No. 24: Miami (Fla.)
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 10, 2011
There were some strong words early in his tenure from Al Golden, Miami’s first-year coach, regarding how he’ll fill and maintain his team’s depth chart: “It’s not going to be where you screw around all week and start on Saturday anymore.” Anymore suggests this was happening before, under Randy Shannon, Golden’s predecessor, which should firmly place a stake in the heart of his tenure with the program. Nice guys don’t always finish last; they just did in Shannon’s case, though last is a bit strong — Miami might not have finished first under his watch, but they certainly didn’t finish last. Golden’s tough talk had better not be merely for show, however: he needs to back up his bark with some bite, or he’ll find his bluster will quickly fall on deaf ears. And he needs to deliver, badly needs to make it work, because Miami is in very real danger of losing its place at the table among the nation’s elite programs.
Atlantic Coast, Coastal
Coral Gables, Fla.
13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 5
- Sept. 17
- Sept. 14
- Oct. 1
- Oct. 8
at Virginia Tech
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 22
- Oct. 27
- Nov. 8
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 25
Last year’s prediction
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.
In a nutshell It was time. Miami could only settle for mediocrity for so long, for weak recruiting, for shockingly inept clock management, for poor player development, for all the things that made Randy Shannon seem like one of the most incapable coaches on the B.C.S. conference level. So what’s next? Golden, of course, formerly of Temple, tasked with bringing Miami back to the forefront of the A.C.C., if not the entire country. Good luck, coach. What he has to work with: talent, experience and a program that still carries cachet in certain circles. What he does not have is your typically confidence-laden Miami team of old, and the mental overhaul that lies ahead will be Golden’s strongest test. He also needs to make sure the Hurricanes play with far more consistency, as last year’s squad had the talent, the offense and the defense to do far better than seven wins. And that’s why Shannon has left the building.
High point On a Thursday night in late September, Miami went into Pittsburgh and completely dominated the Panthers, beating by 28 points a team most expected to win the Big East. Like Miami, Pittsburgh turned out to be a pretender. Nevertheless, the win felt great at the time.
Low point Losing at home to U.S.F. to end the season, overtime or no. Not that the writing wasn’t already on the wall for Shannon, but this loss clinched it: Miami had to make a change. Another solid pick would have been a 45-17 loss to Florida State, which made another thing official: the Seminoles rule the roost.
Tidbit The Hurricanes ended last season ranked first in the A.C.C. in total offense, averaging 422.5 yards per game, and third in total defense, allowing 323.3 yards per game. How many other B.C.S. conference teams ended the year ranked in their respective conference’s top three in both categories? Try five: West Virginia, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Stanford and Alabama. Perhaps we can remove West Virginia, as it’s easier for the Mountaineers to rise into the top three of an eight-team conference. If we take that step, you could have placed the Hurricanes in the same group as a Sugar Bowl participant, a Rose Bowl participant, an Orange Bowl participant and a 10-win team coached by Nick Saban. How did Miami go 7-6?
Tidbit (recruiting edition) Here’s an interesting note: while every program gives each assistant coach a recruiting area to cover, Miami is the first that I’ve seen label one assistant the national recruiting coordinator and another a regional recruiting coordinator. Brennan Carroll will be Miami’s national point man, while Terry Richardson will be the Florida recruiting coordinator. It’s interesting.
Former players in the N.F.L.
