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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. 77: Miami (Fla.)

It’s a little-used word in the annals of Miami’s history: patience. It’s needed now, and now more than ever, as the program enters what should be a painful multiple-year turn – the process that started last fall, Al Golden’s first season, will continue unabated until this former power work its way through a minefield of off-field and roster issues. We’re about to enter a new era of Miami football, one seen only once before in the program’s modern history: true, full-on rebuilding. And yes, that takes… patience. How did Butch Davis lead Miami out of the woods in the mid-1990s? By bringing in the best talent in the country – most in his own backyard – and having the patience to watch them develop. Golden’s following a similar blueprint; his first full class, signed in February, was ranked by Rivals.com as the ninth-best in the country. The process is simple: bring in talent, let them develop and weather the storm. Does Miami have the patience for that?

Atlantic Coast, Coastal

Coral Gables, Fla.


Returning starters
9 (4 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 24

2011 record
(6-6, 3-5)

Last year’s

No. 53

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Boston College
  • Sept. 8
    at Kansas St.
  • Sept. 15
    Bethune Cookman
  • Sept. 22
    at Georgia Tech
  • Sept. 29
    N.C. St.
  • Oct. 6
    vs. Notre Dame (in Chicago)
  • Oct. 13
  • Oct. 20
  • Nov. 1
    Virginia Tech
  • Nov. 10
    at Virginia
  • Nov. 17
  • Nov. 24
    at Duke

Last year’s prediction

There’s talent here. And plenty of experience across the board. 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. But in this coming year, the Hurricanes have all the pieces to win nine games. 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.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Miami beat two teams then ranked in the Top 25, narrowly lost to another pair that would finish the year with a national ranking and reached bowl eligibility. Not a bad season, all things considered. It was disappointing nonetheless: Miami was loaded with senior experience and had upgraded at head coach, so it was natural to expect more before this year’s upcoming roster turnover. It was natural in early August, mind you. Later that month, the program was rocked by allegations of widespread N.C.A.A. violations involving a former booster and current and former players, which led eight active players to suffer some sort of suspension heading into the season. The suspensions – occurring in nearly equal measure on both sides of the ball – put the Hurricanes behind the eight ball heading into September, and it’s safe to say that the team never recovered. No, last year was no picnic. Unfortunately, the truly hard part is just about to start.

High point Three nice wins, over then-No. 17 Ohio State in September and against North Carolina and then-No. 22 Georgia Tech in back-to-back weeks in October. When all the pistons were firing, this team was pretty good. The Hurricanes clinched bowl eligibility on the second-to-last Saturday of the regular season, sneaking past South Florida, 6-3, though the university opted to implement a self-imposed bowl ban prior to the season finale against Boston College.

Low point The Hurricanes’ six losses came by a combined 33 points. One of those, a 32-24 decision to Maryland, would have gone differently for Miami had the game been played later in the year. To be honest, however, Miami didn’t exactly lose games late – the Hurricanes could have won each game, but it’s not fair to say that they should have. The worst loss? With nothing left to play for but pride, Miami failed to show up in a 24-17 loss to B.C. in the season finale.

Tidbit Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and Larry Coker went a combined 39-9 during their first seasons with the program – Johnson, 8-5, and Davis, 8-3, combine for the wide majority of those losses. Miami’s last two head coaches, Shannon and Golden, have combined to go 11-13 during their debut seasons. The above quartet are the exception to the rule, believe it or not. From 1948-79, all seven Miami head coaches suffered a losing season in their debut. Andy Gustafson went 4-6 in 1948, Charlie Tate went 4-5-1 in 1964, Fran Ciurci went 4-7 in 1971, Peter Elliott went 5-6 in 1973, Carl Selmer went 2-8 in 1975, Lou Saban went 3-8 in 1977 and Howard Schnellenberger went 5-6 in 1979.

Tidbit (finale and opener edition) When Miami kicks off this season with a road date against Boston College, it will face the same team in the season opener as it did in the previous season’s finale for only the third time in school history. The most recent occurrence was between 2003 and 2004, when the Hurricanes ended 2003 with an Orange Bowl win over Florida State and opened 2004 with a win over the Seminoles. The second time this occurred was between 1928 and 1929, when the Hurricanes ended one year and began another against Florida Southern — tying in 1928 and winning in 1929.

