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The Countdown

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

The Countdown

No. 13: Miami (Fla.)

The dynasty began under the man above. Miami hopes for a rebirth under Randy Shannon.

No, Miami’s season did not implode in September. In fact, Miami’s play in that first month was strong enough to place the Hurricanes front and center in the national picture, rarefied standing for a program fallen on hard times. Welcome back, Miami. It’s been a while. A little more than a half-decade, in fact, over which time Miami was at best a disappointment, at worst a punchline. Steady progress has been made under fourth-year coach Randy Shannon, both on and off the field. So why does Shannon have a permanent spot on the hot seat?

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Coastal

Location
Coral Gables, Fla.

Nickname
Hurricanes

Returning starters
15 (7 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 28

2009 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 25

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 2
    Florida A&M
  • Sept. 11
    at Ohio St.
  • Sept. 23
    at Pittsburgh
  • Oct. 2
    at Clemson
  • Oct. 9
    Florida St.
  • Oct. 16
    at Duke
  • Oct. 23
    North Carolina
  • Oct. 30
    at Virginia
  • Nov. 6
    Maryland
  • Nov. 13
    at Georgia Tech
  • Nov. 20
    Virginia Tech
  • Nov. 27
    South Florida

Last year’s prediction

While Shannon has done a marvelous job in regenerating a roster that had become shockingly bereft of big-time talent under his predecessor, his highly touted recruits are still a year away from reaching their collegiate primes. This team is a year away from cracking the top 15, but I think this year’s squad is definitely good enough to reach eight wins, even with the devastating start. That may not be good enough to win the Coastal division, but Miami will make some noise in the A.C.C.

2009 recap

In a nutshell The Hurricanes survived September, by and large, losing only to Virginia Tech — in a sloppy, rain-soaked affair — while defeating three opponents ranked in the Top 25. One of the three, Oklahoma, wasn’t that impressive. Another, over then-No. 18 Florida State, wasn’t altogether impressive either. A win over Georgia Tech was, but my point is this: Miami was pretty good in 2009, but not as good as its record indicated. The Hurricanes still struggled with consistency, particularly on defense. One week after holding Georgia Tech to 17 points, Miami allowed 31 to Virginia Tech; shortly after holding Oklahoma to 20 points — yes, not quite the same offense that O.U. would put forth later in the season — Miami allowed a combined 67 points to Clemson and Wake Forest. Unfortunately for the defense, the Miami offense often left it holding the bag. Case in point, an 18-point loss to North Carolina — with the difference provided by a pair of Miami interceptions returned for touchdowns. I’m nitpicking here, perhaps because I remember when a 9-4 finish was cause for hysteria in Coral Gables, not satisfaction. Miami was good in 2009, but it must be better in 2010. Or settle for being good, not great.

High point Those predicting a 1-3 or 0-4 start from the Hurricanes were sorely disappointed: Miami went 3-1 over the first month of the season, beating eventual conference champion Georgia Tech, Florida State and Oklahoma. The Canes might not have recovered its early momentum, but they were ranked No. 10 in the country through six games.

Low point A 40-37 overtime loss to Clemson on Oct. 24. It dropped Miami to 2-2 in the A.C.C. – joining an earlier loss to Virginia Tech – and set the tone for a quiet second half of the season. It’s not that Miami played poorly down the stretch, only that the team never seemed to play with the intensity with which it tackled the first month of the season.

Tidbit With career mark of 21-17, Shannon has the fewest wins through three seasons of any Miami coach since the program “arrived,” for lack of a better word, in 1979, the year it hired Howard Schnellenberger. The next closest is Butch Davis, who went 22-12 from 1995-97. In Shannon’s favor, Miami has seen its win total climb in each of his three seasons. But you begin to understand why the fourth-year coach finds himself on the hot seat.