58 LB Spencer Adkins (Atlanta), LB Baraka Atkins (Pittsburgh), DE Allen Bailey (Kansas City), LB Jon Beason (Carolina), RB Damien Berry (Baltimore), K Matt Bosher (Atlanta), CB Phillip Buchanon (Washington), OT Rashad Butler (Houston), CB Jared Campbell (Arizona), DE Calais Campbell (Arizona), OT Vernon Carey (Miami), RB Graig Cooper (Philadelphia), DT Antonio Dixon (Philadelphia), TE Dedrick Epps (Miami), OT Jason Fox (Detroit), OG Orlando Franklin (Denver), LB Tavares Gooden (Baltimore), TE Richard Gordon (Oakland), RB Frank Gore (San Francisco), TE Jimmy Graham (New Orleans), WR Leonard Hankerson (Washington), CB Brandon Harris (Houston), DT Dwayne Hendricks (New York Giants), WR Devin Hester (Chicago), CB Ryan Hill (Minnesota), FB Patrick Hill (Tennessee), RB Javarris James (Indianapolis), WR Darnell Jenkins (New England), CB Kelly Jennings (Seattle), WR Andre Johnson (Houston), RB Tarvaris Johnson (Kansas City), CB Bruce Johnson (New York Giants), LB Ray Lewis (Baltimore), DT Damione Lewis (Houston), LB Colin McCarthy (Tennessee), RB Willis McGahee (Denver), LB Rocky McIntosh (Washington), S Brandon Meriweather (New England), WR Santana Moss (Washington), WR Sinorice Moss (Philadelphia), C Chris Myers (Houston), S Cory Nelms (San Francisco), TE Greg Olsen (Carolina), WR Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo), S Randy Phillips (Detroit), S Kenny Phillips (New York Giants), S Ed Reed (Baltimore), S Antrel Rolle (New York Giants), LB Darryl Sharpton (Houston), CB Sam Shields (Green Bay), TE Jeremy Shockey (Carolina), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (Oakland), LB Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans), WR Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis), DT Vince Wilfork (New England), LB D.J. Williams (Denver), TE Kellen Winslow (Tampa Bay), OT Eric Winston (Houston).
Arbitrary top five list
Worst losses of the Randy Shannon era
1. 2007: Virginia 48, Miami 0.
2. 2010: South Florida 23, Miami 20.
3. 2008: Florida 26, Miami 3.
4. 2010: Florida State 45, Miami 17.
5. 2007: Oklahoma 51, Miami 13.
Al Golden (Penn State ’91), entering his first season with the Hurricanes. Golden went 27-34 over five seasons at Temple, with much of that damage done in Golden’s first season with the Owls (2006), when Temple struggled through a 1-11 finish. His Owls improved significantly over the following two seasons, bouncing back from a 1-5 start in 2007 to win four games – all in MAC play – and finishing with five wins in 2008, a program-best since 1990. Then the Owls won 17 games over the last two years, completing one of the finest turnarounds in recent college football history. How did Golden do it? By completely rebuilding the nation’s worst defense and ramping up Temple’s recruiting, which ranked among the best in the MAC from the day of his arrival. Though he is one of the youngest head coaches in the F.B.S., Golden brought a wealth of F.B.S. coaching experience to Temple in 2006. From 2001-5, Golden served as Al Groh’s first defensive coordinator at Virginia, helping lead the Cavaliers to a 37-26 mark and four consecutive bowl trips (2002-5). Like with the Owls, Golden pushed all the right buttons with the Virginia defense, helping the unit improve from 108th nationally in total defense in 2001 to 18th in 2004. Golden was tabbed to be the youngest coordinator in the F.B.S. after a single season at Penn State (2000), where he served as the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. His additional F.B.S. experience includes three seasons at Boston College (1997-99), coaching the linebackers, and a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Virginia (1994-96). Considering the job he did with the Owls, it was no surprise that Golden’s name was consistently bandied about for major job openings. That he chose Miami and did not wait for his alma mater is the only surprise.
