CFN: 2009 Miami Preview

Last season, Miami was home to a youth movement. This year, it hopes to take part in a movement of a different kind, like returning to the Top 25.

Head coach: Randy Shannon
3rd year: 12-13
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Miami Players
1. RB Graig Cooper, Jr.
2. LB Sean Spence, Soph.
3. WR Aldarius Johnson, Soph.
4. DE Eric Moncur, Jr.
5. RB Javarris James, Sr.
6. DT Allen Bailey, Jr.
7. DT Marcus Forston, Soph.
8. LB Colin McCarthy, Sr.
9. P/PK Matt Bosher, Jr.
10. OT Jason Fox, Sr. 

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/7 at Florida State
9/17 Georgia Tech
9/26 at Virginia Tech
10/3 Oklahoma
10/10 Florida A&M
10/17 at UCF
10/24 Clemson
10/31 at Wake Forest
11/7 Virginia
11/14 at North Carolina
11/21 Duke
11/28 at South Florida

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 7-6

8/28 Char. Southern W 52-7
9/6 at Florida L 26-3
9/20 at Texas A&M W 41-23
9/27 North Carolina L 28-24
10/4 Florida State L 41-39
10/11 UCF W 20-14
10/18 at Duke W 49-31
10/25 Wake Forest W 16-10
11/1 at Virginia W 24-17 OT
11/13 Virginia Tech W 16-14
11/20 at Georgia Tech L 41-23
11/29 at NC State L 38-28
12/27 California L 24-17

Last season, Miami was home to a youth movement. This year, it hopes to take part in a movement of a different kind, like returning to the Top 25.

It’s been a difficult past few seasons for the Hurricanes, which are in the midst of their worst five-year stretch since the 1970s. Since beating Florida State in the 2004 Orange Bowl, the program has gone 35-25 without a league title or even a January bowl invitation. These are lean times in Coral Gables. Hope, however, can be culled out of the past two recruiting classes, star-studded hauls that have somewhat helped lower the pressure on beleaguered head coach Randy Shannon. He and his staff have done a magnificent job of raising the talent level, but this the U., and at some point soon, they’ve got to start turning all of those blue-chippers into double-Us. Like now.

It’s still a year premature to ask the ‘Canes to win an ACC championship. It would be nice, but premature. The quarterback is in his second year. Underclassmen dot the two-deep. And the defense is not going to conjure up memories of the 1991 or 2001 teams. No, what Shannon needs to do is show that he’s more than just an ace recruiter. He needs to be a beacon of progress, which includes showing that his two new coordinators, Mark Whipple on offense and John Lovett on defense, were the right moves during the offseason. He needs to become a better game day coach, especially down the stretch. And most of all, he has to get all of those kids off training wheels as quickly as possible.

Miami may not have to win a league title in 2009, but it has to start making some tangible strides closer to national relevance.      

What to watch for on offense: The different ways that sophomore WR Travis Benjamin gets used. One of new coordinator Mark Whipple’s first priorities will be to invent as many interesting ways to get the ball in Benjamin’s hands. One of those electrifying, undersized speed merchants, he can change the momentum of a game with one timely block and just a hint of daylight. As a rookie, he showed flashes taking handoffs, catching passes, and returning kicks. As a second-year player, he’s capable of forcing opposing coordinators to design gameplans to specifically stop him.

What to watch for on defense: The progress of the run defense. 310 yards against Florida State. 472 yards against Georgia Tech. 219 yards against NC State. Was this Miami of Florida or Miami of Ohio? The Hurricanes were bullied by more physical teams, finishing at the bottom of the ACC against the run. Hope can be found in the shift inside of disruptive former end Allen Bailey, and the returns of Marcus Forston and Micanor Regis for a second season. The ‘Canes should be much improved in this area. They sure can’t be much worse than last year.

The team will be far better if… the defense starts creating more turnovers. Lots more turnovers. Miami had just 15 takeaways in 2008, last in the ACC. Considering the rich history of defensive playmakers at the program, it’s hard to fathom the Hurricanes picking off a mere four passes, particularly in a league with so many inaccurate passers. The burgeoning offense needs a short field to navigate every once in a while. It’s up to the defense to provide it more regularly this fall.

The Schedule: The Canes are hardly being eased into the season starting out at Florida State, getting a week off, and then dealing with a key Coastal game against Georgia Tech and the make-or-break date at Virginia Tech. The reward for the rough start? A visit from Oklahoma. While things ease up in the midsection of the year, at least compared to the start, there's still a visit from Clemson to deal with. Closing out with two road trips in the final three weeks, going to North Carolina and South Florida, will be a test of the team's heart and physical ability. The open date is on September 12th, meaning the Canes will have to play 11 straight weeks with two nasty games late in the year.

Best offensive player: RB Graig Cooper. The numbers won’t rival, say a Jonathan Dwyer of Georgia Tech, but that’s because he shares the workload and doesn’t have access to the widest running lanes. Cooper’s a gamebreaker, but at 6-0 and 202 pounds, also has the size and strength to pick up tough yards between the tackles. He led the 2008 team with 841 rushing yards, adding 29 receptions, and a touchdown on a punt return.     

Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Sean Spence. Boy, it didn’t take long, did it? In his first year out of high school, Spence got on campus in time for spring and cracked the starting lineup early in the fall. From here on out, only injuries will keep him out of it. More than just a compiler of stats, he’s a big-play athlete, who uses his speed, explosiveness, and tenacity to blow up everything in his path. 

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Jacory Harris. It’s not even close. Harris is the key that potentially unlocks all of the fancy weapons Miami has at running back and wide receiver. Now, while that doesn’t mean he needs to become an overnight version of Bernie Kosar, he does need to distribute the ball to his playmakers and gradually evolve into one of the leaders of the program.   

The season will be a success if ... Miami wins nine games, including the bowl game. Remember, baby steps are all you can ask from a program still relying on so many young pups at important positions. The key this season is to make progress in the standings and on film. Considering how tough the schedule is in the early going, a couple of extra victories and a postseason win will set the stage for a serious run at an ACC championship in 2010. 

Key game: Sept. 7 at Florida State. Can you say tone-setter? For the first time in three years, these two storied rivals will open the season against one another. Beyond the obvious bragging rights, the winner gets an immediate jolt right out of the gate that could linger. And the young ‘Canes are going to need it. After this emotionally-charged, nationally-televised brawl, they face Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma before finally getting a breather. A slow start in Tallahassee could result in a disastrous September for the program.

2008 Fun Stats:
- Fourth down conversions: Miami 13-of-19 (68%) - Opponents 8-of-21 (38%)
- Fumbles: Opponents 30 (lost 11) - Miami 11 (lost 5)
- Passes picked off: Opponents 20 - Miami 4 Top Stories