Tidbit (N.F.L. draft edition) Since 1984, 21 F.B.S. programs have at least 37 players selected in the N.F.L. draft. Miami leads the way, of course, with 88 players taken. Florida State (74), U.S.C. (73), Ohio State (71) and Tennessee (70) are the only other programs to have at least 70 draft picks. Not surprisingly, 15 of the these 21 programs have won at least one national championship since 1984; Miami, F.S.U., U.S.C., Florida, Oklahoma, L.S.U., Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alabama have won at least two titles.

Former players in the N.F.L.

55 LB Spencer Adkins (Atlanta), LB Baraka Atkins (Denver), LB Jon Beason (Carolina), DT Kareem Brown (Tennessee), CB Phillip Buchanon (Washington), OT Rashad Butler (Houston), DE Calais Campbell (Arizona), OT Vernon Carey (Miami), DT Antonio Dixon (Philadelphia), TE Dedrick Epps (San Diego), OT Jason Fox (Detroit), LB Tavares Gooden (Baltimore), RB Frank Gore (San Francisco), TE Jimmy Graham (New Orleans), DT Orien Harris (Cincinnati), DT Dwayne Hendricks (New York GIants), WR Devin Hester (Chicago), RB Javarris James (Indianapolis), WR Darnell Jenkins (New England), CB Kelly Jennings (Seattle), WR Andre Johnson (Houston), CB Bruce Johnson (New York Giants), RB Tervaris JOhnson (Kansas City), S Khalil Jones (Green Bay), DT William Joseph (Oakland), DT Joe Joseph (Tennessee), DT Damione Lewis (New England), LB Ray Lewis (Baltimore), RB Willis McGahee (Baltimore), LB Rocky McIntosh (Washington), OT Bryant McKinnie (Minnesota), S Brandon Merriweather (New England), DE Eric Moncur (Philadelphia), WR Santana Moss (Washington), WR Sinorice Moss (New York Giants), C Chris Myers (Houston), TE Greg Olsen (Chicago), WR Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo), S Kenny Phillips (New York Giants), S Randy Phillips (Detroit), RB Clinton Portis (Washington), S Ed Reed (Baltimore), S Antrel Rolle (New York Giants), C Brett Romberg (Atlanta), CB Glenn Sharpe (New Orleans), LB Darryl Sharpton (Houston), CB Sam Shields (Green Bay), TE Jeremy Shockey (New Orleans), LB Jonathan VIlma (New Orleans), WR Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis), DT Vince Wilfork (New England), LB D.J. Williams (Denver), LB Leon Williams (Dallas), TE Kellen Winslow (Tampa Bay), OT Eric Winston (Houston).

Arbitrary top five list

Movies set in Miami, Fla.
1. “Goldfinger,” 1964.
2. “Scarface,” 1983.
3. “The Birdcage,” 1996.
4. “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” 1994.
5. “Absence of Malice,” 1981.

Coaching

Randy Shannon (Miami ’89), 21-17 after three seasons at the head of the program. Miami made subtle progress in 2008, riding the talents of a number of young freshmen to a seven-win finish. The program returned to bowl play after a one-year absence, though the program gave only limited signs that it had turned a corner after its recent malaise. More progression was made a season ago, with Miami winning nine games for the first time since 2005 and landing onto the national radar with a strong September. The onus will be on Shannon, previously the Miami defensive coordinator, to keep Miami moving up the ladder both in the A.C.C. and the Top 25. He had served as the Miami defensive coordinator for six seasons before taking over the top job, during which time five of his units finished among the top 10 in the nation in total defense. In three of those seasons, Miami led the nation in pass defense, including allowing an obscenely low 119.7 passing yards per game in 2002. In all, Shannon spent 13 years as a Hurricanes assistant, first from 1991-97, coaching the defensive line and linebackers, followed by his six-year stint as coordinator from 2001-6. Shannon coached under three different Miami head coaches – Dennis Erickson (1991-94), Butch Davis (1995-2000) and Larry Coker (2001-6) – and has been a part of three of Miami’s five national titles: one as a player (1987) and two as an assistant (1991, 2001). In all, Shannon coached 15 all-Americans and 17 players who were selected in the first round of the N.F.L. draft. Between his two terms in Coral Gables, Shannon spent three years in the N.F.L. with the Dolphins (1998-2000); he spent his final season coaching the linebackers.

