Miami Hurricanes: Forecasting the 2011 Season
The Miami Hurricanes are coming off of a 7-6 season which saw them lose the Sun Bowl to Notre Dame by a score of 33-17.
Randy Shannon was fired after the team's loss to in-state rival South Florida, and Al Golden was hired to take his place to try to rebuild the Hurricanes and get them back into the country's top echelon in college football.
Golden has made an impact on the program, as he has stocked some talent for the coming seasons and has ushered back in a new attitude around Coral Gables, FL.
The Hurricanes enter the 2011 season outside the top 25. In-state rival, Florida State, has received a No. 5 ranking in the early polls that have been released by the coaches.
The Hurricanes want to prove that last season was a fluke, and that they are ready to rejoin the ranks of the elite.
Here are three keys for Miami's season in 2011 if they want to get back to the promised land:
1.) Beat No. 5 Florida State in Doak Campbell Stadium
Miami and Florida State playing each other has always been a highly anticipated game.
The Hurricanes and Seminoles have some memorable moments, such as the 2009 Labor Day thriller, in which the lead changed seven times.
The Hurricanes would make an outstanding goal-line stand to deny the then quarterback, Christian Ponder, and the Seminoles a come-from-behind victory, and win 38-34.
When these two teams collide, one or both teams are highly ranked in the top 25, and sometimes the outcome of the contest often decides the national championship and BCS dreams of the combatants.
Last season, the Seminoles took early advantage by scoring three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes and stomped the Hurricanes 45-17.
This season is no different. FSU is again ranked in the top five, and the Hurricanes will be coming to town looking to avenge last season's embarrassing loss.
The team must beat Florida State to get off to a good start in conference play and become a factor in the ACC and BCS races.
2.) Beat No. 13 Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium
When one thinks of the Virginia Tech Hokies, they think of the enormous home-field advantage that Lane Stadium provides.
The common opinion is that the crowd at Lane Stadium makes it difficult for opposing offenses to get calls from the sideline.
Miami has run into some setbacks when they have traveled to Blacksburg, VA in recent years. The team came to town ranked No. 8 in the country after wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, riding high on optimism.
Virginia Tech ended the Hurricanes run on a soaking wet day in Blacksburg by a score of 31-7.
The Hurricanes' Jacory Harris was targeted all day long by the withering Hokies' pass rush, and had one interception and a fumble to compound the misery.
Virginia Tech has been the heavyweight in the ACC Coastal Division and has been the team's biggest stumbling block since the two teams joined the conference in 2004.
This season's contest at Lane Stadium, and it's immense crowd, will prove critical if the Hurricanes want to prove they belong among the ACC's best and the nation's best. A victory over the Hokies would go a long way in proving just that.
3.) North Carolina Should Be an Easier Opponent for the Hurricanes
The Hurricanes and Tar Heels have been one of the ACC's up and coming rivalries in recent times.
Until his termination, former coach Butch Davis had the Hurricanes' number when they would visit Chapel Hill.
In 2009, with the Hurricanes fighting for their lives to stay in contention for the conference championship game, the Hurricanes visited the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and were upended 33-24.
The matchup at Kenan Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 will prove crucial for the Hurricanes to cement their place among the ACC's best.
With the firing of Davis, and the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the program, while the NCAA investigation is ongoing, the Hurricanes could finally break a surprising futility streak against a lower-tier ACC team.
4.) In Conclusion
2011 will be a big year for the Hurricanes. With the talk of Florida State leaving the ACC to join the SEC, the Hurricanes could have a golden opportunity to finally take control of the conference in both reputation and results on the field.
Led by new coach Al Golden, the team has the talent to finally break through and win their first division title since joining the ACC in 2004.
The program's administration is used to winning. If the team underachieves again, then Golden's leash will get a little shorter.
The clock is ticking.