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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Miami

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A too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the long offseason.
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The least you should know about Miami...
2007 Record • Past Five Years
2007: 5-7 (2-6 ACC, 5th Coastal)
2003-07: 41-21 (22-17 ACC/Big East)
Five-Year Recruiting Rankings*
2004-08: 4 • 7 • 14 • 19 • 5
Returning Starters, Roughly
11 (4 Offense, 7 Defense)
Best Player
With so much veteran defensive talent en route to the NFL, all of the half-dozen or so candidates for this title are highly-sought prospects not yet fully removed from the "potential" phase of their career – that is, middling or part-time starters who haven’t been disappointing enough to write off. The pro scouts seem to have given up on few of UM’s blue chip underachievers, at least, and none less so than Eric Moncur, the only one of last year’s deep pass-rushing contingent back on this year’s line. Moncur has 7.5 career sacks, a number he has the talent to double if he doesn’t yield most of his time to hot young ‘un Allen Bailey.
Weep For Your Childhood
Noooooo! They be destroyin the Orange Bowl!

Okay, seriously, you guys, the first game I remember watching on TV was the 1988 Orange Bowl, Miami over Oklahoma to secure its second mythical title, and that big, winking orange. That logo has never looked right on Corporate Name Field. Our children will never know such putrid lighting. Part Two is here, and it’s not for the sentimental.

*According to Rivals

What's Changed. Miami built its name on first rate quarterbacks and receivers, and it still recruits them, at least. The fact that Miami's offense can recruit a five-star, consensus number one passer one year (Kyle Wright) and a four-star, top 15 guy the next (Kirby Freeman) and go on to finish last in passing in the country's most conservative, lowest-scoring conference in their fourth and fifth years, respectively, is a kind of scandal. With the alleged receiving talent on hand, the Hurricanes' complete failure on offense the last two years - and especially in 2007, when they finished 110th in total yards and 101st in scoring, barely ahead of Duke on both fronts - must amount to the greatest waste of resources in decades.

I like to show big trends visually. The story of Miami's offense looks like this:

Even similarly touted Brock Berlin, harassed as a mediocrity at best after his transfer from Florida, led the offense to a full touchdown more per game in his worst year than Wright and Freeman managed in two years in his wake, under two different offensive coordinators. In years without crazy, stat-zapping clock rules, the national median is about 26-27 points per game. Armed with an experienced group of would-be stars, last year's coaching change made no significant move toward any definition of "average."

So maybe it was the players. We'll find out, because aside from the running backs, they'll be virtually all new across the board offensively. I stress that this cannot  possibly be a bad thing. If redshirt freshman Robert Marve is weak-armed, inconsistent and uncertain with little time to find his young set of fleet but maddeningly butterfingery receivers, well, that's just the new normal 'round these parts.

What's the Same. Miami was racked by injuries on the front seven, especially at linebacker, so even with six regulars moving along, six more follow with multiple starts. The only individual who'll be particularly missed is Calais Campbell, probably a first round pick on Saturday, and that's assuming he faced a lot of double teams off the edge last year: Campbell's sack total dipped from his breakout sophomore effort and, despite the love from scouts and all-America projections, he was only honorable mention all-ACC. In terms of production, Eric Moncur was about as good on paper, and if stats don't reflect reality in his case, there's always someone else - Allen Bailey? Dwayne Hendricks? Five-star recruits are incoming at tackle (Marcus Fortson) and linebacker (Arthur Brown), though the former is too big and the latter too small to assume a pass rushing role.

It's Javarris James' neighborhood, but Mr. Cooper is looking to buy.
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Thud and Lightning. If the offense is going to be any better at all, it will be by the hands/feet/vision of the running backs, who have endured yeoman's labor compared to the gaping holes enjoyed their now-millionaire predecessors. It's hard to tell if this contributes to the woes of the passing game or is a result of them, but 2007 was the fourth year in a row Miami has failed to average four yards per carry as a team and the first year that its starter, Javarris James, was under par his own self. Graig Cooper was consistently more explosive, averaging almost five-and-a-half per carry and breaking off five separate runs longer than James' longest carry of the season (just 23 yards), but he wore down late in the year, and there was never any indication Cooper would assume the feature role; James started every game and got a majority of the carries in almost all of them. There are no new stars-in-waiting behind the old ones; if the production between Cooper and James is the same (no reason to think it won't be) the new quarterback is going to have a lot of heavy lifting.

