Wednesday, August 19, 2009

season preview: Miami

This seems a very apropos post for pointing out a potential disruption in your normally scheduled blog-viewing activities:

Despite pictorial appearances, that's not a gumdrop rainbow taking aim at the northeastern end of the continent where hurricanes don't normally take up residence. I live in the red circle that I amateurishly drew on the NHC's pretty picture, so I think it's unlikely I'll see much more than a stiff breeze and a darkish gray sky, but if I'm inexplicably offline for a few days starting Sunday, you've been forewarned as to why.

Anyway, I am supposed to have my preseason Blogpoll ballot up sometime before Monday. So to make sure I don't go delinquent on my duties just because of a li'l ol' cyclone, and because voters are supposed to be presenting their ballots for recalibration by the masses, that will happen tomorrow. At some point soon I'll have to get around to a more informative update on Rijo Walker, the newest '10 commitment, but that'll happen when it happens, basically. Maybe this weekend, maybe next week. My early reaction, just to give you a sneak peek: yay, a frickin cornerback FINALLY.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about Hurricanes, not hurricanes, so here: Miami.


9/7: @ Florida State (Mon.)
9/12: BYE
9/17: Georgia Tech (Thu.)
9/26: @ Virginia Tech
10/3: Oklahoma
10/10: Florida A&M
10/17: @ Central Florida
10/24: Clemson
10/31: @ Wake Forest
11/7: Virginia
11/14: @ North Carolina
11/21: Duke
11/28: @ South Florida

Skip: Maryland, Boston College, NC State

Projected starters:

QB: Jacory Harris (So.)
RB: Graig Cooper (Jr.)
FB: Patrick Hill (Sr.)
WR: Aldarius Johnson (So.)
WR: Travis Benjamin (So.)
TE: Dedrick Epps (Sr.)
LT: Jason Fox (Sr.)
LG: Orlando Franklin (Jr.)
C: A.J. Trump (5Sr.)
RG: Joel Figueroa (rJr.)
RT: Matt Pipho (5Sr.)

DE: Eric Moncur (6Sr.)
DT: Joe Joseph (5Sr.)
DT: Allen Bailey (Jr.)
DE: Marcus Robinson (So.)
SLB: Colin McCarthy (rJr.)
MLB: Darryl Sharpton (5Sr.)
WLB: Sean Spence (So.)
CB: Brandon Harris (So.)
CB: Chavez Grant (Sr.)
FS: Vaughn Telemaque (rFr.)
SS: Randy Phillips (5Sr.)

K: Matt Bosher (rJr.)
P: Matt Bosher (rJr.)

(Italics indicate new starters.)

Coach: Randy Shannon (3rd season)


2008 1st team: None
2008 2nd team: K/P Matt Bosher
2008 HM: S Anthony Reddick
2009 preseason: OT Jason Fox, K Matt Bosher

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Media prediction: 4th, Coastal Division

Randy Shannon has managed to do something once believed unthinkable: make Miami anonymous. It’s not that they’re not good, although they’re a shadow of the dominant program they once were. But look at the list of all-ACC performers from last season. First team – zero. Second team – the kicker. Only one non-special-teamer even got any votes. To follow it up, Miami’s been voted a very run-of-the-mill fourth in the division, and it almost seems as if by default.


It’s not that there isn’t any talent. Actually most of these players are quite good, and the offense, if not handcuffed by playcalling (Miami felt their offensive troubles stemmed from the booth last year, and dismissed their offensive coordinator), should be productive. For starters, there will be no quarterback platoon this year. It was painfully obvious that Jacory Harris was the more productive quarterback of the pair, and with Robert Marve off to Purdue, Harris is the undisputed ringleader this year. And he’s got help. Miami’s stable of wide receivers looks a lot like ours in the age department, only they played a lot more last year. Nobody stepped up as a true go-to player, and that needs to change if Miami is to take their offense to the next level. But there are plenty of candidates to do so, starting on the outside with Aldarius Johnson, the team’s leading receiver last year. Also look out for Travis Benjamin, who moonlights as the primary kick returner and led the team in yards per catch. Thearon Collier isn’t going to grab many headlines but he’ll be another favored target, along with senior tight end Dedrick Epps, who tends to gather the kind of stats you typically get out of a prototypical dependable tight end.

