There's some mystery involved in coach Al Golden's second season at Miami. That's not necessarily a good thing.
Miami has questions at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and along the offensive line. There also are questions along the defensive front and at cornerback. The mystery, of course, is how those questions are going to be answered.
The biggest mystery of all, though, has to do with an NCAA investigation into the program. Last August, Yahoo! Sports released a report alleging numerous rules violations committed by booster Nevin Shapiro. Miami self-imposed a bowl ban last season, but there has been no official word – from UM or the NCAA – about when any investigation would end.
The potential for sanctions certainly did not hurt Miami's recruiting efforts, as Golden and his staff reeled in a top-10 class. Given the number of holes in Miami's lineup, a lot of those freshmen will need to play important roles this fall.
Last season: 6-6 overall, 3-5 in ACC (tied for 4th in ACC Central)
Coach: Al Golden (6-6, 2nd season at Miami; 33-40, 7th season overall)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (4)–T Jon Feliciano (likely will play G), WR Allen Hurns, G Brandon Linder, TE Clive Walford. Defense (4) –E Anthony Chickillo, LB Jimmy Gaines, CB Brandon McGee, SS Vaughn Telemaque. Special teams (2)–P Dalton Botts, K Jake Wieclaw.
Fast fact: Miami has lost at least six games five times in the past six seasons. The last time that happened? Try 1974-79.
Miami lost its starting quarterback, starting tailback and top two receivers – and that's from an offense that ranked 70th nationally and seventh in the ACC.
Junior Stephen Morris, who has five career starts, should be the quarterback. He has thrown seven TD passes and 11 interceptions in his career, and is going to be working with a lot of unproven players this fall.
There is intriguing talent at tailback. Senior Mike James has shown flashes at times, but he lacks breakaway speed. That's where true freshman Randy "Duke" Johnson comes in. He scored 70 TDs in his high school career at Miami Norland, leading the school to a state title last season. He does possess breakaway speed and at the least can be used as a change-of-pace back this fall. Junior Eduardo Clements also could be in the mix; he is a former four-star recruit who hasn't done much at UM (114 yards in two seasons).
Allen Hurns is Miami's leading returning receiver; he had 31 receptions last season and scored four times, including twice in a victory over Ohio State. Sophomore Rashawn Scott, who had one catch last season, had a big spring and looks ready to be a productive No. 2 receiver. The only other wide receivers on the roster with a reception are sophomore Phillip Dorsett, who made 14 catches last season, and senior Kendal Thompkins, who had three catches last season and eight in his career. Freshman Angelo Jean-Louis was expected to contribute, but academic troubles sent him to prep school. Miami does have five other freshmen wide receivers, and expect at least two to get into the rotation.
Sophomore TE Clive Walford should become a more important part of the offense. He can go deep and also knows how to get open on intermediate routes.
To cap it off, the line will likely have issues, too. Gs Jon Feliciano and Brandon Linder look OK, but there will be a new center (likely sophomore Shane McDermott) and two new starting tackles. Former mega-recruit Seantrel Henderson is penciled in to start at right tackle, but he must become far more consistent. Sophomore Malcolm Bunche, who started one game last season, is the likely left tackle. Depth at tackle is extremely iffy, though Feliciano and Linder have played the position.
Things look a bit better on this side of the ball, with linebacker looking like the strongest position.
Sophomore E Anthony Chickillo is a rising star. He started nine games last season as a true freshman, and though he got pushed around at times, he made 38 tackles and had five sacks. The other end spot is a concern, as no other end on the roster has started a game. Chickillo is the only proven pass rusher on the team.
Curtis Porter and Darius Smith should be the starting tackles, and both are solid against the run. That's important because UM was spotty against the run last season, allowing 161.9 yards per game (69th nationally). Depth is an issue all along the line, and some freshmen need to make immediate impacts.
LB Denzel Perryman should vie for all-league honors. He made 69 tackles as a true freshman last season and is a big hitter who moves well laterally. Jimmy Gaines and Ramon Buchanan are expected to man the other starting linebacker spots. Buchanan has good speed and big-play potential, but he is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him after Game 4 last season. Touted true freshman Raphael Kirby will likely see time.
The safeties could be excellent. While seniors Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque have NFL talent, they have lacked consistency during their time at Miami. Armstrong also seems to always have off-field issues. If both guys put everything together this fall, Miami would have the best safety duo in the nation.
The corners are a concern. Senior Brandon McGee was a four-star recruit and considered one of the nation's top 10 corners in 2008, but has made just 13 career starts. He has one pick and four pass breakups in his career.
The other corner could be true freshman Tracy Howard, a five-star recruit who was the nation's top cornerback prospect in this signing class. Howard should at least be the nickelback this season. JC transfer LaDarius Gunter enrolled in time for spring ball and should see playing time along with sophomore Thomas Finnie and freshman Deon Bush.
Somebody in the secondary needs to make some plays. Miami had just six interceptions last season, with five coming by defensive backs.
Miami has one of the best kicker/punter duos in the ACC. P Dalton Botts averaged 42.7 yards last season after transferring in from junior college. K Jake Wieclaw was 11-of-14 on field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder.
Miami's kickoff coverage was excellent last season, but its punt coverage needs vast improvement.
Miami also is looking for a new return man with the departure of Travis Benjamin.
Three of the first four games are on the road, including ACC matchups with Boston College and Georgia Tech. There's also a trip to Kansas State, which won at Miami last season.
In addition, there's a tough September game against North Carolina State. That's followed the next week by a game in Chicago against Notre Dame. And on the heels of that game are back-to-back-to-back contests against North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
In short, a flawed Miami team has a difficult schedule.
As usual with Miami, the roster is filled with top-flight athletes. But there aren't that many proven players.
Morris' play at quarterback bears watching. Can he maintain consistency? And will he get some help from his tailbacks? A lot is expected of Johnson, a Miami native who could start the opener.
There are defensive issues, too. How will Miami hold up against the run? Will the safeties play to their abilities? And will there be any kind of pass rush?
The schedule is not kind, meaning there will be no time for a retooled offense to find its footing.
There's enough talent on hand for a bowl bid. But it would be a surprise if Miami was a legitimate contender for the ACC Coastal Division title.
The recruiting side
Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 16th nationally
The buzz: Golden and his staff brought in a massive class, signing 33 prospects. The class ranked No. 9 overall. The class was led by two five-star prospects from the Hurricanes' backyard – CB Tracy Howard and RB Duke Johnson. Other strong defensive additions include CB Deon Bush, LB Raphael Kirby and DEs Tyriq McCord and Jelani Hamilton. One negative is that talented WR Angelo Jean-Louis did not qualify academically and is headed to prep school. – Chris Nee, Rivals.com
LB Denzel Perryman. Perryman is expected to begin blossoming into a superstar this season. He has moved to the inside linebacker spot for the 'Canes, which should enable him to lead the team in tackles. He has shown explosive traits, reminding many in Coral Gables of a young Ray Lewis. Look for Perryman to be the marquee player on an improved Miami defense in 2012. – Gary Ferman, canesport.com
For more on Miami throughout the season, check out canesport.com
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