Tidbit (coaching edition) Golden brought three former Temple assistants with him to Miami, all on the defensive side of the ball. The defense will be coordinated by Mark D’Onofrio, one of Golden’s chief lieutenants with the Owls, while Jethro Franklin will coach the defensive line and Paul Williams the defensive backs. The lone holdover from the previous staff is linebackers coach Michael Barrow, who has been back with his alma mater since 2007. A familiar face has returned: Art Kehoe is back coaching the offensive line for the Hurricanes, as he did for more than two decades from 1981-2005. There are two hires off the N.F.L. ranks, led by new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. He was most recently the quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks, though Fisch does have college experience; most recently, he was Minnesota’s coordinator in 2009. Wide receivers coach George McDonald comes over from the Cleveland Browns. Then there’s Carroll, formerly of U.S.C., and Richardson, formerly of Connecticut, who will share the aforementioned recruiting duties.
Players to watch
Jacory? Jacory Harris? It seems like ages since the nation was touting Harris as a dark horse Heisman contender; it was only 12 months ago, actually, but the gap between his standing heading into 2010 and his standing coming out cannot be tabulated. Prior to last season, Harris was looked at as a turnover-prone, talented, gutsy, bombs-away quarterback with as high a ceiling as any quarterback in college football. Today, Harris is looked as a turnover-prone, injury-prone, question mark of a quarterback who falls right in line with Miami’s recent history of potential-laden disappointments at the position.
Here’s what Miami hopes: it’s not too late for Harris to turn things around. It’s finny, but Harris was never the best quarterback for a young team, not even when he threw for 3,352 yards as a sophomore in 2009. There were simply too many turnovers, too many head-scratching throws for Miami to really excel offensively. Harris was worse last fall, tossing more interceptions, 15, than touchdowns, 14, and completing less than 55 percent of his attempts. He has absolutely regressed, just like the program as a whole. So is Harris the key piece of the puzzle?
He was in 2009 and 2010, and will again hold the key to the entire offense in 2011. If Harris can’t cut it, Miami can simply turn to sophomore Stephen Morris, who replaced Harris in the starting lineup last fall and really didn’t play all that worse, to be honest. Miami doesn’t need Harris to win the Heisman; Miami just needs Harris to not lose games. Best of luck to Harris and the Hurricanes in this quest. Whether he plays with more consistency might be the largest question looming over the A.C.C.
Lamar Miller is all sorts of confident; Miami used to have dozens of guys like Miller, but that sort of program-defining swagger is in short quantity with these Hurricanes. Miller has stated that he’ll crack the 1,000-yard mark with ease, becoming the program’s first back to reach that threshold since 2002. Miller’s not done yet: he’s made the school’s single-season record of 1,753 yards on the ground a goal, not to mention say that he and teammate Mike James, a junior, would become Miami’s first 1,000-yard duo. You love this confidence. And who’s to say that Miller can’t do all that he’s laid on the table? As a redshirt freshman, Miller finished second on the team in rushing with 646 yards and led the way in touchdowns, six, and yards per carry.
All that talent in the world, and perhaps a bit more. Miller’s big, fast, tough and yeah, confident, meaning he has all the qualities of a great back. The new offense won’t pitch the ball around 30-40 times per game but rather run to set up the pass – what a concept – which should find Miller getting 20 touches per game, give or take. If that’s the case, 1,000 yards should be reached with ease. The Hurricanes lose a pair of contributors at the position, but the backfield should be better in 2011 with the combination of Miller and James.
Even without Leonard Hankerson, who developed into one of the nation’s best at the position in 2010, Miami has nice depth at wide receiver. Finding the next Hankerson will be a tall task, one that the Hurricanes probably won’t be able to do with the current crop of receivers. But there’s ample talent and experience, led by seniors Travis Benjamin (43 catches for 743 yards) and LaRon Byrd (41 for 441). That’s a nice top duo: Benjamin’s a big-play threat, while Byrd has the size to be a factor on third down. Another senior, Aldarius Johnson, burst onto the scene as a freshman but has been a disappointment since. More was expected of Johnson after his 2008 campaign. His run on the depth chart is being challenged by juniors Davon Johnson, Tommy Streeter and Kendal Thompkins, not to mention sophomore Allen Hurns and a pair of incoming freshmen. The Hurricanes have a few nice options at tight end, like former U.S.C. transfer Blake Ayles. If Harris so desired, Miami could make things happen at receiver – though Hankerson’s departure does leave a big hole.
