“The U” was easily the baddest college football team of the late 80s and early 90s, and put together a run in the early 2000s that produced one of the greatest college football teams of all time. Ever since then, Miami has been trying to recapture that glory. They haven’t done that under Al Golden, predominantly thanks to the heavy sanctions resulting from the Nevin Shapiro fiasco. Golden now finds himself squarely on the hot seat if Miami can’t win this season, but should he?
Brad Kaaya is the biggest source of optimism for this Miami team heading into 2015. Kaaya had the typical ups and downs of a true freshman starting quarterback, but on the whole he was very good. He passed for almost 3,200 yards last year and 26 touchdowns. His twelve interceptions is a number that can be improved upon, but once again, considering he was a true freshman it’s reasonable to believe that his pocket presence and decision-making can make tremendous strides this year.
Joseph Yearby is another who showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman. He didn’t get as many opportunities to shine behind Duke Johnson, but he did top 500 yards on the ground on nearly six yards per carry, and while he only had one rushing touchdown he did manage to hold on to the ball with no fumbles in 86 carries. His touchdown number shouldn’t be too concerning either, because the ‘Canes still have bruiser Gus Edwards for those red zone runs. Edwards punched in six touchdowns last year and had 5.7 yards per carry himself. Plus, the ‘Canes added a top-notch recruit to the running back mix bringing in Mark Walton.
Kaaya will be looking for some fresh faces to throw the ball to with Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford in the NFL now, but there are plenty of talented players ready to step up. Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis all exhibited why they were four-star recruits in 2015, so hopefully they can continue to produce in more expanded roles this season, plus tight end Standish Dobard might end up being the best tight end in the conference. Miami has a long history of producing top flight tight ends, and Dobard averaged 21 yards per catch as Walford’s backup last year. Rashawn Scott, Tyre Brady and D’Mauri Jones are three more guys who didn’t do much last year, but have looked good in the offseason, especially Scott.
These talented youngsters can’t do much if they don’t have anyone to block for them though, and the line is a major question mark for the Hurricanes, especially the left side. Center Shane McDermott and LT Ereck Flowers were both all-conference performers last season, and neither returns, nor does Jon Feliciano, the guy between them at left guard. There is plenty of depth at offensive line, and at least one experienced player in right guard Danny Isidora. If this group can mesh then Miami’s offense could be special.
Miami had one of the best defenses in the country last year, and they managed to do it with balance. The Hurricanes were a top 30 defense against both the run and the pass. The one place they didn’t excel was on third down, but with two key members back in the secondary, if they can force teams into passing situations on third down they should improve in that respect.
Deon Bush is one of the top safeties in a conference that is loaded with good safeties. Bush picked off two passes, had two sacks and forced five fumbles last season. He’ll also have some help at safety with guys like Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford. Also, Rayshawn Jenkins returns after missing all of last season with an injury; he started twelve games in 2013 as a sophomore.
Cornerback also should be a relative strength with Artie Burns returning to start at one of the corner spots and two experienced guys competing for the other spot. Corn Elder and Tracy Howard both played in every game last season. The one area that these three need to get better in is intercepting ball thrown their way. Howard was the only one of the corners to record an interception last year, and he only had one.
There are plenty of bodies on this defensive line, but as a whole the group needs to get to the quarterback better. Al-Quadin “Quan” Muhammad might be one of the keys to doing that. Muhammad missed all of last season after being suspended after an altercation with his roommate, but he did have two sacks as a freshman in 2013 and has the swagger and confidence that would make Michael Irvin and Alonzo Highsmith proud. Ufombo Kamalu should provide a threat to quarterbacks from the inside as the defensive tackle had three and a half sacks last season.
Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister are the only two linebackers to not return to Miami this fall, but they will be tough replacements. Perryman was a tackling machine and Armbrister led the team with five sacks. There are some talented guys ready to step up though, and several guys who were key pieces last year in their own right. Tyriq McCord and Jermaine Grace had six and a half tackles for loss and three sacks each last year, and middle linebacker Raphael Kirby had 41 tackles and two interceptions.
Let me be the first to say that I don’t really understand the pessimism surrounding this team heading into the season. Al Golden is doing a much better job than most would lead you to believe, and there is talent all over this roster. Miami was playing as well as anyone in the country before a late collapse against Florida State led to an even bigger collapse down the stretch, resulting in Miami losing their last four games. The new uniforms unveiled in the most Miami way possible was an indicator that this team is ready to bounce back and not let those last few games hang over this team like a cloud. Miami will threaten ten wins in 2015 and save Al Golden’s job, even if it shouldn’t really need saving in the first place.