida State's Bobby Bowden has gone, leaving Jimbo Fisher to take the helm of the rebuilding Seminoles, and Fisher is going to take time to put his stamp on the program and step out of the shadow of one of the second most winningest coach in Division I football history.
Another team in transition is the Clemson Tigers, who's 40-37 win over the Hurricanes last season effectively eliminated UM from the ACC title chase, has lost RB C.J Spiller to the lure of the pros.
The Tigers will be looking for a replacement for Spiller's explosiveness, and finally the Yellow Jackets lost star RB Jonathon Dwyer to the pros as well, and in summary the Hurricanes will look to exploit the teams in transition as the 'Canes have an abundance of talent at the RB position and will look to finally contend for their first ACC title since joining the conference in 2004.
5.) Tough Games? What Are Those?: Miami will again start the upcoming season with an early test, as UM plays the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe in a rematch of the controversial 2002 National Championship Game that was decided on a flimsy pass interference call which gave the Buckeyes the game.
Then they have Florida State, who always plays tough, and the toughest test they have is the defending ACC champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at home, which only two years ago, The Jackets pounded UM behind 400+ total yards of offense to force a rare UM losing streak against a conference opponent. Miami was 3-1 last season after beginning a tough slate of games to open last year's campaign.
4.) The Strength of Schedule: After tests at Ohio State and Florida State, UM has very winnable games at Pittsburgh, Clemson (without C.J Spiller), Duke, Virginia, and Maryland.
3.) Higher Expectations: This team has shown that it can overcome some adversity, as the media had picked them to go 0-4 to start the season, as they were labeled a "rebuilding program" heading into their opener with Florida State last season.
With savvy recruiting and shrewd "restocking of the cupboard" this UM team is ready to take the next step and compete with the upper echelon in college football.
2.) UM: The Best in Florida: With Florida losing Tim Tebow and a host of starters on defense such as Joseph Haden and Brandon Spikes and with uncertainty following Coach Urban Meyer's health and Florida State transitioning from the end of an era, the 'Canes have the opportunity to once again be the best team in the state of Florida.
1.) The Growth and Maturation of Jacory Harris: Sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, pictured above is the key to Miami's fortunes.
Harris emerged as the leader of the Hurricanes' offense after previous starter Robert Marve transferred after being released from his scholarship. Harris displays a coolness under pressure key to playing the quarterback position and he adds excitement with the ability to escape under pressure and buy time to see the play develop and find the open man, an ability so many NFL teams covet.
Harris is the key that makes Miami's offense go full throttle and he is also a dark horse Heisman candidate that will be worth watching when the season opens in a few months.
Miami has emerged as a potential contender in 2010, not only in the ACC but for the BCS National Title. UM has the potential to compete with the Alabamas, the USCs, the Texas Longhorns. What direction they go will be a mystery, but the future is young and bright in Coral Gables, FL