Miami has a few options in the running game too. Graig Cooper figures to carry the load at running back, but don’t sleep on Javarris James. James’s career has been trending downwards ever since a breakout freshman year, to the point where he averaged just five carries a game last year. But this is his senior year, and last chances have a way of jolting people into gear. And don’t forget about Harris either – he was less the running threat than Marve was last year and is a pass-first quarterback, but he’s an above-scrambler and also will occasionally be the target of a trick pass.

The offensive line features three new starters on the right side and at center, but it’s not as dire as it sounds. First off, LT Jason Fox is a preseason all-ACC pick and has his eyes on the NFL after this year. As for the new starters, center A.J. Trump might be starting at a new position but he spent most of last year starting at right guard, so he knows his way around a football field. This move makes way for Joel Figueroa to step in at right guard after frequently rotating in off the bench in 2008. Matt Pipho moves to right tackle from the kick protection unit and could prove the line’s weak link, but he’s gotten his four years’ worth of coaching, which is always worth something.


Up front, the Hurricanes are very deep, but once you get past the defensive line, it starts to thin out. Miami rotated a lot of players on the line in and out last year and gets the added benefit of a sixth year for Eric Moncur. They can put two 300-pound behemoth defensive tackles up front in Joe Joseph and Marcus Forston, and when one or the other needs a spell they have their 2008 sack leader, Allen Bailey, to line up. Forston earned all sorts of freshman all-American honors last year, and he was joined in that by Moncur’s other bookend, Marcus Robinson.

The linebacking unit is led by the 2008 ACC defensive ROY, Sean Spence. Spence was all over the field last year, especially opposing backfields, and proved to be a real asset in pass coverage as well. Opposite Spence, Colin McCarthy is an experienced player in his third year as the designated starter on the strong side, but missed most of last year with a shoulder injury. If he doesn’t miss a beat and plays as well as he did in 2007, he and Spence will be one of the top OLB duos in the country. Along with Darryl Sharpton, a linebacking nomad who’s played all three LB positions and this year is in the middle, these are the only linebackers on the roster with any real experience. Staying healthy will be critical.

As for the secondary, it’s a decided weakness. The ACC season preview for Miami claims the secondary had four interceptions last year, which by itself is a terrible number, but it’s bullshit – they had two. Spence and Moncur provided the other two. That’s right – Miami picked off all of four passes last year. Chavez Grant didn’t get any from his cornerback spot, but he broke up seven passes – a decent number, but it led the team. Five was second-best, and it wasn’t even a defensive back who did that. Yup – Spence again. Safety Anthony Reddick – the only non-special-teams player to garner a single vote in 2008 all-ACC voting – departs, leaving the secondary even thinner. He’ll be replaced by Vaughn Telemaque, who the Hurricane have high hopes for. If the secondary doesn’t improve, though, there will be several talented true freshmen pushing for playing time, especially super-recruit Ray Ray Armstrong and early enrollee Brandon McGee.


Matt Bosher does everything. He was 18 for 20 on field goals – basically automatic in the college game – and averaged 40 yards on his punts, including a long of 76 yards. Miami should have no worries here.


Talented team, if a bit generic. But we have yet to mention the number one factor affecting Miami’s success this year: THE SCHEDULE. And yes, everyone’s already mentioned the absolute gauntlet Miami must run in order to get to October. In case you lost count, that’s the three best teams in the ACC just to start the season and then, you know, Oklahoma, and oh yeah they get to visit both Doak Campbell and Lame Stadium. Coming out of there 1-3 should be considered a success. They likely won’t, which means they’ll have to win six of eight to get bowl eligible. What people don’t always mention is that they get to skip all the shitty teams in the Atlantic and play all the good ones, and frankly a 2-6 conference record would not be a complete and total shock. It would also doom them to bowl ineligibility, because they’re not beating Oklahoma. Despite the talent on this team, they should probably consider themselves lucky to get out of this hellhole schedule with six or seven wins. 8-4 would be a major shot across the ACC’s bow for 2010.

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