Tidbit (points edition) Miami’s six points in its win over U.S.F. was the program’s fewest in a victory since beating Louisiana Tech, 6-0, in 1979. It was also the lowest point total for a winning road team in the F.B.S. since Auburn’s memorable 3-2 win over Mississippi State in 2008. I saw Miami-U.S.F., and let me tell you: Miami-U.S.F. was no Auburn-Mississippi State.

Former players in the N.F.L.

60 LB Spencer Adkins (Atlanta), LB Baraka Adkins (Dallas), DE Allen Bailey (Kansas City), LB Jon Beason (Carolina), WR Travis Benjamin (Cleveland), RB Damien Berry (Baltimore), K Matt Bosher (Atlanta), OT Rashad Butler (Houston), WR LaRon Byrd (Arizona), DE Calais Campbell (Arizona), DT Antonio Dixon (Philadelohia), TE Dedrick Epps (New York Jets), TE Chase Ford (Philadelphia), DE Marcus Forston (New England), OT Jason Fox (Detroit), OT Orlando Franklin (Denver), LB Tavares Gooden (San Francisco), TE Richard Gordon (Oakland), RB Frank Gore (San Francisco), TE Jimmy Graham (New Orleans), OG Harland Gunn (Dallas), WR Leonard Hankerson (Washington), CB Brandon Harris (Houston), DT Dwayne Hendricks (New York Giants), WR Devin Hester (Chicago), C Tyler Horn (Atlanta), RB Javarris James (Arizona), WR Andre Johnson (Houston), LB Ray Lewis (Baltimore), LB Colin McCarthy (Tennessee), RB Willis McGahee (Denver), LB Rocky McIntosh (St. Louis), OT Bryant McKinnie (Baltimore), S Brandon Meriweather (Washington), RB Lamar Miller (Miami), WR Santana Moss (Washington), C Chris Myers (Houston), CB Cory Nelms (San Francisco), CB JoJo Nicolas (New York Giants), DE Adewale Ojomo (New York Giants), TE Greg Olsen (Carolina), WR Roscoe Parrish (San Diego), S Kenny Phillips (New York Giants), S Ed Reed (Baltimore), DT Micanor Regis (Atlanta), S Antrel Rolle (New York Giants), LB Darryl Sharpton (Houston), CB Sam Shields (Green Bay), LB Sean Spence (Pittsburgh), WR Tommy Streeter (Baltimore), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (Oakland), DE Olivier Vernon (Miami), OG Brandon Washington (Philadelphia), WR Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis), NT Vince Wilfork (New England), LB D.J. Williams (Denver), LB Leon Williams (Kansas City), TE Kellen Winslow (Seattle), OT Eric Winston (Kansas City).

Arbitrary top five list

M.L.B. players who attended Miami (Fla.)
1. C Mike Piazza.
2. OF Ryan Braun.
3. OF Aubrey Huff.
4. SP Alex Fernandez.
5. OF Greg Vaughn.


Al Golden (Penn State ’91), 6-6 after 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 his final 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 still 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). As 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.

Players to watch

You likely won’t be surprised to hear that Miami is still waiting for a breakout year from junior Seantrel Henderson, the top-rated recruit who enrolled two years ago but has failed to come close to matching his mammoth potential — somewhat due to injuries, to be fair. While Henderson is never going to become the all-American blind side protector Miami first envisioned, he has the size, strength and footwork to anchor down the strong side of the line from right tackle. That’s where he’s listed today, as the Hurricanes enter the summer, and at the very least, Henderson needs to remain healthy and provide a degree of consistency as a full-time starter.

The line as a whole replaces three starters: center Tyler Horn and left guard Harland Gunn graduated and left tackle Brandon Washington opted to enter the N.F.L. Draft a year ahead of schedule — and wasn’t taken until the sixth round. Sophomore Malcolm Bunche, a surprise starter heading into last season, will replace Washington at left tackle; like Henderson, Bunche needs to be far more consistent.

