Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in ACC)
Head Coach: Randy Shannon
Jacory Harris :: AP
at Georgia Tech
at Florida State
at Virginia Tech
at Wake Forest
at North Carolina
at South Florida
Wisconsin (Champs Sports Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jacory Harris, QB: He led the ACC with 17 picks in 2009, but the expectation is that total will go down with an added year of experience.
Allen Bailey, DE: He's been the team leader in sacks for two consecutive seasons, and beats opponents with overwhelming strength.
Leonard Hankerson, WR: His 45 catches were the most by a Miami receiver since 2003.
Jason Fox, OT: He started 47 games -- the third-most in school history.
Darryl Sharpton, MLB: The team leader in tackles gave Miami its best production at middle linebacker since Jonathan Vilma.
Jimmy Graham, TE: He ranked second in TD receptions and was the leader of a potent three-man tight end rotation.
35: The number of sacks Miami yielded in 13 games, for an average of 2.69 per game.
There's no shortage of playmakers on a unit that was the school's most productive since 2002. Start with quarterback Jacory Harris, who was sensational at times in his first year as a starter despite his league-high interception total.
An added year of experience as well as offseason surgery to fix a damaged thumb on his throwing hand should help Harris cut down on his mistakes. So should the deepest group of receivers in the conference, beginning with Leonard Hankerson, who overcame a history of dropped passes to become the team's most dependable pass-catcher. Hankerson leads a quartet of tall, athletic and physical receivers that also includes returning starter LaRon Byrd. Small but speedy Travis Benjamin may be the most dangerous player on the roster. The one worry in the passing game is at tight end, where Richard Gordon, the only player with collegiate experience at the position, has four career catches.
Damien Berry and Mike James, a pair of running backs with powerful styles, figure to share most of the carries, although Lamar Miller and Storm Johnson showed enough ability and speed during spring practice to vie for playing time. Graig Cooper, the leading rusher for three straight seasons, is recovering from a major knee injury sustained in the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin, but hopes to play.
Two starters -- Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa -- return on the offensive line. Franklin, however, is making the switch from guard to tackle.
Six defensive ends have started at least one game, making for some stiff competition. The best of the bunch is Allen Bailey, the team leader in sacks in each of the last two seasons. Josh Holmes, a smallish but explosive player, is a returning starter and will form part of a rotation at defensive tackle that will also include Micanor Regis and Curtis Porter, a pair of 300-pound run stuffers who shined in limited duty last season.
Linebacker is the biggest concern on defense. Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence are solid on the outside, but there is no sure thing in the middle. Kylan Robinson goes into fall practice as the starter, but McCarthy could move inside if Robinson falters. Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanan, coming off knee and shoulder surgeries respectively, are the top backups.
The secondary is the best in years. All-ACC first-team selection Brandon Harris and talented-but-erratic DeMarcus Van Dyke man the corner positions. Safety Vaughn Telemaque has drawn comparisons to Ed Reed from the team's coaching staff.
Matt Bosher does it all -- punting, placekicking and kickoffs -- and does it all well. There are a handful of explosive return specialists, starting with Thearon Collier, James and Benjamin. Punt protection was awful last season, resulting in three blocks.
The victory total has improved from five to seven to nine under Randy Shannon. As long as Harris remains healthy, Miami is ready to take the next step to conference -- and national title -- contention. Harris has his pick of playmakers, while the defense returns 11 players who started six or more games last season. The early road schedule is treacherous, with consecutive games at Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Clemson, but there's enough talent here to go a long way.