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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

Does 9-3 Equal Improvement?

Will Miami fans accept another nine-win finish? Would a nine-win regular season, though a match of last year’s mark, still represent a sign of progress? As for the latter: yes. For the former? I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that Randy Shannon has led this program through a distinct period of improvement, a stretch that bottomed out with a 5-7 2007 campaign. Not that the Shannon era has been perfect; in addition to his average three-year record, Miami has fared poorly — if not worse — in the recruiting game. When taking that into account, perhaps Shannon needs to do more than just tread water — at least in terms of wins and losses.

That’s not fair to the fourth-year coach, who has done a fine job instilling a sense of responsibility and consistency to a roster run wild under Larry Coker, his predecessor. If it’s all about results — it is — then Shannon can certainly feel good about the improvement his Hurricanes have made since 2007. Of course, the Hurricanes were not good in 2007: a bumbling 5-7 in Shannon’s debut year as the head coach.

Since then, however, steady progression has been made. Miami improved to seven wins in 2008, when countless true freshmen — many from the same local area high school — made an immediate impact. Last fall saw more from the Hurricanes: 9-4, 5-3 in the A.C.C; a year defined by a three-win September against premier opposition.

What does Miami have going for it in 2010? There’s plenty of reason to expect additional improvement. Jacory Harris is back at quarterback, hoping a strong season can propel him in the mix for some national hardware. This is the deepest Miami team in more than five years at the offensive skill positions: as many as eight capable receivers, five or six able running backs — the latter depends on Graig Cooper’s recovery from an A.C.L. tear.

The defense has awesome potential. My only concern with this group, in fact, is at cornerback. As of now, converted receiver Ryan Hill will be Miami’s third cornerback; this is a concern, of course. The starting duo is strong, and the Hurricanes have countless options at both safety spots — enough that Ray-Ray Armstrong might spend this season in a reserve role.

The front seven┬áresembles Miami fronts of old: fast, aggressive and deep. A good pass rush can offset a questionable secondary; Miami hopes that its defensive line can get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to mask a lack of depth at cornerback. Miami’s ends, a group led by potential all-American Allen Bailey, can do just that.

So what’s the big deal? A growing offense, a physical, quick defense — at least a one-win improvement, right? Well, hold on: the schedule, yet again, will be this team’s Achilles heel. Road trips to Ohio State and Pittsburgh highlight the non-conference season, with Clemson and Georgia Tech on the road in A.C.C. play. Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech come to Coral Gables.

It doesn’t look like Miami will have the opportunity to reach double-digit wins in the regular season. This schedule is too tough, too imposing, too rough on a week-by-week basis to allow the Hurricanes to escape with fewer than three losses. Miami just needs to weather the storm, avoiding extended periods of inconsistency — and above all else, avoid injuries. Losing Jacory Harris, for example, would decimate this club.

In my mind, due to this schedule, a 9-3 regular season would not be disappointing for Shannon and Miami, nor should it be viewed as a step back for the program. It should be viewed as continued development, in fact, with nine wins against this schedule certainly deserving of a top 15 finish; Miami hasn’t achieved that since 2004.

This is what I’m saying: temper your expectations, at least somewhat. Expect terrific play at times, but expect difficult showings at Columbus, or at Georgia Tech, or against Virginia Tech. To me, nine wins would represent significant progress for Miami and its fourth-year coach.

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  1. Nate says:

    Wait a minute paul, how do you figure that they’ve faired poorly in the recruiting game with a class widely considered #1 in 2008 that featured jacory harris, sean spence, brandon harris, and the holy grail of recievers. then a #7(according to espn.com) class in 09 and a #13 class in 2010. 2010 is yet to be spoken for but a lot of good has come out of 08 and 09.

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