The Miami Hurricanes are entering a much ballyhooed season with high hopes. For the first time in 7 seasons the Canes have legitimate National Title aspirations.
This is due in large part to Head Coach Randy Shannon being able to reel in the kind of talent Miami used to get. While his coaching decisions leaves some scratching their heads there is no doubting Coach Shannon's ability to recruit.
For Miami to reach the BCS championship game they will first have to survive one of the nations most difficult schedules. One which includes a daunting road trip to Columbus, Ohio on September 11th. If Miami is able to beat the highly ranked Buckeyes they will still face several other potential speed bumps the rest of the way.
It may not be an easy road to travel but seldom are things of such desire obtained without a grueling journey.
The Hurricanes must finally show that the talent which has been amassed is capable of translating into on field success. This can't be another 10-3 season. This can't be another year of falling to the likes of North Carolina or Clemson. Miami must finally win the ACC title and get back into a BCS bowl game.
This will be a more than feasible task considering the skill players which have been stockpiled along with a resurgent defense which figures to be dominant this year.
It's actually an eerily similar blue print to championship caliber Canes teams of the past. You have a quarter back capable of throwing the long ball, combined with a great group of wide receivers. A stable of talented running backs. An imposing defensive line which will wreak havoc in the opposing teams backfield. A solid set of line backers and a potentially strong defensive backfield.
Forget about the Offensive line not being a meritorious one. Besides 2002 when has Miami ever boasted a top ranked o-line? All the Canes need is for the group to be slightly above average. If that happens then the stars will be able to shine just fine.
Miami will have junior Jacory Harris back under center this fall.
At 6'4" Harris has the ability to stand tall in the pocket and find open men down field.
Harris has consistently shown an ability to throw good/catchable deep balls. He has great touch and isn't afraid to launch the ball in an effort to make big plays. This has been both a positive and negative thing for Harris. While it has enabled him to make highlight reel throws it has also led to too many interceptions.
He has bulked up his rail thin frame to over 200 lbs now which should help his durability when it comes to taking hard hits.
Three seasons into his career as a Hurricane Harris is still an enigma to me. At times I think he can be great, other times he appears to be somewhat mediocre. Whatever the case this season will be the most telling thus far of how good Harris and the Canes can be.
AJ Highsmith is penciled in as Jacory's back up.
For the Hurricanes to have any National Title aspirations Harris will have to both stay healthy and have a breakout season.
Grade: B Overall position grade/depth: C
Miami enters the season with arguably one of the best and deepest running back stables in the nation.
The Hurricanes boast four to five players capable of starting on most collegiate teams. Thus, this should be a position of strength for the squad.
Senior Damien Berry is expected to be the starter. Berry is a powerful bulldozing type runner who knows how to hit the hole hard. He reminds me a lot of Edgerrin James during his Hurricane days.
Senior Graig Cooper was last years offensive stud and is expected to contribute after suffering a knee injury in last years bowl game. Cooper is fast and a big special teams returner who has a penchant for setting the Canes up with great field position.
Sophomore Mike James figures to challenge Berry for the starting spot. James like Berry is a physical runner capable of moving piles and getting tough yards. He is very strong and athletic.
Freshman Lamar Miller is the player I'm most interested in seeing carry the ball this year. Miller is a track star with blazing speed. He's also a big guy at 210 lbs so he has the ability to combine both raw speed with good size.
Miami's runners can be great but will need their offensive line to open some holes for them in order to do so.
Grade: A Depth: A
Miami is used to having great play makers at the wide receiver spot. It's just part of Hurricane tradition for the last 25 plus years. There always seems to be electrifying guys at the position who are NFL bound. This season figures to be no different in that regard. Miami has put together a deep group of guys who bring a vast array of skills to the field.
Senior Leonard Hankerson will be one of the starters and main targets for Harris. Hankerson revitalized his college career after spending an off-season working with former Miami Dolphin great Mark Duper. Hankerson, who had been plagued by a bad case of the drops, learned from Duper how to focus on just making the catch. this did wonders for Hankerson and enabled him to have a banner season last year.
Junior LaRon Byrd is sculpted to be an NFL receiver. At 6'4" 215 lbs he has a great physique for the position. While not as well known as say Hankerson or Travis Benjamin, Byrd has quietly gone about impressing coaches and earning a position as a starter on offense.
Junior Aldarius Johnson needs to step up. He has all the tools to be great. He's big fast and has great hands. It also helps that he's been playing with Harris since both were youngsters in optimist followed by high school at Northwestern. Whenever the Canes have a big third down Harris tends to lock in on Johnson. Call it familiarity or just basic trust. What ever the case Johnson needs to emerge this season and stay healthy in order to help the team reach its full potential.
Junior Travis Benjamin is far and away the most exciting player on offense for the Canes. At 5'10" Benjamin is similar to former Hurricane greats Santana/Sinorice Moss and Roscoe Parrish. Benjamin is lightning in a bottle and can take one to the house every time the ball touches his hands.
There are also receivers Tommy Streeter and Kendal Thompkins looming in the shadows should one of the top four go down for any reason.
Grade A + Depth: A
Richard Gordon is a mystery of sorts. He is big, fast and athletic which bodes well for Miami.
With that said he is entering his Senior season without having made much noise since he's been on campus. This must be a season in which Gordon takes a giant leap forward in terms of on field production.
Harris showed last season that he likes to use his tight ends as both Jimmy Graham and Dedrick Epps were given plenty of chances to make plays. This season it will be Gordon who must showcase his talents. Gordon has the tools to be much better than either of his predecessors. If he is able to excel then Gordon would have transformed a question mark position into one of strength for Miami.
