2010 NCAA Football Preview: Miami Hurricanes

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2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in ACC)
2009 Bowl: Champs Sports Bowl (lost to Wisconsin 20-14)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #19
Head Coach: Randy Shannon (21-17 Overall, 11-13 in ACC)
Non-Conference Schedule: Florida A&M (9/2), at Ohio State (9/11), at Pittsburgh (9/23), South Florida (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 30.3 points per game (4th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 138 (5th in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 262 (5th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 400 (4th in ACC) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 22.2 points per game (5th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 122 (3rd in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 207 (5th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 329 (5th in ACC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.00 per game (7th in ACC)
Penalties: 54 yards per game (9th in ACC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Jacory Harris, Jr (242 of 406 for 3352 yards, 24 TD, 17 INT)
Rushing: RB Damien Berry, Sr (93 carries for 616 yds, 6.6 ypc, 8 TD)
Receiving: WR Leonard Hankerson, Sr (45 rec, 801 yds, 6 TD)
Tackles: LB Colin McCarthy, Sr (94)
Sacks: DE Allen Bailey, Sr (7.0)
Interceptions: CB Brandon Harris, Jr (2), DT Micanor Regis, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
AP: #13
Athlon Sports: #14
Phil Steele: #9
Pre-Snap Read: #13
Sporting News: #4
Sports Illustrated: #15
USA Today Coaches Poll: #13

2010 Pre-Season ACC Coastal Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #1
Sports Illustrated: #2 (tie with GT and UNC)

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Champs Sports Bowl (vs. Notre Dame)
Phil Steele: Orange Bowl (vs. Florida)

For our final ACC Preview we caught up with Miami Hurricanes fan Joshua Mann to get his perspective on the 2010 Canes. Here is an intro from Josh and then some Q&A:

The U is at The Crossroads. Are they a nine-win team destined to stay in place due to scheduling and their own inconsistency or are they still a growing foundation destined to blossom back into a perennial National Title contender?

While the 2009 season was still not near the sometimes-untenable expectations set by the program over the last quarter-century, the Miami Hurricanes made gains, sometimes dramatic and sometimes modest, closer to their former dynasty status than away from it. After two years worth of fruitful recruiting by Randy Shannon, they managed to restock the shelves and at the same time resurrect The U’s original blueprint for local recruiting by once again establishing what Howard Schnellenberger once called “The State of Miami”. Roughly half of the Hurricanes’ roster played their high school ball in South Florida and their ability to make most of the area’s top recruits stay at home has begun to pay dividends.

However, Miami is now to the point where pointing to the recruiting classes of 08 and 09 and asking for patience from its occasionally fickle fanbase is no longer an option. Those classes are now the core of a team that starts the season ranked in the Top 15 and is a viable contender for the ACC title that has eluded them since they joined the conference six years ago. The Baby Canes of 2008 are now the young men of this season.

Shannon, who in his fourth season as a head coach, is still trying to forge his identity. While the nine-win season was enough for UM to give Shannon the contract extension that seemed iffy at best after 2008, Shannon is now in new territory as a head coach in that this is the first season he’s had a team that has at least moderate expectations.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Hurricanes?

Above and beyond all else with Miami, their greatest strength and weakness is the same thing: Jacory Harris’ confidence. The junior quarterback has shown periods where the same swagger that allowed him to beat Florida St. in Tallahassee and Oklahoma and Georgia Tech at home last season has also made him given to force passes into double-coverage, which led to 17 INTs. When he’s on, though, Harris is the undisputed on-field leader for the Hurricanes and is the most talented quarterback the Hurricanes have boasted in a decade. He just always hasn’t been. Much of last season was spent with offensive coordinator Mark Whipple (a rising star in the coaching ranks) determining what is the best way to use Harris and his dangerous foursome of wideouts. When they work in tandem, they’re deadly.

Tied into the success of Harris is the question mark that is UM’s offensive line. Gone is their anchor at left tackle Jason Fox and In his place is Orlando Franklin, who moves over from left guard to protect Harris and his tender right thumb. If the line grows into its role quickly and Miami can get more game-to-game consistency out of its offense, Harris’ longstanding promise of showing up with a pimp cup should he ever be named a Heisman finalist might be realized in the next two seasons.

Shannon’s defense, while topped with individual talent, has yet to build any kind of cohesion and on occasion seems too determined to make highlight reel plays in favor of safer ones and have lost more gambles than they’ve won over the last few seasons. Also, much like how the offense has been laden with giveaways, the defense has suffered from a lack of takeaways, which was a trademark of Shannon’s playmaking defenses of the early 2000s. But like with all things with this team in recent years, Miami has been forced to throw a young defense into the deep end quickly, with the results still not fully forthcoming due to injuries and Shannon’s tendency to move players in and out of the starting lineup.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

In a possible first for The U, the booing they will likely receive in Columbus will have more to do with the name “Miami” than the name “Hurricanes”. In the offseason, some basketball player defected from the city of Cleveland in favor of playing in South Florida. It made a few papers. LeBron factor or not, playing the pre-ranked No. 2 Ohio State and their National Title aspirations in the Horseshoe will be the test for Miami.

