2010 College Football Predictions: Will Upward Trend Continue at Miami?
2007: 5-7. 2008: 7-6. 2009: 9-4.
Randy Shannon's habit of winning two more games per season has the Hurricanes on the fast track to more national championships and more high-profile draft prospects for NFL scouts to drool over. If we to assume the trend will continue, Miami will most likely play in a BCS bowl this year, and possibly get on a plane to Glendale, Arizona to play for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl.
But an 11-1 season ain't easy, folks: no matter how good your team is, the stars have to align properly. At least if you're playing a tough schedule (Florida, you know NCAA rules allow you to play nonconference games outside your home state, right?).
Click through the slideshow to see what needs to happen for Miami to truly return to the form of the feared teams of old.
I don't know what the problem is with Miami's strength and conditioning program, but it has to be solved.
Last year the Canes had to dig deep into the depth chart to get people on the field, and it seemed like every week there was at least one more starter on the "Out For Season" list.
I found an injury report for the game against Oklahoma, and our fullback, two defensive linemen, and two safeties, all starters or players with good amounts of playing time, were out for the season. Then Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, Lee Chambers, and Richard Gordon were hurting as well. They just kept piling on as the year progressed.
Whether Graig Cooper returns or not, the Canes have all the talent, experience, and depth to turn some heads this year, but that could all go out the window if Jacory Harris or another equally important starter breaks his arm.
I know you can't predict injuries very well, but in order to dominate the always-gritty ACC, Miami needs to have its best players on the field making plays.
This goes hand-in-hand with the next item on the list...
Protect the Field General
How a guy as spindly as Harris survived 35 sacks is completely beyond me.
A weak Miami offensive line gave up the third-most sacks in the ACC, behind only Maryland and Virginia. Star-studded company, indeed. Meanwhile Boston College and Clemson gave up fewer than 20 sacks. So did Georgia Tech, but they rarely pass the ball so I don't really count them.
With two former three-star players and one walk-on behind Harris, and only one of those players having game experience, keeping J12 happy is absolutely essential to a WINNING SEASON, not only to winning 11 games.
The offensive line has to mesh early, and mesh well. If Seantrel Henderson lives up to his billing, he could really give the line a much-needed boost, but it's still a big question mark as the season opener looms.
Personally, I believe an offense lives and dies by the play of the offensive line. There are no excuses for them, they don't rely on anybody else to get their job done correctly. Start dominating at the line, and the Canes' high-powered offense will easily put up 30+ points per game or more.
If your quarterback throws 9 interceptions in a year, you praise him for protecting the football. If a team picks off 9 passes in a year, you wonder where their big-play abilities are, and that's just what happened to Miami. Double digit interceptions are essential for special seasons. Pick-sixes can change momentum in an instant, and change the entire outcome of a game.
Miami has the potential to be great, though. Brandon Harris is the definition of a shutdown corner and was among the top nationally in passes defended. He just needs to get his hands on them more. Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque are poised for breakout seasons in the deep secondary.
I predict more interceptions for the Hurricanes' defensive backs this year.
I think it's a foregone conclusion that Jacory Harris will reduce the number of interceptions.
Many of the mistakes he made over the course of the season were youthful errors, trying to make plays himself and forcing the ball down the field, when there was a wide-open receiver running a short pattern over the middle. The West Coast offense relies on the short passing game to set up bigger plays, and as Harris buys into that philosophy, he'll do nothing but improve.
The argument can be made that his lingering hand injury caused him to underthrow the deepest passes, but that sounds too much like an excuse. J12 has a great head on his shoulders and he just needs to make quicker and better decisions to become a dominant quarterback.
And he can still throw 45 yard touchdown strikes to Byrd and Benjamin.
Get to the Quarterback
Miami got an average of 1.85 sacks per game in 2009.
Opponents got an average of 2.69.
