ACC Preview: Miami

New head coach Randy Shannon takes over an underachieving Hurricanes program beset with discipline problems that has the athleticism and talent to compete for an ACC Championship Game appearance.

2007 ACC Media Preseason Poll – 3rd in the Coastal Division

Inside Carolina's Vote – 2nd in the Coastal Division

2006 record (7-6, 3-5 ACC)

By the time Butch Davis left Miami for the Cleveland Browns in December 2000, he had lifted the program out of the chaos that was the Dennis Erickson era. His successor, Larry Coker, allowed discipline issues to return to Coral Gables, highlighted by the Florida International debacle last fall, with team captain Brandon Merriweather taped kicking an opposing player on the ground. Those types of incidents, as well as below-average results for the mighty Canes on the field of play, resulted in Coker's firing. DC Randy Shannon stepped into his former boss's role, leading to some wondering if the new head man would be able to correct the discipline issues that plagued the team while he was on staff as an assistant, or if the problems would continue without an outside hire moving in to clean house. Shannon is a Hurricane through and through, having played at Miami, and the fan base would love for him to succeed at returning the U to national prominence.

Offense: OC Patrick Nix enters his first season in Coral Gables with plenty of talent across the board that just failed to execute last season (313.5 yds of total offense – 87th nationally). Senior QB Kyle Wright (59.5% comp, 1,655 yds, 8 tds, 7 ints) and junior QB Kirby Freeman (54.6% comp, 872 yds, 7 tds, 8 ints) will give Nix some options, but both have to improve their decision-making. Whoever claims the starting spot under center will have a variety of weapons at his disposal, with senior WR Lance Leggett (38 rec, 584 yds, 4 tds) and sophomore WR Sam Shields (37 rec, 501 yds, 4 tds) working in the passing game and sophomore RB Javarris James [pictured, right] (175 car, 802 yds, 4 tds) leading the rushing attack. The offensive line returns four starters, led by preseason All-ACC senior G Derrick Morse.

Defense: New DC Tim Walton served as Shannon's secondary coach the past three seasons, which should make for an easy transition for the defensive unit. The '06 squad was dominant, allowing only 255.5 ypg in total defense (good for 7th nationally) and 15.5 ppg in scoring defense (13th nationally). There are seven returning starters, led first-team All-ACC junior DE Calais Campbell (84 tkl, 10.5 sacks). The LB corps must replace Jon Beason, but senior veterans Glenn Cook (64 tkl, 4 tfl) and Tavares Gooden (41 tkl, 5 tfl) appear to be up to the challenge. The defensive secondary is the strength of this unit, with juniors SS Lovon Ponder (53 tkl, 7 pbu) and FS Kenny Phillips (71 tkl, 4 ints) forming a dynamic tandem.

Special Teams: This area could potentially be problematic for Shannon this season, with veterans K Jon Peattie (12-19 in '06, long of 55) and P Brian Monroe (41.7 avg.) having exhausted their eligibility. There is a ton of pressure on RS frosh Matt Bosher, who may be counted upon to handle both the placekicking and punting duties. Junior DB Bruce Johnson (8.1 ypr on punts, 21.7 on kickoffs) is back to return kicks this season for a group that finished in the bottom half of the conference standings last fall (11th in punt returns, 10th in kickoff returns).

Schedule: Shannon's first OOC slate includes two BCS opponents, with games at Oklahoma and home against Texas A&M. The schedule should work in Miami's favor, as the offense will have four weeks before the first ACC contest to learn Nix's system, which just happens to be home against Duke. The Canes will finish the fall in a flurry, though, with games at FSU, Virginia Tech and Boston College over the final five weeks of the season.

Top Newcomer: Randy Shannon. While he may not be a newcomer to the Hurricanes program, he is when it comes to the head coaching ranks. Shannon is well-spoken and is able to connect with his players, so it will be interesting to watch how he adjusts to the CEO role that comes with the head coaching position. If that transition occurs smoothly, the Hurricanes could be challenging for the ACC title sooner rather than later.

Key Game: at Virginia Tech on Nov. 17. The visitor in this contest has won all three ACC games. The Hurricanes will have an opportunity to steal the Coastal Division title from the Hokies with another dominating performance like their 27-7 victory in Blacksburg in '05.

Shannon on the pressure to succeed at UM (referring to Coker's '05 season): "What's wrong with 9-3? This is my point: Everybody always gets on the things that have happened. But most places in the country, you tell a coach he's going to go 9-3, how many will take it? Miami's a different place, you have a higher standard."

Morse on the key for the season: "The sooner we get a QB, and can solidify that, the better. But that's also with every other position, too. On the offensive line, we don't know who's going to play where yet. That goes for the other positions, as well. It's all new coaches, and everyone's got a new opportunity."

Word from the Beat: "It won't be long before Miami is back challenging for an ACC championship. But this probably isn't the year for it. That's not good news for the high expectations of Shannon in his first season, but guess what? Miami will be better. Color us blind, but we think Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman -- take your pick -- will be improved, as will a receiving corps that was downright pedestrian recently… The combination of Javarris James and Graig Cooper should make for a strong running game, one that should make Wright/Freeman better all by itself… Shannon has some lessons to learn about game management, but at least we won't have to see Coker wandering the sidelines with a stunned look on his face anymore. "-- Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook

2007 Schedule

S. 1 Marshall

S. 8 at Oklahoma

S. 15 Florida International

S. 22 Texas A&M

S. 29 Duke

O. 6 at UNC

O. 13 Georgia Tech

O. 20 at FSU

O. 27 bye


N. 10 Virginia

N. 17 at Virginia Tech

N. 24 at Boston College

Lance Leggett

Kenny Phillips

Derrick Morse

Kyle Wright

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