Players to watch

What does Jacory Harris mean to the Hurricanes? Everything. It all hinges on the junior, who took multiple steps forward last fall but one step back. Harris continues to struggle protecting the football, with last fall’s 17 interceptions the worst total in the conference. On the other hand, he’s an on-field general, a soft-spoken teammate who leads by example: by taking hit after hit on his slender frame, yet continuing to take every meaningful snap for a young, growing offense. Don’t underestimate the pounding Harris took a year ago, especially given his wiry build. It forced him to some poor decisions, but also left the junior hampered by several dings and dents.

Regardless, let’s remember that Harris is still a junior. He’ll be better in 2010, particularly if the Hurricanes do a better job in pass protection. For now, there might not be a player more important to his team than Harris: so much — such as Shannon’s job, or the future of this program — depends on his continued development. Harris should be better, thanks to his experience in the college game and in Mark Whipple’s offense. Due to his play and importance to his team, I think Harris is a serious Heisman contender. Miami should pray he doesn’t get hurt: I still remember the look on A.J. Highsmith’s face when Harris went down momentarily against Florida State.

The offensive line must improve. All eyes are on true freshman Sentreal Henderson, the massively talented blind side tackle who joined the Hurricanes in early July. It will be hard for Miami to keep Henderson off the field; he’ll contribute in some form, even if he doesn’t spend his debut season in the starting lineup. The latter is not such an impossibility: he’ll certainly start the year in a reserve role, as seniors Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa currently bookend the line. Junior Tyler Horn ascends to the starting job at center, though the former lightly-used reserve will have a very difficult time holding off freshman Brandon Linder. The latter could very well break into the lineup at either guard spot, positions currently held by junior Harland Gunn and sophomore Brandon Washington. Gunn is a key reserve at each of the three interior spots.

No such issues at wide receiver: Miami is deep, experienced and talented at the position. Few teams can tout such depth, in fact, with Miami having no problem filling the five-receiver rotation Whipple covets for his offense. Four of those five spots are already spoken for, though LaRon Byrd must indicate he’s fully healthy before returning to action. If he’s ready to go, the junior is Miami’s most talented option. Senior Leonard Hankerson, the team leader in receptions (45), receiving yards (801) and touchdowns (8) last fall, will also play a key role; juniors Travis Benjamin — a terrific big play threat — and Aldarius Johnson round out four of the team’s top five targets. I’m still waiting for Johnson to play up to his full potential. The competition for the fifth spot — though more than five guys will see time, obviously — is fierce, with underclassmen like Kendal Thompkins, Davon Johnson and Tommy Streeter attempting to outplay each other during fall camp. The three local products don’t lack for ability; it’s all a matter of who comes out on top.

Freakishly strong. Freakishly quick. Freakishly agile. Allen Bailey is, well, a freak. Few 4-3 defensive ends clock in at 288 pounds; fewer still tilt the scale at such weight while retaining a devastating first step, a quick burst that helped Bailey lead the team in both tackles for loss (11) and sacks (seven) during his first season in the starting lineup. This type of production had been expected of Bailey since his ballyhooed arrival on campus four years ago; now a senior, an all-American season is in the cards.

Bailey is just one of several pieces up front, a group that — believe it or not — looks like Miami’s best defensive front since 2004. The Hurricanes welcome back junior Adewale Ojomo from injury, as the projected starter missed all of last season with a broken jaw. In 2008, Ojomo made 17 tackles (4 for loss) and 3 sacks. His missed time allowed a handful of returning contributors, like Marcus Robinson and Olivier Vernon, to earn significant snaps. It doesn’t look like Robinson can be an every-down lineman — he lacks size against the run — but he is a valuable weapon as a situational pass rusher.

