by Frank Martin
The Miami Hurricanes began the 2011 season under a massive cloud of suspicion. A Yahoo! Sports investigation found cases of improper benefits paid to both former and (at the time) current players on the team. Several were suspended for varying parts of the season for their roles in the ordeal that the NCAA continues to investigate.
The situation hamstrung new coach Al Golden, who was coaching a group that many didn’t expect would win many games at all following the preseason revelations. Still, the Hurricanes ended the year with six wins and could have qualified for a bowl berth had administrators decided it not in the school’s best interest, given the pending NCAA investigation. In their losses, the Hurricanes weren’t far off. Five of their six losses were by seven points or less. The sixth was decided by just eight.
Although Al Golden and Miami have been extremely proactive in working with the NCAA, to the point of self-imposing a bowl ban last year, there is no telling what the organization will do to punish the school.
The Hurricanes were picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, the lowest they’ve ever been picked in the ACC preseason poll. The Hurricanes return just 41 lettermen from 2011, and welcome 33 new faces from the 2012 recruiting class. Golden’s first two classes have been ranked nationally, the 2012 class is a consensus Top 10 group, but this will likely be a rebuilding year for the Hurricanes.
The biggest camp battle was at quarterback and that was decided this week. Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Tuesday that junior Stephen Morris will be the starter when Miami opens at Boston College on Sept. 1. He beat out transfer Ryan Williams.
Morris, who has completed 108 of 190 passes for seven touchdowns and with 11 interceptions in parts of two seasons at Miami. Morris started the first game of Miami’s season a year ago at Maryland, filling the role when Jacory Harris served a one-game suspension for NCAA violations. He completed 19 of 28 passes in that game, and was just 7 for 9 the rest of the season as a backup.
Running back Lamar Miller left Miami after running for 1,272 yards his junior year. The Hurricanes not only have to replace their leading rusher from a year ago but also the top two receivers. In the running game, senior running back Mike James returns, and talented freshman Duke Johnson will get a shot.
In defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s first year, Miami ranked No. 105 nationally in takeaways, forcing just 15 turnovers in the team’s 12 games. Furthermore, the Hurricanes had just six interceptions. They have had fewer than six interceptions in a season just four times in the history of the program. Miami has to find a way to create turnovers to make things easier on the offense. Defensive end Anthony Chickillo played well in his true freshman year with 38 tackles and five sacks. With such a young roster, he finds himself in a leadership role in just his second year.
Denzel Perryman, the team’s second-leading tackler as a freshman, has moved from the outside to middle linebacker, where he will dole out ferocious hits. Ramon Buchanan, back for a fifth season after blowing out his right knee early last year, is the only senior among the linebackers. Ray-Ray Armstrong had all the physical tools you want at safety, including size, speed and toughness. But he was dismissed from the team in mid-July.
Key losses: S Ray-Ray Armstrong, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Tommy Streeter, LT Brandon Washington, LG Harland Gunn, C Tyler Horn, QB Jacory Harris, RB Lamar Miller, DE Marcus Robinson, DT Adewale Ojomo, LB Sean Spence, CB Mike Williams, S JoJo Nicolas
al golden - anthony chickillo - denzel perryman - duke johnson - jacory harris - lamar miller - miami hurricanes - ray-ray armstrong - ryan williams - stephen morris