After emerging from a lengthy NCAA investigation into the program, the Miami Hurricanes appeared poised to make a run back to the top of the college football world in 2013. They won their first seven games of the season, looking like a legitimate threat to win the ACC title. But a late-season swoon ended those hopes with the Canes losing five of the last seven games of the year, including a drubbing in the Russell Athletic Bowl at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals 36-9, finishing the year at 9-4.
This season, Al Golden will look to take the next step in returning the Canes to college football elite by finishing the season strong. He will need to find some answers at key positions, like quarterback, and get a stronger showing from their defense if he hopes to take the next step. In a wide open ACC Coastal Division, Miami has the potential to win it all or slide back into the middle of the conference pack. Can the Canes return The U to the top of the college football world in 2014?
The biggest hurdle to the Miami offense will be finding a quarterback to lead them. Ryan Williams figured to step into the starting role this season after Stephen Morris graduated, but a torn ACL this spring has thrown the position into chaos. Kevin Olsen, who has had an up and down first year in Coral Gables, was the No. 1 QB during the spring but has been inconsistent and immature, leaving the door open for sophomore Gray Crow, freshman Brad Kaaya, and incoming Kansas Jayhawks transfer Jake Heaps to take their shot at the job during fall camp.
Whoever wins the quarterback job, however, will have the benefit of an elite rushing attack backing them up. Duke Johnson returns from an injury-shortened 2013 season looking to take his place among the top running backs in the ACC. In just eight games, Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns, averaging a staggering 115 yards per game. Dallas Crawford, who stepped in for Johnson last season, has moved to the defensive side of the ball but the Canes are still deep in the backfield. Gus Edwards and De’Andre Johnson both have experience and four-star freshman Joseph Yearby joins the mix this fall giving Miami a great stable of backs for 2014.
Similarly, the receiving corps is deep with talent to help make the transition to a new quarterback a bit easier. While leading receiver Allen Hurns is gone, Stacy Coley is back after a strong freshman season where he finished second on the team with 33 receptions for 591 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. Junior Herb Waters will play opposite Coley after catching 28 passes for 406 yards and five touchdowns. In the middle, meanwhile, senior tight end Clive Walford will provide a reliable target after posting 34 receptions for 434 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2013.
The Miami defense fell apart down the stretch, finishing the season ranked No. 90 in total defense in 2013. The defensive line has to play bigger in 2014 if they hope to turn things around and will be looking for two new starters to step up. Anthony Chickillo returns at defensive end with Olson Pierre returning at defensive tackle to make up a senior core for the defensive front. Look for Tyriq McCord to break out this season at defensive end as he steps up into the starting lineup after leading the team with four sacks in 2013.
The linebacker corps will be led by the return of Denzel Perryman at middle linebacker. After leading the defense last season with 88.5 tackles, five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble, Perryman is poised to become one of the premier defensive talents in the ACC. The team will have to find some new starters to step up and fill out the defense with role players and backups seeing expanded roles in 2014. Whoever steps in, however, will have a strong lead to follow with Perryman in the middle.
Miami’s secondary, much maligned in 2013 ranking No. 92 in the nation in pass defense, returns every starter for 2014, giving them a strong boost of experience for this fall. Cornerbacks Tracy Howard, who had a team-high four interceptions in 2013, and Ladarious Gunter, three interceptions and nine pass breakups, provide some nice options in the Hurricane secondary to improve the group significantly this season.
At the beginning of the season, Miami will be tested severely by a very taxing schedule. They open the season on the road against the Louisville Cardinals, looking for some revenge for the bowl game loss last season. After two winnable games, they go back on the road to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in what should be one of the marquee non-conference matchups of the season. The rest of their conference schedule is not much easier, facing off against the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles at home and going on the road to play division-favorite Virginia Tech Hokies.
There are plenty of challenges facing the Miami program in 2014. They have to find a quarterback who can lead the offense and improve dramatically on defense if they hope to improve on their 2013 campaign. With so much uncertainty, though, it will be very difficult for the Canes to match their nine wins from last season. This is a team with a lot of potential, which could win double digit games this season or finish with just seven or eight wins in 2014.