The interior of the line features equal depth. This depth is augmented by the return of sophomore Marcus Forston, whose 2009 season ended after three games. Forston is a rising star: as a true freshman in 2008, he made 25 stops (4.5 for loss) and 3 sacks. While Shannon respects the older players in his system, it will be very difficult to keep Forston out of the starting lineup. Junior Micanor Regis, who flashed surprising athleticism in pulling down a pair of interceptions last fall, is the second likely starter. Depth will come from Josh Holmes (22 tackles, 6 for loss) and Curtis Porter.

The big question at linebacker: Where will senior Colin McCarthy play? It was thought he’d remain on the strong side, where his 95-tackle (10.5 for loss) 2009 campaign earned him second-team all-A.C.C. accolades. However, it’s looking more and more likely that McCarthy will move to the middle, where it was thought that Kylan Robinson would hold the starting role. Now that McCarthy has transitioned inside, look for junior Ramon Buchanan to step into the starting lineup on the strong side. He played well when called upon last fall, making 28 tackles (3.5 for loss). Sean Spence is the guy on the weak side, where he’ll return for his third season in the starting lineup. Though his sophomore campaign was marred by injuries, Spence illustrated his ability during his breakout, somewhat unexpected rookie season.

If Miami can located depth at cornerback, look out: this defense might be terrific. Obviously, the front seven is not a concern. The big question is whether the Hurricanes can rely on third and fourth cornerbacks; that a converted receiver, Ryan Hill, is expected to be Miami’s top cornerback off the bench is a concern. The starting two are strong, however. Junior Brandon Harris is a rising star, a reigning first-team all-conference pick who melds fine technique with superb athletic ability. Senior DeMarcus Van Dyke, an eight-game starter last fall, will line up on the opposite side.

Keep an eye on Ray-Ray Armstrong. The sophomore is simply too good, too explosive not to see the field in great measure in 2010. For now, however, the starting safety spots belong to sophomore Vaughn Telemaque and JoJo Nicolas. Telemaque can feel secure in his starting role: he made 11 starts a year ago. Armstrong will push him for time, with that duo potentially seeing the field simultaneously in many packages. To be honest, Miami has as many as six safeties capable of pulling a starting role. In addition to the aforementioned threesome, Miami has talented options in Jamal Reid, Kacy Rodgers and Jared Campbell. Reid has turned heads with his play during fall camp. In my opinion, Armstrong is too good to keep off the field.

Position battles to watch

Running back The offensive line is undoubtedly the bigger concern. Miami seems to have identified five secure starters up front, however, while Shannon and his staff have yet to determine which running back will land the majority of work on the ground. This competition will be muddled even further should senior Graig Cooper, last year’s leading rusher, make a full recovery from the A.C.L. tear he suffered in Miami’s bowl loss. As of now, Cooper is still working himself into game shape, preparing for his first taste of contact since last December. Cooper will be missed — his experience will be tough to duplicate — but the Hurricanes have a number of options ready to step into the void. The first is senior Damien Berry: the favorite. A converted defensive back, Berry rushed for 616 yards and 8 touchdowns last fall. He came on strong down the stretch, enough so that it’s unlikely he’ll lose his grasp on the starting role. Then there’s Lamar Miller: the future star. I was somewhat surprised to see Miller take a redshirt season last fall, but that might end up being the best thing for the former five-star recruit. It allowed him to gain experience in the offense while maintaining fresh legs, which is never a bad thing. There’s also Storm Johnson: the aptly-named surprise. Johnson, a true freshman, has risen up the depth chart thanks to his superb play both in the spring and during the early parts of fall camp. It’s easier to look good when you’re running in shells, however, so let’s tone back the love affair for the freshman. Don’t sleep on sophomore Mike James, who has fallen below the radar but is right in the mix for a leading role. In my opinion, Berry, James and Miller will see a significant slice of the action with Johnson as a top reserve while Cooper returns to full health. If that does happen, Miami’s depth in the backfield is as good as can be found in the country.

