Is this the year Miami finally plays in its first ACC Championship Game?
By: Athlon Sports | 5/10/11, 9:31 AM EDT
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ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Al Golden, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jedd Fisch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio
As a sophomore in 2009, Jacory Harris was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate and a sure bet as the next star at Quarterback U. But Harris isn’t even certain of being a starter after a woeful junior season marred by injuries and interceptions. Pushing Harris for the starting job is Stephen Morris, who started the last four regular-season games after Harris sustained a concussion. Morris was only 2–2 in his starts but impressed with his poise, arm strength and athletic ability.
Lamar Miller and Storm Johnson might be the two fastest tailbacks in the ACC and are expected to provide the long-distance capability lacking in the team’s running game in recent years. But they both may take a back seat to Mike James, a tough and smart runner who has the edge in experience.
Receivers LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin have unique physical talent, but their contributions haven’t always matched their skills because of dropped passes and mental gaffes. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch plans to use a scheme primarily employing two tight ends. Blake Ayles, a USC transfer who will be eligible immediately, is the biggest and most experienced among a half-dozen tight ends fighting for playing time.
The offensive line, which returns four starters, is the team’s strongest position group.
Miami will have a lightning-fast defense and an experienced offensive line, but stability is badly needed at quarterback. The play of Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris will determine the early returns on the Golden era.
More question marks than sure things on this side of the ball. The interior of the defensive line could be a big worry. Tackle Marcus Forston is a talent who’s fallen far short of his potential because of injuries. The end positions look like a strength with Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon, who combined for 11 sacks last year and could push that number up around 20 this season.
Outside linebacker Sean Spence is the best player Miami will put on the field. Bulked up to 224 pounds, Spence is a ferocious hitter who does most of his damage behind the line of scrimmage. He could move to the middle if neither Jordan Futch nor Jimmy Gaines proves capable.
Both cornerbacks will be first-time starters at the position. Brandon McGee is fast and quick but has struggled in limited duty. The other starter figures to be JoJo Nicolas, who moved to corner from safety during spring practice. The starting safeties are set with Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong, a ferocious hitter. But, like every other position on defense, safety depth is virtually nonexistent.
Sean Spence, LB Arguably the ACC’s best linebacker; provides big hits and does his best work behind the line of scrimmage.
Lamar Miller, RB It’s up to Miller and his backfield cohorts to return Miami’s ground game to prominence.
Olivier Vernon, DE Skilled pass-rusher could easily double his 2010 sack total of six.
|Sept. 5th||at Maryland|
|Sept. 17th||Ohio State|
|Sept. 24th||Kansas State|
|Oct. 8th||at Virginia Tech|
|Oct. 15th||at North Carolina|
|Oct. 22nd||Georgia Tech|
|Nov. 12th||at Florida State|
|Nov. 19th||at South Florida|
|Nov. 25th||Boston College|
Matt Bosher’s departure means that a new placekicker, punter and kickoff specialist will have to be found. Junior college transfer Dalton Botts will be the punter while either Jake Wieclaw or Matt Goudis will kick. Miami has no shortage of potential kick and punt returners.
Al Golden inherits a team with a solid talent base that has the capacity, if everything goes right, to contend for the school’s first ACC Coastal Division title. But there are also many challenges awaiting the Hurricanes’ new coach. Foremost among them is ridding his new team of its penchant for undisciplined, boneheaded mistakes. Last season, Miami ranked near the bottom nationally in both penalties and turnovers.
Golden is also tasked with finding a starting quarterback, creating depth on a depleted defense and re-energizing a fanbase that lost patience with the team’s bumbling ways. The schedule — which includes trips to FSU, Virginia Tech and North Carolina — won’t be Golden’s friend, either.