In order to be a shutdown defense, the quarterback has to be feeling the pressure all game long. Pressure equals not only sacks, but forces the passer to make quick decisions, which aren't always the best decisions. This leads to interceptions, momentum, and fewer points for the opponent.
I do think this will happen. Why? Because in 2008, 2007, and 2006, the Canes defense not only recorded 30+ sacks per year (38 in 2006), but gave up fewer sacks than they made. 2.5 sacks per game should be the goal and will severely limit the number of big passing plays that take several seconds of protection in order to develop.
Pound the Rock
Though Jacory Harris threw for over 3000 yards last year, Miami is and has always been an offense that uses the run to set up the pass. Now in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's second year with his special brand of pro-style attacks, it's still no different.
Miami needs to be a greater force on the ground than it has been. The talent and depth in the backfield notwithstanding, the Canes haven't had a 1000 yard rusher since Frank Gore, and its backs seem to regress from breakout freshman seasons.
Hopefully Damien Berry can buck that trend as the #1 workhorse going into August.
Keep Coaching Stability
Seriously, how long has it been since Hurricanes fans have hung a photograph of their team's offensive coordinator WITHOUT throwing darts at it?
Mark Whipple has brought major sparks back to the U's offense that it hasn't seen since the Ken Dorsey days. Big plays are common, and I think Miami fans everywhere are happy Randy Shannon and co. have bucked the spread offense trend and used the offense effective at the next level: the pro-style.
This is the first time in many many years that head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator have all returned, and that bodes well for all aspects of Miami's game. The players are familiar and comfortable with the nomenclature and schemes of the personnel and they trust them enough to go out there and get it done.
Think last year's offense was explosive? Wait until J12 cuts back on the interceptions and Mike James and Lamar Miller get some touches.
Think last year's defense showed potential? Wait until Allen Bailey gets double-digit sacks, Sean Spence returns to his freshman form, and the defensive secondarys' gloves seem to have football magnets in them.
Learning entirely new systems would only bite into the time the players can spend working on their playmaking abilities.
Start Off Hot
Once again, Miami's early schedule is supposed to be its undoing, but then again, so was last year's.
After a warmup against Florida A&M, the Canes travel to Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Clemson with nary a U to be seen on the field between games.
Critics call for Miami to lose badly to the Buckeyes, trip up against Pitt, and finish it off with a loss against the Tigers. They might be right, too, unless the Canes can duplicate last year's early-season miracles and knock off some high powered teams they're not really supposed to. Kind of like the Miami teams of the 1980s.
The Ohio State game will be a really good indicator of whether this crew is for real. The ACC -- and the BCS -- better watch out if the Canes walk out of the Horseshoe with a W.
Get the Swagger
Bear with me for a second here, FSU and Virginia Tech fans.
Let's just say -- LET'S JUST SAY -- that Miami navigates another brutal early schedule with nothing but wins. Let's say they return to the 305 for the annual Florida State matchup with a 4-0 record. And hey, the Seminoles could be 4-0 as well.
Let's, for the sake of argument, say Miami is 6-0 going into the UNC game, a game nobody expects them to win because, well, they haven't for a long time.
If the swagger is back, the Canes will be able to feed off that doubt and come up big in these biggest of games.
The Hurricanes of old were always able to strike fear into the hearts of their biggest opponents because Miami did not fear their history, their win-loss records, their coaches, or their star players. They didn't respect their opponents' uniforms, fans, traditions, or indeed the game's rules.
I'm not saying Shannon's squad should walk into the UNC game in fatigues, nor do I think they should stomp on the Georgia Tech midfield logo following a touchdown.
I just think they should get into the mindset that every team is beatable if the whole team functions as a disciplined, unstoppable unit, eating up yards no matter what defense is thrown at them, and looking more like an orange and green brick wall than mere college students when the other team has possession.
Hit 'em early, hit 'em often, and hit 'em when they're down, keep winning, and the tropical storm brewing will become a howling Category 5 Hurricane before the year is out.