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The Countdown

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

Need to Know

The Worst of Both Worlds for Miami (Fla.)

Rebuilding became the theme shortly after the close of last season, when Miami’s 20-plus senior departures were joined by six painful early entries into the N.F.L. Draft. Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, Lamar Miller, Tommy Streeter, Olivier Vernon and Brandon Washington opted to forego their final seasons of eligibility, leaving Miami without the would-be backbone of its 2012 roster. Al Golden knew that his senior-laden team would encounter a rough learning curve after last season, but the above six were viewed as gap-bridging talents, the sort that could help Golden survive losing his seniors while Miami’s incoming recruiting class got its feet wet in the Coastal division.

In a kinder world, the roster would be defined by a mix of young and old, raw and experienced, and would slide into next season with the sort of early-season schedule conducive to a strong start.

Instead, the Hurricanes will get the worst of both worlds. There are 16 seniors on the roster, three of whom — Dalton Botts, Cameron Dean and Jake Wieclaw — are kickers or punters. Only six of those 16 seniors earned a start last fall, and only four of those six started more than four games.

In comparison, Miami had seven true freshmen enroll early in January, giving them a chance to participate in spring ball and a leg up over their fellow newcomers, who arrive over the summer. Not even counting those recruits who won’t be part of the program until June, the Hurricanes have 40 freshmen or sophomores on the roster.

This is a freakishly young team, and is so heavily tilted towards youth because of the below-average recruiting work done by Randy Shannon and his staff over his four seasons in charge of the program. Hopefully, Golden’s first full class — 33 players strong, and ranked by Rivals.com as the ninth-best in the country — will help the program address its depth issues.

Youth isn’t always an issue; Miami was young in 2008, Jacory Harris’ freshman season, yet still added two wins to its 2007 total. And Golden reeled in a serious amount of talent in February, including a number of potential difference-makers like running back Randy Johnson, cornerback Tracy Howard and linebacker Raphael Kirby, among others.

What Miami could use, however, is an easy stretch leading into the heart of A.C.C. play. What Miami could use is its 2012 schedule in reverse: home dates early, road games late. Instead, the meat of the Hurricanes’ schedule — not just difficult games, but also road games — takes place over the first half of the season.

The Hurricanes will play only two home games prior to Oct. 13, when conference play begins in earnest. Miami won’t play a game at home until Bethune-Cookman comes to town on Sept. 15, after it has already traveled to Boston College and Kansas State. Bethune-Cookman is followed by N.C. State at home, which in turn is followed by a game against Notre Dame in Chicago.

This is not a healthy slate of games for such a youthful team. Even if B.C. is suffering through a painful down spell, the Hurricanes would certainly rather open with Bethune-Cookman, not an A.C.C. road game. And Kansas State is everything Miami is not: a veteran, experienced bunch with a cocksure senior quarterback and a coach legendary for his ability to wring the most of his roster.

Then again, it’s not as if Miami’s second half is a breeze: North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, South Florida and Duke. But games against the Tar Heels, Hokies, Seminoles and Bulls come at home, which is a needed sight for the Hurricanes — even if the program’s home-field advantage leaves much to be desired.

The potential tipping point for Miami’s season lies in that difficult first half. With this young a team, a 2-4 or 1-5 start might snowball, leaving the Hurricanes at best matching last season’s .500 regular season. Actually, to start 2-4 yet still reach bowl play would be a huge stepping-stone for the Hurricanes heading into 2013.

On the other hand, a strong start might provide this team with an unexpected spot in the Coastal division race. That’s one positive of being young: you don’t know you’re supposed to struggle. Until you do struggle, that is.

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