We’re going to begin this by blatantly stating the obvious. There probably wasn’t another team in college football that had a more eventful offseason than the Miami Hurricanes. First, they were staring deep into the eyes of Penn State-like sanctions from the NCAA. Then, they were informed that the NCAA had completely botched their investigation of the situation and now have no idea where anything stands. While the latter could somewhat be considered “good news”, it’s still a distraction nonetheless.
The best way to hinder any kind of distraction in sports, no matter which sport you’re referring to, is success on the field of play. No one player on the Hurricanes’ roster gives them a better chance of this happening than Sophomore Running Back Duke Johnson.
Considered the top all-purpose back coming out of high school, it was considered quite a coup for the Hurricanes to land such a talent, especially considering the impending sanctions at the time. But Johnson did sign with the ‘Canes and showed flashes in 2012 of how valuable he really is.
Rushing for 947 yards and ten touchdowns, as well as catching 27 passes for 221 yards and another score, Johnson showed incredible versatility out of the back field. He captured not only the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but the conference’s overall award for Rookie of the Year. Accolades such as those are usually a good sign of things to come. But, can he get them over the hump and back into the national spotlight?
If not for a self-imposed postseason ban for the second year in a row, the Hurricanes would have made a trip to the ACC Championship Game for a rematch with the rival Florida State Seminoles with a trip to the Orange Bowl hanging in the balance. So let’s not forget that the Hurricanes are dangerously close to leaping over that proverbial hump. The progression of Johnson only boosts the chances of this happening.
With 10 returning starters on offense for Miami, including 3,000+ yard passer Stephen Morris at the helm, Johnson has the experience coming back with him this season to continue building on the foundation he laid last year. That amount of returning starters on the offensive side of the ball gives the ‘Canes the chance to further utilize the speedsters versatility out of the backfield, causing massive headaches to ACC defensive coordinators.
Ultimately, Johnson’s ability to make plays is the key to Miami’s success and progression. His talents not only make him look good, but also open up opportunities for Morris to make better plays with defenses keying on Johnson.
With their hands tied last year by the sanctions, Duke Johnson’s performance was merely a warning shot to the ACC. This year, he’ll be aiming for all the targets.