Trouble Spot #9 -- MiamiMixed results on the recruiting trail (their last four classes were ranked #24, #14, #35, and #9 by Scout.com, respectively), an NCAA investigation regarding improper benefits, a coaching change prior to last season, and a two-year talent drain from the program (classes ranked #13 and #3 just exited along with 14 drafted players) have taken a toll on Miami's program.
So too has six seasons of relative mediocrity on the field. That could change soon with promising head man Al Golden at the controls (click here for more on Golden), but considering the game's slotting on Notre Dame's unforgiving schedule, I've deemed the Hurricanes ninth on the annual list of 12 "Trouble Spots" for the upcoming Irish season.
Miami Game Slotting/SituationMid-season respites have proven valuable to Notre Dame's program over the last 30 years with Notre Dame winning 29 of 36 games following bye weeks. Head coach Brian Kelly is 7-3 in his BCS coaching career following byes though just 1-1 in South Bend, losing last year to USC.
This season's Week Five bye comes at a nearly ideal time: on the heels of two cross-Atlantic trips and subsequent trio of contests vs. Big 10 teams that combined to win 29 games last fall.
Notre Dame will have a week to rest after what should be a highly charged night game atmosphere vs. Michigan in Week Four and the Week Six game at Soldier Field vs. Miami. The Hurricanes enter the contest after consecutive conference match ups at Georgia Tech and vs. NC State.
The Irish will be the home team for this "neutral site" game, both in terms of jersey color, ticket allotment, and overall appeal just 90 miles west of South Bend.
Notre Dame is probably the Hurricane's biggest test to date in Week Six, though trips to Chestnut Hill in the opener vs. Boston College and then Manhattan to face Kansas State in Week Two, plus the aforementioned game in Atlanta vs. Georgia Tech will prepare them for road battle.
Inside the HurricanesTen starters return though quarterback Stephen Morris has played plenty over the last two years in Jacory Harris' stead. Morris missed spring ball and it showed as the 'Canes offense was putrid in a 7-6 spring game. The front five has two returning starters and gone from the running game is Lamar Miller's 1,200 rushing yards.
Morris will be challenged in August camp by Memphis transfer and former freshman starter Ryan Williams. The former has thrown 190 passes in 11 collegiate appearances with one start. Morris' 7/11 TD/INT ratio is a concern with unproven wideouts as his targets.
Former Irish target and sophomore defensive end Anthony Chickillo is likely the best player up front after Miami lost five players from its front seven to the NFL Draft over the last two seasons. Gone are defensive backs Brandon Harris and DeMarcus Van Dyke. Both were drafted, both were lit up by the Michael Floyd/Tommy Rees combination in the team's last meeting, the 2010 Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Miami's defense slipped last season: a young defensive line is unlikely to reverse that trend in 2012. Its secondary helped the defense rank #3 against the pass two years ago (Rees ripped them for 200 yards and two TD) but managed just six interceptions last season, 107th in the nation. (Notre Dame ranked 93rd with 8 picks last fall, its lowest total in 18 years.)
Outside Looking In: BC 2011 …Lindy's Sports has Miami ranked 49th nationally while Athlon Sports has the Hurricanes 48th and 5th in the ACC Coastal Division. Phil Steele has Al Golden's second squad in rebuilding mode and outside his Top 50 -- teams expected to earn a bowl bid.
Final ThoughtsThe Hurricanes at present are powerful in name only, though there's no unbeatable opponent on their schedule prior to their Game Six battle vs. the Irish (Florida State follows two weeks later). The hiring of Al Golden will likely right the ship in South Beach which would make for an interesting home-and-home scenario when these same teams meet in 2016-17.
For those clamoring this isn't a true home game for the Irish, that's likely a good thing. Notre Dame is just 9-9 at home over the last four seasons vs. BCS conference foes (and that doesn't count the 2007 debacle). The Irish home field advantage at present is a myth. Look for Kelly's crew to be better focused and after a week off, refreshed for this short trip west in front of what will likely be a drunken, prime time crowd of Irish partisans.
It speaks to the strength of the 2012 Irish schedule that a program such as Miami's could be considered this low on our Trouble Spots list. But when the respective Notre Dame and Miami helmets hit the tunnel, no fan or player will consider the matchup anything but one of major powers ready to clash, regardless of recent performance.
Next in the Series: Trouble Spot #8 will be published Tuesday.