Miami knew it needed to replace Orlando Franklin at left tackle. Seantrel Henderson’s recent back surgery leaves his 2011 season in doubt, however, though Miami is hopeful he returns at some point this season. Until then, Kehoe will need to break in a pair of new full-time starters at tackle. Redshirt freshman Malcolm Bunche will be on the blind side after having an outstanding spring; it was somewhat surprising to see Bunche, not Henderson, at left tackle, but credit the redshirt freshman for taking control of the spot during the spring. Jermaine Johnson, a five-game starter last fall, should earn the nod at right tackle. The interior of the line remains intact, and it’s a good threesome: Harland Gunn at left guard, Tyler Horn at center and all-A.C.C. pick Brandon Washington at right guard. The Hurricanes could also put Washington at right tackle and Brandon Linder at right guard, as some have suggested. There’s plenty of depth, though most of it young. Even with a new starter on the blind side and no Henderson for an undetermined amount of time, the offensive line looks very good.
The defense has a very good new coordinator in D’Onofrio and a wildly underrated new line coach in Franklin, not to mention a head coach who will always keep an eye on the developments on that side of the ball. There are issues to address at cornerback, but outside of that troubling situation the Hurricanes have the pieces to again rank among the A.C.C.’s best. It starts up front, where Franklin has several gifted linemen to work with. There’s a hole to fill at end, but Miami will lean on this four-man line throughout the season.
It’s superb inside: junior Marcus Forston (37 tackles, 12 for loss) has started scratching into his massive potential, and senior Micanor Regis (42 tackles, 8 for loss) is a steady, run-stopping presence as his running mate. Regis has improved his conditioning, which should result in his remaining on the field for longer periods of time, which in turn will increase his production. This pair is really, really good. Depth inside comes from extra-large JUCO transfer Darius Smith, Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson. There are two hyped incoming freshmen also in the mix, though I think the depth in front of this duo may lead to both taking a redshirt.
Allen Bailey left town just as things were getting interesting: like Forston, last fall found the since-departed end develop into the player most expected upon his arrival. Bailey’s mantle is passed along to junior Oliver Vernon (38 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 6 sacks), who is likely Franklin’s most intriguing pupil. Like Bailey, Vernon is a physical specimen just now teaming his athleticism with technique; with Franklin’s help, Vernon should be one of the A.C.C.’s best at getting to the quarterback. Joining him at end is senior Adewale Ojomo (38 tackles, 5 sacks). There’s enough depth at end to push Marcus Robinson up to linebacker: Andrew Smith (12 tackles, 3 sacks) just makes plays when he’s on the field, and the coaching staff has praised true freshman Anthony Chickillo.
Marcus Robinson will play both linebacker and end. Whether he’s down or standing up, Robinson will be asked to do one thing: get to the quarterback. So he’ll dabble outside on occasion, though the starters will be Sean Spence (111 tackles, 17 for loss) on the strong side and Ramon Buchanan (54 tackles, 8 for loss) on the weak side. Buchanan landed himself in a heap of trouble in March but was reinstated to the team less than a month later. Spence is the star along the second level, but he’s best utilized on the strong side and not in the middle, where he could move should Miami not find an option to replace Colin McCarthy, Can senior Jordan Futch finally play up to his abilities? If not, Miami could call on sophomore James Gaines, an overlooked recruit who continues to surprise. Or it may be Spence, which wouldn’t be good for this defense.