Sophomore Jon Feliciano will shift from right tackle to left guard, replacing Gunn, while another sophomore, Shane McDermott, is the favorite to fill Horn’s shoes at center. Feliciano should do fine in his new spot — he’s probably better suited inside — though he did miss the final portion of spring ball due to injury. The star of the line is junior right guard Brandon Linder, who should earn all-A.C.C. honors.

The line isn’t great. But it is promising, and there’s enough youth to expect some substantial growth throughout the season. The warning signs: Miami is relying heavily on a player like Henderson, who has been a huge disappointment, and needs Bunche to take on a major task on the blind side. The interior is stronger than the outside spots, in my opinion. One positive note: Miami should be able to run the ball fairly well behind Linder and Henderson, should the latter stay on the field.

Ryan Williams was a pleasant surprise at quarterback during the spring, taking advantage of the added snaps with the first-team offense, but make no mistake: Stephen Morris will be Miami’s starting quarterback. What Williams is, due to some questions about his arm strength, is a very valuable backup; Morris has the knowledge of the system, the starting experience and — if he makes a full recovery from shoulder surgery, as expected — the arm to make the throws in this offense. Morris started five games over the last two years, and as a four-game starter as a freshman, was Miami’s most productive option under center.

He’s not perfect, and yes, Morris is still growing into the position. And the fact that he missed spring ball due to injury is a slight concern, though not a huge worry: Morris is in his second year in this offense, so the missed snaps aren’t as much of an issue as they would have been a year ago. I don’t think that Morris is an all-A.C.C. quarterback by any means, but he has the ability — nice touch and a solid arm, when healthy — to have a fine junior season.

Football isn’t rocket science. This is doubly true at running back: stay perfectly still, take the handoff, run into a hole, don’t let guys tackle you, success. It’s entirely possible for a true freshman to step right into the mix and produce, with many examples at our disposal. Miami hopes that true freshman Duke Johnson can hit the ground running, helping fill the void left by Lamar Miller, who had an outstanding final season with the program.

One area where Johnson might lag behind — because he certainly has the athletic gifts — in his pass protection; while true freshmen can make an impact, this is one area that keeps talented backs along the sidelines. While Johnson gets his feet wet on the college level, look for senior Mike James (275 yards, 7 touchdowns) to continue serving in a big role as the team’s short-yardage back and as a protector and receiver on passing downs. They could be a nice pair, with junior Eduardo Clements in reserve: James can do the dirty work while Johnson provides some flash.

A few members of this defense could have played during Miami’s glory days. Not all – or even a good number – but a few. That’s good news for this team, which needs a stout effort defensively to carry an offense with two or three lingering issues to address. In order to lift the Hurricanes to bowl eligibility, this defense will need three events to come to pass: one, the defensive line needs several new faces to succeed in larger roles; two, the front seven as a whole must get more pressure in the backfield; and three, Golden, defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio and secondary coach Paul Williams must rectify another troubling situation at cornerback.

There’s one star up front in sophomore end Anthony Chickillo (38 tackles, 5.0 sacks), an immediate producer as a true freshman and an easy contender for major hardware – conference and national – over the next two or three seasons. Chickillo, who is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential, brings another dimension to an otherwise pedestrian front four: he’s hard to handle one-on-one, strong on passing downs and a potential rock against the run. He’s very much one of the best sophomore defensive linemen in the country.

Miami will build the line around Chickillo. He’ll be joined at end by junior Shayon Green, a former middle linebacker who battled injuries throughout last season. While he has yet to earn enough playing time to make Miami totally comfortable, Green did have a very strong spring. Senior Darius Smith returns inside, bringing zero push but enough size to occupy blockers; Smith will be joined at tackle by junior Curtis Pointer, another new starter, like Green, who needs to prove that he can not only produce but remain healthy. This is not a great defensive line, but with Chickillo outside and a run-stuffer like Smith inside, perhaps the Hurricanes can make things happen.