Game(s) to watch

It’s toned down a bit, but not by much. After opening with a laugher against Florida A&M, the Hurricanes face Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Florida State in a four-week span. That stretch is followed by a break — maybe not, in fact — against Duke, with U.N.C. looming the following week.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Again, Miami will be tested by a very difficult schedule. Perhaps last year’s slate was a tad more imposing; nevertheless, there will be few opportunities for the Hurricanes to pop up for air. The opener against Florida A&M, of course, perhaps a two-week stretch against Virginia and Maryland — that’s it. In a strange way, Miami could be vastly improved and still finish with three losses. In my opinion, in fact, a three-loss Miami team, when considering this schedule, would put the Hurricanes among the more accomplished squads in the country. Unfortunately, this team is looking three losses square in the face: at Ohio State, for starters, but it’s hard to imagine Miami not going at least 4-2 against the group of Pittsburgh, Clemson, Georgia Tech — these three on the road — North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Yet let’s be clear: a repeat of last year’s 9-3 record would not mark a lack of development, let alone a step back under Shannon’s watch. A 9-3 season that includes greater consistency on the defensive side of the ball, more balance on offense and the development of Miami’s still-young roster would be a success, in my opinion. Of course, with the talent and youth on this roster, Miami could be far better: perhaps 10 wins, less likely 11. On the other hand, if a young pieces don’t develop… well, Miami could be ranked far too high entering the season. An explosion — an A.C.C. crown, a renaissance — is far more likely than a decline.

Dream season Miami returns to the top of the A.C.C., though the tough Coastal division prevents an undefeated season: 11-1, 7-1 in conference play.

Nightmare season Seven wins. That would be a major, major disappointment.

In case you were wondering

Where do Miami (Fla.) fans congregate? The best place to find Miami football chatter is Cane Times. Fans also meet at CaneSports.com and Miami-Hurricanes.com. Additional coverage can be found at the Web site of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. And don’t forget about Eye on the U, Manny Navarro’s blog for The Miami Herald. Another fan recommended Canespace.com, so check that out as well.

Up Next

Who is No. 12? Our next team’s final conference victory on the 2009 season pushed its coach 102 games above .500 while with the program.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. batecher says:

    Mack Brown’s record at Texas is 128-27, but his team’s final win last season (over Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game) pushed his Texas record at that point to 128-26, or 102 games over .500.

    Paul: Wow. You’re right. Great job by you. Changing it above. Or is Texas not the team tomorrow?

  2. Noefli says:

    Oh, how I miss the good ol’ days, back before the first Rose Bowl win, of http://www.firemackbrown.com.

  3. TresselBall says:

    Good write up. I don’t think the importance of the Ohio State game can be overstated for either squad. Maybe more for Miami. The fiesta bowl loss still sits bad with many Miami fans.

    With Ohio State’s best D-Line ever (per the D-Coord), Jacory should be scared, very scared.

  4. Slate says:

    Jorge Milian’s “‘Canes Watch” blog over at the West Palm Beach Post is another option.

    http://blogs.palmbeachpost.com/caneswatch/

  5. [...] Five and Five: No. 13, Miami (Fla.) By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 13, is Miami (Fla.). You can find a larger Miami preview here. [...]

  6. SJMPARMAN says:

    Good write up. Alot of diehard Canes fan frequent Canespace.com, which is an excellent site. It is a mix of realists and optimists but all the posters there know and love the Canes.

    Paul: Thanks, I added that above.

  7. Phil says:

    Heacock calling the D-line for the Buckeyes his best ever seems insane to me….better than Will Smith, Kenny Peterson, Darrion Scott, and Tim Anderson?

  8. Brandon says:

    Ryan hill is a converted cornerback to receiver who was converted back into a cornerback from safety. Get it right guy. He was only playing receiver to do the team a favor. He’s really a defensive minded guy.

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