With the Miami Hurricanes first preseason intra-squad scrimmage a week old, and the regular season just a month away, I am starting to feel the hype build around this team.
Maybe not as a national title contender just yet, that’s probably a year away, but at least an ACC Championship might be in reach.
I know what all the critics, and haters, are going to say—all you Hurricane fans have been saying this for the last couple years, so what’s different now? Experience!
While the ‘Canes teams of the past several years have been talented, they have been very young, and with that breeds immaturity and inconsistency. And while you saw glimpses of it last year with great wins against Florida St. and Oklahoma, they still hadn’t learned how to win the big one.
This year, that big one comes in the second week of the season, in Columbus, OH, when they play the preseason 2nd ranked Ohio St. Buckeyes on Sept. 11th. They are a National Championship contender, and will be a huge measuring stick for the Hurricanes for the rest of the season, especially with consecutive games against Pittsburgh and Clemson the following weeks.
The ‘Canes return 11 defensive players, who started at least six games, and seven on the offensive side, including junior QB Jacory Harris.
They hope to turn that experience into a shot at an ACC crown and a BCS berth. But of course, they will have to go through Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Harris took big strides last year in becoming the leader of this team. But if he hopes to increase Miami’s win total this year, he will need to cut down on his inconsistent play, and his interceptions.
That’s where the offensive line comes in to play.
With 6’7” Orlando Franklin, and the 6’8” 340 pound beast Seantrel Henderson—who the ‘Canes landed after USC let him out of his letter-of-intent—at the tackle positions, Miami might finally have those book end tackles they have been missing for a long time.
Franklin, who is moving to left tackle from the left guard position, will help bolster a Miami offensive line that racked up 5,199 total yards (3,405 passing, 1,794 rushing) last season, which is the most since 2004.
With the addition of Henderson, along with senior Joel Figueroa and sophmore Brandon Washington , the line, which averages 6'5" 330, should be able to give Harris time to get the ball down field, and open up big holes for the one of the most talented backfields in the country.
Speaking of their backfield, with all that talent back there with the likes of seniors Craig Cooper—trying to come back from a major knee injury in their bowl game last year —and Damien Berry, it should be very interesting to see who comes out on top.
That’s not even counting Mike James, Lee Chambers and newcomers Eduardo Clements, Lamar Miller, and 4-star recruit Storm Johnson, who has looked great in spring practices. Word is that Chambers is switching to play cornerback this year since there’s such a crowded backfield.
I’m sure if one doesn’t stand out from the rest, Randy Shannon will have plenty of footballs to go around for all those guys.
I haven't even talked about one of the positions that they might be the most deep at, and that's wide receiver. With four of the teams Top 5 receivers back this season, Harris should have plenty of options to throw to.
Led by Leonard Hankerson—who was named to the 2010 preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award— and LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson, this group doesn't lack speed or height, with Hankerson, Byrd and Johnson all at least 6'3," and Benjamin maybe being the fastest guy on the team.
Probably the biggest advantage for this offense going into the season is having Mark Whipple back as the offensive coordinator.
Going into his second season as OC, Whipple should be able to expand his playbook even more to get the most out of all the offensive talent.
It’s on the defensive side of the ball that I’m excited!
With returning starters Allen Bailey (led the team in sacks the last 2 seasons), Marcus Robinson, Josh Holmes on the defensive line, Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence at the linebacker positions, and second team All-American Brandon Harris and DeMarcus Van Dyke in the secondary, this defense could be a Top 20 in the nation if they play to their potential.
Throw in stud second-year safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque, and I’m not sure where offenses will be able to attack this Hurricane defense, as the secondary could be the best in the country.
While the linebacker corps seems to be somewhat of a question mark on defense, with middle linebacker being the biggest issue, the depth on the defensive line is not.
Miami will be able to rotate several different players throughout the game, with six different defensive ends having started at least one game last year, which will keep them fresh and motivated.
Hopefully defensive tackle Marcus Fortson, coming off a medical redshirt his sophmore year, can step in where he left of his freshman year and show why he was a highly recruited 5-star prospect by the ‘Canes a couple years ago.
The sky is the limit for this Miami Hurricane team. If they can stay healthy, something that wasn’t easy last year, there’s no doubt in my mind they can win an ACC Championship.
Or, if a couple other things fall into place, they could be looking at a BCS Championship berth!
We should have a pretty good idea if that’s possible by 6 pm on Sept. 11th.