The front seven as a whole needs to do a better job against the run. Smith and Porter – and reserves like Luther Robinson and Olsen Pierre – are part of the puzzle. So is Miami’s linebacker corps, which returns three players with adequate starting experience. One is senior Ramon Buchanan (18 tackles), who came out strong last fall before suffering a season-ending injury four games into the year. Buchanan will claim one outside spot, joining junior Jimmy Gaines (58 tackles). Gaines started the first games of last season before ceding way to Denzel Perryman (69 tackles, 6.5 for loss), a very promising sophomore who will replace Sean Spence in the middle.

Losing Spence is a big blow, but Perryman did show enough throughout the year – including a 14-tackle performance against B.C. – to recoup much of the lost production. The big question is depth; the Hurricanes don’t have much, and likely can’t afford any major injuries to one of the three starters.

Golden inked eight defensive backs in February’s class, which says much about the lack of secondary depth he inherited from the previous staff. One of the eight, JUCO transfer Ladarius Gunter, a springtime arrival, impressed the staff enough to grab a starting role at cornerback. This will be a big development if Gunter can handle A.C.C. receivers: it would push sophomore Thomas Finnie (14 tackles) into a more suitable role as Miami’s nickel back. Miami brings back senior cornerback Brandon McGee (38 tackles), a clear starter, on the other side. And what of five-star freshman Tracy Howard? There’s no question that he’ll play, and perhaps push Gunter or McGee out of a starting role by year’s end.

Miami’s safeties aren’t great… yet. The potential is there for the pairing of Ray Ray Armstrong (34 tackles) and Vaughn Telemaque (59 tackles, 1 interceptions) to be great; unfortunately, all the talent in the world – especially in Armstrong’s case – hasn’t translated into all-conference play. At their best, this duo can impact play not merely by covering the pass, but also by stepping up against the run and intimidating receivers who cut over the middle of the field. As yet, these two still have room for growth. If they play up to their potential, perhaps enticed by a high draft slot, Armstrong and Telemaque can be all-A.C.C. picks.

Miami needs that kind of season out of both players – and doubly so with Armstrong, who looks built to play safety but has been far too enigmatic over his first three seasons. Stronger safety play will help Miami’s front seven play the run while also covering up any deficiencies at cornerback. It’s not a stretch to say that Telemaque and Armstrong hold the key to Miami’s defense – and that the defense might hold the key to any success the Hurricanes have in 2012.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receiver The Hurricanes need to replace last year’s two leading receivers, Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin, as well as a leading reserve in LaRon Byrd — though Byrd was a massive disappointment as a senior. What Miami brings to the table in 2012 is an extremely young receiver corps, one with a single proven option in junior Allen Hurns (31 receptions for 415) and several potential-laden but unproven freshmen and sophomores. You’d think that Hurns would be guaranteed a starting role, based on his experience, but that may not be the case: Rashawn Scott’s superb spring pushed him ahead of Hurns, though the sophomore will need to continue making his case in August to remain the starter.

The top four at the position heading into the summer are Hurns, Scott, sophomore Phillip Dorsett (14 for 147) and senior Kendal Thompkins. The starters were Scott and Dorsett; as noted, it’s likely too early to hand Scott the top spot. The most physically gifted is Dorsett, who has the added benefit of having taken key snaps in this offense a year ago. Thompkins has long been viewed as a receiver who could break out, but after contributing nothing over the last two years, it’s safe to say that he’ll never reach his potential.

Miami has a nice pair of tight ends, which helps. One, sophomore Clive Walford (18 for 172), made eight starts as a freshman. Walford was pushed for snaps during the spring by junior Asante Cleveland, which was a good thing: Miami could use more competition across the board, for starters, but this offense does want to use the tight ends in the passing game — having two options can’t hurt. The big issue at receiver is the lack of a clear-cut top option. Is Scott that guy? Hurns? Dorsett? Someone needs to step up.