Position battle(s) to watch
Secondary Miami likes what it has at safety. It’s hard not to like what you see: in juniors Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque, Miami has a pair of athletic, hard-hitting, ball-hawking safeties with the upside to grow even better under the new staff. At strong safety, Armstrong (79 tackles, 3 interceptions) is already one of the A.C.C.’s best. What he can become is up to Armstrong, as he’ll have every opportunity to live up the all-American billing he’s landed heading into 2011. Depth may be a worry, but barring injuries, Miami’s safety tandem is right alongside the A.C.C.’s best, if not among the best in the country. On the other hand, it’s safe to say that the new staff does not like what it sees at cornerback. The top three position are no longer with the program, leaving the Hurricanes with the following among the two-deep at the position: senior JoJo Nicholas is a converted safety, senior Lee Chambers a former running back, junior Brandon McGee only slightly experienced and Thomas Finnie a true freshman, albeit one who was on campus during the spring. It’s a fluid situation, and a troubling one at that. Nicholas seems like the one cornerback closest to nailing down a starting spot, though we’re far from the point where Miami has settled anything at the position. McGee might only be somewhat experienced, but he has played key snaps in key A.C.C. games, so he has that going for him. There was a time during the spring when Finnie had jumped to the top of the depth chart, but his lack of height and college experience are two significant warning signs. Chambers was the starter alongside Nicholas coming out of the spring, but that depth chart is pretty much useless. Can Armstrong and Telemaque do it all? They can do a lot — and then some — but the Hurricanes need to find answer at cornerback. And fast.
Game(s) to watch
There are two non-conference games worth watching in Ohio State and Kansas State, though a bit of the luster is lost on the former following that program’s rocky spring and summer. The road to the top of the Coastal continues to go through Virginia Tech, and will forever, probably; Miami gets the Hokies on the road, as it does with U.N.C. and Florida State. It would be probably be good for Golden to beat South Florida.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell There’s talent here. And plenty of experience across the board: a senior at quarterback, seniors at receiver, seniors along the interior of the offensive line, on the defensive line and at linebacker. Hopefully, Miami now has the coaching to take advantage of its talent and experience. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and begin thinking about 2012, as that’s a different story altogether. Golden will need to really get to work on the recruiting trail, searching for immediate-type prospects, to overcome the losses that await after this season. But in this coming year, the Hurricanes have all the pieces to win nine games. Here’s what needs to be addressed: quarterback, offensive tackle, middle linebacker, cornerback. Yeah, Harris is an enormous question mark. All he needs is mental work, however, and I think the coaching change will provide him with the fresh start his career so desperately needed. Along the line, perhaps Henderson can return at some point this season and provide a boost. Middle linebacker: Spence can move if needed, so Miami has that trump card – though I don’t think Golden wants to do that. Cornerback is and will remain an issue throughout the year, in my mind, and it’s the primary reason why the defense might take a slight step back. Above all else, bringing in a replacement for Shannon – not even that it’s necessarily Golden, but any replacement – will be the biggest reason why Miami should step into a national ranking in 2011. That it’s Golden, a no-nonsense coach who has immediately reinstated accountability on the roster, is the icing. I like Miami to really bounce back in 2011.
Dream season Whether Miami can win 2012 and beyond remains up for debate. Whether Miami can win under Golden at all is no longer up for debate: 11-1, 7-1 in the A.C.C. and atop the Coastal division.
Nightmare season All this talent and experience means nothing to Miami, which tumbles from 7-6 to outside of bowl eligibility.
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, Canespace.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. Two more options: Jorge Milian’s blog for The Palm Beach Post and The 7th Floor.
Through 97 teams 300,332.
Who is No. 23? Tomorrow’s school is the last of five universities with F.B.S. programs to have graduated a multiple-time N.B.A. title-winning coach.
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Tags: A.C.C., Al Golden, Brandon Washington, Jethro Franklin, LaRon Byrd, Malcolm Bunche, Marcus Forston, Mark D'Onofrio, Miami (Fla.), Oliver Vernon, Ray Ray Armstrong, Sean Spence, Seantrel Henderson, Travis Benjamin, Vaughn Telemaque
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