Miami Hurricanes Preview 2007
By Michael Bradley and Pete Fiutak
It might seem curious that after a season in which Miami was criticized heavily for a perceived return to its "bad old days," the school would turn to a veteran of its past for help in cleansing the Hurricane name. But new head coach Randy Shannon is not one of those ‘Canes you wouldn't want to take home to meet the folks.
He may bleed orange-and-green, but you won't find him showboating or grandstanding, and you sure won't find him celebrating an on-field brawl. Shannon is Miami through-and-through, but he's also a disciplinarian capable of restoring order and making sure none (or very little) of the foolishness happens again. Calling it discipline might be too easy; an overall attitude adjustment needs to be made.
Head coach: Randy Shannon
1st year (14 season with Miami, as player and assistant coach)
Off. 29, Def. 28, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Miami Players
1. S Kenny Phillips, Jr.
2. DE Calais Campbell, Jr.
3. RB Javarris James, Soph.
4. DE Eric Moncur, Jr.
5. RB Graig Cooper, Fr.
6. OT Jason Fox, Soph.
7. DT Antonio Dixon, Jr.
8. WR Lance Leggett, Sr.
9. QB Kyle Wright, Sr.
10. QB Kirby Freeman, Jr.
Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 8 at Oklahoma
Sept. 15 FIU
Sept. 20 Texas A&M
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Georgia Tech
Oct. 20 at Florida State
Nov. 3 North Carolina State
Nov. 10 Virginia
Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at Boston College
CFN Prediction: 11-1
Actual 2006 Record: 7-6
9/4 Florida State L 14-10
9/9 Florida A&M W 51-10
9/16 at Louisville L 31-7
9/30 Houston W 14-13
10/7 North Carolina W 27-7
10/14 FIU W 35-0
10/21 at Duke W 20-15
10/28 at Georgia Tech L 30-23
11/4 Virginia Tech L 17-10
11/11 at Maryland L 14-13
11/18 at Virginia L 17-7
11/23 Boston College W 17-14
12/31 MPC Computers Bowl vs. Nevada W 21-20
For some, coaching at the "U" requires walking a delicate path between the school's long-time – and carefully cultivated – outlaw image, which is quite appealing to recruits, and delivering an airtight program capable of winning championships. Shannon would appear to be the man to do that. He was endorsed by former Miami players during the search process for Larry Coker's successor, and demonstrated during his time as a coach in Coral Gables that he has the football knowledge and personal authority to prevent the headline-making embarrassments on and off the field.
In the end, though, it's all about winning. Miami's community can suffer on-field brawls and other missteps far more willingly when the victories pile up, and the Orange Bowl is rocking. That didn't happen the last couple seasons under Coker, and for that, he was asked to leave. It didn't matter that he had won a national title and had come within an extremely late flag of a second. The perception was that he had lost control of the team and that Miami was no longer relevant on the national scene.
Shannon won't have much of a honeymoon period, since he was widely perceived to be a compromise candidate, after others – most notably Rutgers' Greg Schiano – turned down the job. Worse, he'll be operating at something of a deficit, given the school's poor facilities (which get an upgrade by leaving the decaying Orange Bowl in 2008 for Dolphins Stadium) which played a significant role throughout the selection process. What Shannon does have is some talent at his disposal. Sixteen starters return, and a whole cast of young reserves gained experience last season.
The 'Canes may not be ready to terrorize the ACC and beyond, especially given a non-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but Shannon has some weapons. He must use them to return Miami to its one-time dominance, rather than reminding people of the Hurricanes' less-seemly side.
What to look for on offense:
New coordinator Patrick Nix must first decide whether he'll use Kyle Wright, who missed the last four games with a thumb injury and had a knee injury in two-a-days, or Kirby Freeman under center. Whoever wins the competition will be expected to look downfield more, but not to the detriment of the ground game which should be stout thanks to the return of sterling sophomore RB Javarris James and four offensive line regulars.
What to look for on defense:
Shannon isn't going to make big changes. This was a nasty defense last season, but it never got the credit it deserved because of the woes of the offense. The Hurricanes will still try to play plenty of Cover Two and get pressure on opposing passers with their front four. One area that must improve is linebacking, which wasn't stellar last year and lost strongside man Jon Beason a year early. Plenty of stars should emerge on a national scale, most notably junior end Calais Campbell and free safety Kenny Phillips.
This team will be much better if:
Shannon/Nix can decide on a quarterback, stick with him and then get consistent, productive play. The Hurricane offense produced just 27 touchdowns during the regular season, and had a meager 35 percent success rate on third down. Wright or Freeman must emerge and deliver.
Shannon had better have his team ready from the word go. Marshall won't win the opener, but the Thundering Herd defense will provide a nice tune-up for the trip to Oklahoma the following week.
After what's sure to be an emotional game against Florida International (considering last year's debacle on-field), then a very, very good Texas A&M team comes to Coral Gables. Georgia Tech kicks off a tough second half, with three of the final five games on the road against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
Best Offensive Player:
Sophomore RB Javarris James. The Hurricanes appear to have found their next feature back to follow in the footsteps of Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore ... and he's freshman Graig Cooper. James isn't far behind and should be special if he gets a little room to move. On pure instincts and athleticism alone, James nearly powered his way to the school rushing record for rookies while showing soft hands as a receiver.
Best Defensive Player:
Junior DE Calais Campbell and junior S Kenny Phillips. These might be the two best players in America and each could go in the top five in the 2008 NFL Draft. Playing like a modern-day Ted "The Mad Stork" Hendricks, the 6-foot-8, 275-pound Campbell enjoyed a breakout season last year, collecting an ACC-high 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Still somewhat raw with his technique and pass-rushing skills, he's got a chance to contend for every national defensive honor with more seasoning and reps, and is an almost certain first-round draft pick whenever he's able to come out. Phillips has been compared to Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed with a total package of smarts, toughness and range.
Key player to a successful season:
Wright or Freeman at quarterback. Miami simply can't go another year with a mediocre passing game. It would help if a few elite receivers would emerge, and better pass protection is a must, but unless Wright or Freeman begin to come up with more timely throws and better play, Miami will continue to be an also-ran.
The season will be a success if:
Miami becomes "Miami" again. It might still take a year to get all the players and all the talent back in place to think about winning the national title, but the swagger, and not the fake kind of last year, has to return. The defense should be among the ACC's best, so if there's a little more production on offense, and a better overall attitude now that the "When will Coker be fired?" discussion won't be hanging over the team, a double-digit win season and a shot at the ACC Coastal Division title are each possible.
Key game: Oct. 20 at Florida State.
The dates with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will be more important to the ACC race, and the early showdowns against Oklahoma and Texas A&M will be bigger on a national scale, but beating Florida State on the road, after losing the last two in brutally ugly fashion, would set the tone for the ACC season and likely would make the Canes 4-0 in conference play.
2006 Fun Stats:
- Average Attendance: 41,908. 71,481 for Florida State in opener; 23,308 for Boston College in 2006 finale at Orange Bowl.
- First quarter scoring: Miami 52; Opponents 29
- Penalties: Miami 88 for 805 yards; Opponents 66 for 507 yards
- Average yards per carry: Miami 3.5; Opponents 2.3
- Third-down conversions: Miami 58/168 (35 percent); Opponents 52/170 (31 percent).