Game(s) to watch

Miami gets a streak of five straight non-road games from late September through early November — Notre Dame, at Soldier Field, lies between four A.C.C. home games. That’s pretty good, right? Well, consider this: Miami’s opponents over this span are N.C. State, the Irish, U.N.C., Florida State and Virginia Tech. If I’m Miami, I’d rather get a few of those teams on the road; F.S.U. and Virginia Tech are clear losses, for example, whether at home or away. The Hurricanes also get Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Virginia on the road. What are the winnable games? Duke, as always, as well as Boston College and Bethune Cookman. This isn’t a good schedule for a work-in-progress team.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell It’s time for Miami to batten down the hatches. As the Hurricanes prepare for September, it’s difficult to find many reasons why this team should be expected to contend in any way for bowl eligibility, and in no way, shape or form can this team be considered an A.C.C. contender. The first issue: Miami’s schedule. The second: an offense with significant question marks surrounding quarterback – is Morris ready to go? – offensive tackle and receiver; this ignores running back, but that could be an issue if Johnson doesn’t come prepared in August. The third: a front seven that could struggle against the run. The fourth: a troubling lack of consistency in the secondary. Add the concerns on offense and defense to this schedule and you have the makings of a fairly dreadful season. I don’t think it’ll be that bad – like 3-9 or 4-8, for example. I do think, however, that Miami is going to top out at five wins; this would give the program its first losing season since 2007 and only its third since 1980.

What reason do you have to think this team is going to better its six-win mark of a season ago? None, really. The bigger question for this program is whether it can weather this storm – one that could only grow darker should the N.C.A.A. hand down some harsh penalties – and come out stronger on the other side. One factor in Miami’s favor: Golden. The program has a head coach well-versed in the trials and tribulations involved in playing the hand he’s dealt, thanks to his time at Temple. I trust in his ability to keep Miami competitive through another year or two of roster turnover and development – but won’t go so far as to say that he’ll lead the program back to its glory days. Again, this is going to take patience. This isn’t a very good team; Miami is too young, inexperienced and thin at several spots to be taken seriously. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Be patient.

Dream season Golden’s coaching job trumps any of his work at Temple: Miami goes 9-3, 6-2 in the A.C.C., and thanks to tiebreakers takes home the Coastal division.

Nightmare season The year begins in the same way last season ended, with a loss to B.C., and only get worse from there. The Hurricanes beat only Bethune Cookman and Duke, winning only two games in a year for the first time since 1975 and losing 10 games for the first time in program history.

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.

Miami (Fla.)’s all-name nominee LB Thurston Ambrister.

Word Count

Through 48 teams 172,033.

Up Next

Who is No. 76? Prior to being hired, the athletic director at tomorrow’s university had worked at his previous stop, in the same position, for 29 years. That was his only previous athletic director job, though he was once the assistant A.D. at his alma mater, where he played tight end as an undergraduate.

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  1. george says:

    San jose State

  2. The Dude says:

    Gene Bleimeyer, former AD at Boise State for 29 years, is now the AD at San Jose State. The blue and gold Spartans of the West Coast are #76.

  3. Eksynyt says:

    Gene Bleymaier is the former AD at Boise State. He was the assistant AD for the UCLA Bruins, where he played tight end under head coach Dick Vermeil. He is the current AD for the San Jose State University Spartans.

  4. The Dude says:

    Interestingly, Dick Vermeil is a San Jose State alum, and UCLA was originally a southern branch campus of SJSU.

  5. KDRLAX says:

    Wow, Paul!

    Through 48 teams your word count is up more than 35K than last year at same point!

    To what do you attribute your verbosity? More in-depth analysis, especially for the newbies who joined the list this year? (or more informed choices for ‘places to congregate,etc? :)

    Whatever it is, nice job!

  6. Machavelli says:

    5-7 will be really tough for Miami, Paul. I see four wins on Miami’s schedule (at BC, Beth-Cook, USF, and Duke) and while the ACC games are always winnable with all the middling teams being closely clustered in terms for talent, we could be looking at the “nightmare season” scenario becoming a reality. Miami could be 2-8 with USF and Duke to finish, and looking at how the ‘Canes laid an egg against BC at home to finish 2011, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they do the same to end a catastrophically bad 2012. This is a ticking time bomb.

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