ACC preview: Miami (Fla.)

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami goes into 2013 as the favorite to win the ACC's Coastal Division and make its first appearance in the conference's championship game, but they still didn't know if they would be able to play for the title.
That's because at more than eight weeks after their appearance before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, they still had not learned what further penalties and sanctions they may face as a result of a nearly two-year investigation into rules violations involving extra benefits and other charges from a rogue (and convicted) booster.
The hope is that the self-imposed penalties of the last two years will satisfy the NCAA, which itself has come under much criticism for the way it handled the affair.
The Hurricanes have passed on bowls the last two years, gave up a chance at playing in the ACC title game a year ago, and suspended several players for various numbers of games when improprieties were uncovered in 2011.
Stoic coach Al Golden, who was not in charge when the alleged incidents took place, isn't going to let this cloud interfere with his third, and most promising, fall camp.
"It's been an anomaly for sure since we've been here," Golden said. "My biggest focus right now is to keep the team focused. We know -- at some point -- there is an answer coming.
"We're going to do everything we can in our power to bunker down, stay focused and not let this disrupt our third consecutive training camp."
The Hurricanes certainly have the potential -- at least on paper -- of not only contending for the ACC crown but returning to lofty spots in the polls as well.
The have an experienced, talented quarterback in senior Stephen Morris, an explosive rusher in sophomore Duke Johnson, a solid receiving corps augmented by several tight end candidates, a deep offensive line, and a defense that looks to be significantly improved over 2012.
The Hurricanes lost a promising linebacker in Eddie Johnson, who was impressive as a freshman, but overall the defensive unit is bigger and more mature after a year on the field.
"We're considerably bigger on defense right now," Golden said, singling out defensive tackle Curtis Porter at 313 pounds, defensive end Anthony Chickillo at 276, and linebackers Denzel Perrman at 243 and Jimmy Gaines at 240.
"These are all guys who have played 25-30 pounds lighter at some point," he said.

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: After a Friday night opener at home against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 30, things get serious right away for the Hurricanes. They are host to Florida on Sept. 7 in a game that looks to be a good measure for where the Hurricanes are on the comeback trail. After an open date, the Hurricanes finish their first month with a home game against Savannah State on Sept. 21 and their first road outing, Sept. 28 at South Florida.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Keeping QB Stephen Morris healthy is a major priority for the offense, which features a veteran offensive line. The big issue going into the season is how much the defense has progressed. It was a young unit last season and gave up far too many points (eight games of over 30 points) and too much yardage (486.8 a game) for the Hurricanes to be taken seriously nationally.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Linebacker is a question on defense. Eddie Johnson, who had a big impact as a freshman last year, has left the team and enrolled at a junior college. Gionni Paul (six starts in 2012) and Gabe Terry also have been dismissed because of off-the-field issues. Paul was the third-leading tackler with 61 stops.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.