Bring On the Smurfs. Two years of unprecedented suck didn't stop Miami from landing one of the most balleyhooed recruiting classes in the country, even if it's a mathematical impossibility to get all 33 guys on campus this fall. It's undoubtedly the smallest, quickest class in the top ten, or so they hope - the `Canes inked seven DB/WR/ATH types from in and around Miami listed by Rivals under 175 pounds: Brandon Harris, Davon Johnson, Jacory Harris, Kendall Tompkins, Thearon Collier, Joe Wylie and Travis Benjamin, who's actually listed at 141, not even heavy enough for the minimum weight in "Create-a-Player" mode on NCAA Football. And most of that is in his dreds.

Both Harrises, Johnson and Benjamin also earned four stars despite their J.V. size, though Jacory Harris, skinniest quarterback in history at 6-4,169, must expend most of his energy trying to avoid bobbing up and down like one of those vintage drinking birds.

Overly Optimistic Post-Spring Chatter. A handful of those hyped freshman are already making waves as early enrollees, three of them on defense:

Ok, I'm going to go against everything I stood for the last few months. I've been the biggest critic of putting too much emphasis on this year's recruiting class. But these young guys can play. Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Arthur Brown and Aldarius Johnson are names you should expect to hear often. I still say they are just the foundation, but the building could begin sooner than later. The question is how much the spring will impact when playing time is handed out in the preseason and fall.

According to coach Randy Shannon, it won't. He said everything starts over, and players will have to prove themselves all over again. We'll see how Spence and Brown play when Colin McCarthy and Romeo Davis return.
Count [new defensive coordinator] Bill Young among those impressed with Forston, Spence and Brown, "Rarely, do you see guys step up to the level that they have so early in their careers," he said. "These guys shouldn't even be graduating high school yet."

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Again, Forston and Brown are the two OMG five-star studs of the class, and given its recent track record with that caliber recruit, Miami desperately needs them to be all that they can be, etc.

Note that there's little buzz about another early enrollee, Jacory Harris, a good sign he's not expected yet to threaten Marve's tenuous hold on the starting quarterback job. Get the complete (seriously: complete) Spring game rundown courtesy of one dedicated Miami Herald blogger here.

Miami on You Tube. Miami-Notre Dame, Game of the Century of the Year, 1989. Third-and-43:

What did you expect? At Notre Dame, tradition never graduates.

See Also: Okay, yeah, but what happened in 1988? ...  The original wide right, like you've seen it before, and like you haven't. ... Tamarick Vanover, meet Michael Barrow. ... Sean Taylor, meet Greg Jones. ... The 1984 Orange Bowl. Look for the season scores for Nebraska's offense and Miami's defense, plus the Dean Steinkuhler fumblerooski. ... And Hurricane brawls through history: 1987 vs. South Carolina, 1993 vs. Colorado,  vs. Florida International in 2006. You don't come into the O.B. talkin' that stuff.

Best-Case: Okay, let's try the back door. Assuming even a modest return to form on offense, almost every game (the exception being at Florida) will be within reach. This bunch is young and devoid of the old sense of entitlement (do not make me write "swagger"), and therefore not in a position to expect to compete for a conference championship. But it does get two of its biggest, potentially winnable games at home: Florida State in October and Virginia Tech in November. If it can forge a winning record in the other six conference games, split the two big ones and show some demonstrable improvement from a likely beatdown in Gainesville to the annual showdown with the Hokies, no one else in the Coastal division is strong enough to count Miami out of winning it for the first time. I wouldn't pick any final destination glitzier than the Gator Bowl, though.

Worst-Case: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. There's no apparent reason the team should be better, and if the usual transition from senior quarterback to redshirt freshman holds, plenty of reasons it will be at least as bad. Once you get past Charleston Southern, the schedule is rough: at Florida, at Texas A&M, vs. Florida State in a four-game span, with fast-rising North Carolina in between, the team that started last year's horrific downward spiral with an upset in Chapel Hill. None of the last five games are gimmes, and if things start poorly, a here-we-go-again mentality is probably not far away. As bad as it was, it could be worse: another 2-6 conference record might leave the `Canes at 4-8, and Shannon on the street.

Non-Binding Forecast: Tire Bowl or Bust. I fell for the coaching change last year, on the logic a fresh face in charge would jolt a talented team back to life. This did not so much happen. And there's not so much to be optimistic about: the best players all graduated or bolted early for the draft, and even the guys nobody is sorry to see go have total noobs in their place. Talent-wise, this is still an upper tier, top ten team that should be ashamed of anything less than the ACC championship, its assumed birthright when it joined this two-bit conference. This time, though, as long as the talent remains unproven, the bar is at seven wins - no crowns, just a simple winning record.