Billy Sanders is penciled in as the Canes back up tight end.
Luckily Miami and Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple like to spread the field. This will ease the lack of depth that the team seems to have at the tight end position.
Grade: B - Depth: C
The most glaring hole in the Hurricanes offense is at offensive line. This is a bad predicament to be in seeing as how an O-Line usually either makes or breaks an offense. It is often said that games are won and lost in the trenches. If that train of thought is true then Miami better hope they have guys capable of handling their own up front.
Seniors Joel Figueroa and Orlando Franklin are being counted on to switch from starting guards last season to starting tackles this year. Both players are big enough to get the job done. They will need to improve their footwork if they are to properly protect Harris.
Harland Gunn and Brandon Washington are listed as the starters at guard with Jared Wheeler also expected to compete for a spot.
Junior Tyler Horn will be the starting center. At only 295 lbs Horn is the lightest Hurricane on the starting o-line.
A wild card worth mentioning is the potential emergence of true Freshmen Brandon Linder and Seantrel Henderson. Henderson was the Top Overall ranked Offensive Tackle and player coming out of high school. He is an imposing figure to say the least and could possibly make a push to start this year if he truly is as good as advertised. Same goes for Linder who was highly ranked by most scouting services.
No single group must exceed expectations for Miami to take the next step than the O-Line. They have a decent unit but it must prove to be good if not great for Miami to be a true contender this season.
Grade: B - Depth: C +
Miami's defense has always been based around a dominant defensive line. This season one should expect to see a deep and talented group that may very well be one of the nations best.
Senior Defensive End Allen Bailey is expected to be a Top Ten NFL pick come next April. He is the most heralded and experienced Cane on a d-line which figures to be one of the teams strengths.
Junior Defensive End Adewale Ojomo should have a breakout season. With so much of the attention paid to Bailey, the former Hialeah High standout figures to get a lot of chances to assert himself on the field.
Backing up the two ends are Olivier Vernon and Marcus Robinson. These two guys would be starting on most programs already but luckily for Canes fans they add depth at a key position for Miami.
At Defensive Tackle Miami starts Marcus Forston and Micanor Regis. Forston must prove he is as good as was advertised when he graduated from Miami Northwestern High. This entire group which also includes Senior Josh Holmes and Sophomore Curtis Porter is well rounded and should be able to hold their own on the interior.
Miami won't have a problem at d-line this year as they have the past couple of seasons. Injuries have enabled all these players to get extended playing time thus they should be experienced and good enough to lead the Canes imposing defensive attack.
Grade: A - Depth: B +
Miami better hope for good health as it is a bit thin at line backer. Not so much at outside linebacker but certainly in the middle.
Senior Colin McCarthy is the heart of the group and will be starting at middle linebacker for the Canes. If he is able to stay healthy he will give Miami a leader and hard nosed player to man the middle of the field.
Junior Sean Spence is extremely fast and athletic for a line backer. He needs to show that his struggles last season were just a fluke and that he is the best play maker of all the line backers. Like McCarthy, Spence must stay healthy.
Senior Kylan Robinson figures to be the other starter at outside linebacker but will be challenged by Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon.
The Hurricanes don't have the greatest line backing unit in college football but it isn't a position of weakness either. If Miami is able to keep this group healthy then it will only bolster their chances at being one of the elite defenses in the country.
Grade: B Depth B -
This is where I expect for Miami to see it's biggest upgrade from last year. The defensive backfield is locked loaded and ready to blast opposing players.
Junior Corner Back Brandon Harris is one of the best in the nation already. He can shut down receivers and has great football I.Q.
Senior DeMarcus Van Dyke will start opposite of Harris and is experienced and good enough to allow Miami to feel secure in their two outside men.
Ryan Hill and Brandon McGee are the back up corners.
At Safety Miami boasts two solid youngsters. Vaughn Telemaque will start at Free Safety and gives the Canes a ball hawking and fast last line of defense. Strong Safety Ray Ray Armstrong could very well be the next Sean Taylor or Ed Reed. He is a hard hitting play maker with a very high ceiling.
Miami is set at defensive back with a unit that could turn into one of the nations best by seasons end.They just need for the starters to remain healthy.
Grade: B + Depth: C
I can sum up the Hurricanes special teams with two words: Matt Bosher.
Bosher who enters his Senior season will once again serve duel roles as the teams Punter and Kicker.He is a reliable kicker with good leg strength.
At Punt Returner Miami will likely go with the explosive Travis Benjamin.
Graig Cooper if healthy should serve as the teams primary Kick Returner, a position which Cooper has excelled at.
Miami's special teams will definitely be championship caliber. Just think of all the highlight reel crack back blocks they got last season.
Grade: A - Depth: I don't know a damn thing about a back up kicker/punter but for the record his name is Jake Wieclaw.
Miami has the tools and they have the talent to make a run at a National Title this season.
Both the Offensive and Defensive units are loaded with players we may end up seeing on Sundays. Now it's a matter of those players taking it upon themselves to dominate opponents like Hurricane' teams of the past.
It can be argued that Miami will have at least 15 NFL talent type players either starting or contributing this season.
The Defensive Line, Wide Receivers, Running Backs and Defensive Backs are all some of the very best in the nation.
The Quarterback, Line Backer and Special Teams spots are solid and may turn out to be great.
The Tight Ends and Offensive Lines will need to exceed expectations and surprise a few people. If this happens there should be no stopping Miami from regaining it's swagger and crown in 2010-11.