But like 2009, Miami’s early schedule is front-loaded. After the likely Week one sparring match with Florida A&M and the proving-ground tustle with the Buckeyes, the Canes then journey to always-tough-at-home Pittsburgh and then to Clemson before finally returning to Miami to face a revenge-minded Florida State to then play their string of ACC games before finishing up against feisty South Florida, who is still trying to make the state of Florida into the Big Four.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

While Miami almost has nothing to lose in Columbus, they have everything to lose on their own field on Oct. 23. In a division with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech where every win counts, the team that has been the biggest thorn in UM’s side has been North Carolina and former Miami head coach Butch Davis. Three years straight, Miami has self-destructed against Davis’ Tar Heels, and have seen their conference title game aspirations in the last two seasons go into a tailspin as a direct result of those losses. Part of the problem in the Coker/Shannon era is that the Hurricanes began losing to teams that on paper they were better than, and their lack of success against Carolina since joining the ACC is the most glaring example.

Who is the best player on Miami that nobody talks about?

Leonard Hankerson doesn’t have the sub-4.3 speed of Travis Benjamin, nor does he have the Matrix-lke tools of Laron Byrd, both of whom have shown flashes of jumping to the next level but so far have not. All Hankerson did in 2009 was emerge as Miami’s most consistant wide receiver an Jacory Harris’ bailout target on 3rd down. His 45/801/6 season was enough to put him on the watch list for 2010 Belitnikoff Award. More Reggie Wayne than Michael Irvin (whose No. 47 was given to Byrd in expectation of what he might still become), Hankerson has been the steadying force on what could be one of the best quartets of receivers (along with junior Aldarious Johnson) in college football.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

With Harris and the four WRs, it’s easy to forget about senior RB Graig Cooper, especially since his own team almost forgot about him for the upcoming season. When healthy, Cooper is an all-purpose yards machine and a home-run threat from anywhere on the field who can change games as a running back, a receiver out of the backfield and as a kick returner. After a serious knee injury suffered in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, it was presumed that Cooper would use his as-yet-unused redshirt season to rehabilitate and come back in 2011. Cooper, however, has insisted that his knee will be ready for Week 1 against the Rattlers. If Cooper doesn’t make it back this season, Damian Berry, who averaged over 6 yards per carry, will start at tailback

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Opposing offensive linemen will need to account for the whereabouts of Allen Bailey at all times, which could potentially be in six spots in the front seven. The versatile defensive end, who can also line up at outside linebacker and defensive tackle, had seven sacks and 11 TFL in 2009 and is already tagged as a lottery pick by several NFL Draftnicks. The attention and probable double-teams that Bailey commands will create some favorable one-on-one matchups for Miami’s other bookend Adewale Ojomo, who missed 2009 with a broken jaw after turning heads as a redshirt freshman in 2008.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

In 2008 as a freshman, Sean Spence was named top ACC Defensive Newcomer and seemed like he would be a cornerstone to Miami’s defense for the next three seasons. However, a rash of injuries of 2009 made Spence a victim of the dreaded sophomore jinx. Another case of an on-field leader who can’t stay on the field is fellow LB Colin McCarthy, whose recurring absences has hurt Miami’s defense the most over the last two seasons. Kylan Robinson, a converted RB with only four special teams tackles to his credit, will get the first chance to fill Daryl Sharpton’s old spot on the field in the middle, with McCarthy the backup plan at MLB and Ramon Buchanan waiting in the wings at OLB should the experiment with Robinson fail. One of the main red flags going into this season is that this is a team that is lacking proven depth at linebacker which could be an issue should injuries pop up once again.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

While Berry will open the season in the starting backfield, redshirt freshman Lamar Miller should also get his share of the ball should Cooper not make it onto the field. Miller was last seen rushing for nearly 1,800 yards and 22 TDs for Miami Killian in the death pool that is the Miami-Dade County 6A District and has shown flashes of brilliance all spring. The most promising true freshman for the Hurricanes during early scrimmages is a RB with a name right out of central casting: Storm Johnson has been turning heads all summer, and while his early contributions may be more on special teams, with Cooper possibly out Johnson may see his share of carries as the season goes on. While most of the recent headlines has been Miami’s acquisition of Seantrel Henderson after the top-rated prep lineman ditched Lane Kiffin and USC at the altar, it hasn’t been decided whether he’ll see any action in 2010.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

For a defense that has a number of returning contributors, putting Robinson as a starting LB is the all-in move for 2010. It won’t take long to figure out if he can play the position or not, with his first real test coming in Game 2. Putting a converted RB into one of the most critical slots in Shannon’s defense is a wait-and-see proposition.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Miami is not yet at the stage where they will be anywhere near the National Title stage--Week 2 in Columbus should see to that. And even if they do pull off the upset over the Bucks, they still need to prove that they can navigate the game-to-game landmines that make up their conference schedule, which they have yet to do. But barring injury and with some improvements in the decision-making of both Harris and the defense, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in the conversation for the ACC championship. In reality, the Canes might be a year away from doing some serious damage in the BCS polls.

Previous ACC Previews: 
ACC Conference Preview
Boston College Eagles
Clemson Tigers
Duke Blue Devils
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Maryland Terrapins
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Tech Hokies
Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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