A lot of uncertainty surrounds the Miami Hurricanes' football program and a black cloud has come over Coral Gables before the season has had a chance to start.
After the firestorm Yahoo! Sports report surfaced a little more than two weeks ago, a lot of opposing fans, media "experts" and even the man responsible for all of this, Nevin Shapiro himself, have all made their opinions that the Hurricanes deserve the destructive "death penalty."
With all the uncertainty and no timetable for when all of this will be resolved, the Hurricanes must move forward.
The team has declared eight players ineligible at the present time, including senior quarterback Jacory Harris and junior star linebacker Sean Spence.
The school has since submitted reinstatement paperwork to the NCAA, but as the Sept. 5 date with the Terrapins creeps ever closer, the Hurricanes know they can only take things one day at a time while the investigation plays out, and they have a season to start.
I will break down five critical matchups for the 'Canes versus the Terrapins that will go a long way in deciding who starts the college football campaign with a critical "W."
The first matchup is between the likely-suspended Jacory Harris and his backup, Stephen Morris, of the Hurricanes; on the other side is the stud sophomore QB Danny O'Brien for the Terrapins.
Harris was one of 12 current Hurricanes named in the detailed report of impropriety within the University of Miami's football program by Nevin Shapiro. Harris has since been ruled ineligible by the school, but has gone on record stating he expects to play in the opener, even though the NCAA has yet to make a ruling reinstating him.
Morris showed flashes of his potential in relief of an injured Harris. He led the Hurricanes to within a touchdown of a dramatic comeback victory against Virginia, and in his first official collegiate start, Morris beat these same Maryland Terrapins by a score of 26-20, which was capped off by a flawless 35-yard touchdown strike to Leonard Hankerson.
The nod in this matchup goes to Miami's Morris. He is athletic in the pocket and has the ability to make any throw anywhere on the field.
If the Hurricanes can find a way to compensate for the void left by any starters who may miss time on defense, then Morris leads Miami past the Terps in a shootout.
In this second matchup, we have Miami's Lamar Miller and Mike James, who are widely considered to be the ACC's best at the position, and on the other side, we have Davin Meggett for the Terrapins.
A lot of great running backs have come from Miami. Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James and Frank Gore are just a few household names to come from the 'Canes.
Miami has always been known to have a strong running game, and Miller and James definitely can fit the bill.
This season, the team is going to have to lean on the running game to control the tempo of the game and win the time of possession battle to mask what could be a very pedestrian defense.
For the Terrapins, we have the son of legendary NFL running back Dave Meggett, Davin Meggett.
The running back-by-committee system is becoming more prevalent in the college and pro games, and Davin has the ability to take over games, as he can take the pressure off O'Brien and control the pace of the game (such as in the Humanitarian Bowl against Nevada in 2008).
The nod in this matchup is a tie.
Both running back duos can take over games, as Miller repeatedly gashed Virginia Tech for more than 100 yards and 10.5 yards a carry, and Davin can rip off a long run after he is hit by a defender. Miami is going to have obvious shortcomings on defense, and a strong running game can mask even the worst shortcomings.
For Maryland, controlling the pace of the game will be key in compounding the Hurricanes' problems and sending them home with an ACC loss to open the season.
The third matchup in this faceoff will break down the wide receivers.
For Maryland, we have Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins facing off against Miami's LaRon Byrd and another key piece who may be suspended in Travis Benjamin.
Wide receivers are a crucial part of any offense's game plan, and they are critical in order to stretch the field and provide a key element to an offense to take control of a game.
Travis Benjamin is another key piece to the Hurricanes' offense, like Jacory Harris who is currently facing NCAA sanctions stemming from his involvement in Nevin Shapiro's schemes that plagued the university from 2002-2010.
Benjamin and LaRon Byrd are the receivers for the 'Canes who have to step up with the departure of Leonard Hankerson. Aldarius Johnson is the second receiver tabbed in the scandal and may be unavailable as well.
With the possibility of Benjamin and Johnson being unavailable, Byrd is going to have to step up and become the focal point of the Hurricanes' passing game.
For Maryland, Dorsey and Boykins are replacing NFL draft picks Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon. New coach Randy Edsall is confident the two will get the job done.
The nod in this matchup goes to Maryland. Miami is going to have a hard time finding a passing game if teams constantly double-team Byrd.
Someone else is going to have to step up for Miami in the passing attack to alleviate the pressure on sophomore quarterback Stephen Morris, and Tommy Streeter doesn't really scare anyone defensively for Maryland. With Miami set to possibly be without its top defensive starters, Maryland could very well have its way with the suddenly young Hurricanes defense.
This matchup of opposing defenses may very well decide which way this game goes.
Miami's defense has historically been strong and fast. This season's version has stars such as Sean Spence, Ray Ray Armstrong and others.
Now, Spence and other contributors are hanging in limbo as they await a ruling from the NCAA on whether they will be reinstated in time for the contest against the Terrapins. If any of the starters on defense have to miss significant time, it could be a long season for the Hurricanes, as Danny O'Brien has enough weapons to pick the defense apart.
For Maryland, the defense returns stud LB/S Kenny Tate and looks to make an early impact by beating the wounded Hurricanes. If Maryland can slow down Miami's rushing attack and put pressure on QB Stephen Morris, then the game becomes easier to manage for the Terrapins.
The nod in this faceoff is also a tie. If Miami can get all of its implicated players reinstated in time for the matchup against Maryland, then Miami's defense can take over the game and take the pressure off the offense.
If they do not, then Maryland's defense should be able to contain Miami's offensive attack and set the tempo for the entire game.
The final faceoff in this matchup of ACC teams is the matchup of coaching. On one side, we have Maryland's Randy Edsall and, on the other side, we have Miami's Al Golden. They are both first-year coaches trying to revive struggling programs.
Maryland's Edsall takes over for the legendary Ralph Friedgen, and is intent on trying to make the Terrapins a contender in the ACC after finishing second to Florida State in the Atlantic Division and looks to build on that success.
Miami's Al Golden is in a mess. The scandal that came down from the convicted con-artist Nevin Shapiro has put Golden in a precarious position. He faces the loss of scholarships and bowl bans that would cripple the Hurricanes' program for years.
Golden has preached that the team and program would get through the scandal, and there were better days ahead, a sentiment echoed by Hurricanes' AD Shawn Eichorst. Edsall takes over an up-and-coming Maryland program that trails current ACC favorite Florida State. Both teams have coaches the programs are lucky to have.
The nod in this last faceoff is a tie. Both teams have coaches who are in their first years and have very different, yet uncertain futures. Golden and Edsall are both very competent coaches who have had some measure of success and look to make their footprint on the college football landscape.
I know you, as the reader, want to know who will win the game and why.
The winner of the Sept. 5, 2011 matchup between the University of Miami Hurricanes and the University of Maryland Terrapins will be...
Miami by a score of 20-17.
The Hurricanes will win this matchup because Stephen Morris will do just enough at quarterback to manage the game and not lose the time of possession battle.
Lamar Miller will have an outstanding first game as the Hurricanes' featured running back, and he will have more than 100 yards rushing against a Terrapins defense that has had the propensity to give up points and yards in bunches.
If you're reading this, you probably think I'm crazy. "The Hurricanes won't have half their defense," and "Stephen Morris will hit the sophomore wall," will be some of the comments I will get when this is posted.
The Hurricanes may be down and wounded, but they still have some talent to make games interesting. The scandal will not be a distraction, as the 'Canes take each game one at a time to prove doubters wrong and to play their game until the investigation is resolved.