Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Al Golden era in Coral Gables did not live up to the hype in its first year. Golden left a Temple program he completely turned around and was hoping to ride that momentum into the Sunshine State and revive a stagnant Miami program. However, a rather bland 6-6 finish was the result in 2011, including a mere 3-5 in ACC play, good for only fourth place in the Coastal Division.
Of course, Golden was fighting an uphill battle last year, as transgressions from years past, resulted in suspensions of numerous key contributors early on. Despite finishing with the requisite six victories for bowl consideration, Miami took the decision out of anyone else's hands, by denying itself with a self-imposed bowl ban.
On the field, it was a season of ups and downs. The team opened the 2011 campaign with a 32-24 loss at Maryland, but quickly rebounded by whipping nationally-ranked Ohio State (24-6). The team followed that with a four-point loss to Kansas State (28-24), then routed FCS foe Bethune-Cookman (45-14) to stand at 2-2. A tough road loss at nationally-ranked Virginia Tech (38-35) was followed by a pair of wins over North Carolina (30-24) and nationally-ranked Georgia Tech (24-7). The final two victories came against Duke (49-14) and USF (6-3), but the Hurricanes were unable to hold serve in the ACC, falling to Virginia (28-21), Florida State (23-19) and Boston College (24-17) in the second half of the season.
OFFENSE: There will be plenty of fresh faces on the offensive side of the ball for Miami this season, as Golden must replace seven starters from last year. Getting the kind of production under center that the team enjoyed with Jacory Harris won't come easy. Despite some consistency issues at times last year, Harris leaves ranked second all-time in passing at Miami. Junior Stephen Morris will get the nod at quarterback in 2012, after playing in five games a year ago. Memphis transfer Ryan Williams could push for playing time as well.
The biggest void could come in the backfield, where tailback Lamar Miller and his 1,272 yards are now gone. In limited action last season, Mike James managed 275 yards on 3.8 yards per carry, although he did find the end zone 7 times.
The receiving corps has also been gutted with the loss of Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin. Junior Allen Hurns (6-3, 195) is the top returning pass catcher after grabbing 31 balls, for 415 yards and four TDs last season. A lot is expected of youngsters Phillip Dorsett (5-10 sophomore) and Angelo Jean- Louis (6-0 freshman).
The offensive line is young but full of talent. Heading into the season, it looks like the starting five could be comprised of three sophomore, one freshman and one junior. Right guard Brandon Linder (6-6, 312) is the veteran among the group and could earn all-conference honors. Freshman tackle Ereck Flowers (6-6, 314) has a chance to make an immediate impact.
DEFENSE: The Miami defense returns six starters from a year ago, but must replace its heart-and-soul with the departure of linebacker Sean Spence (106 tackles, 11 TFLs in 2011).
Up front, the team looks to a youngster in sophomore end Anthony Chickillo. The 6-4, 260-pounder has All-American talent and hopes to build on a freshman season in which he posted 38 tackles and a team-high 5 sacks. Another freshman that made an impact in 2011 was linebacker Denzel Perryman (69 tackles, one sack) and he will also need to take on a leadership role in 2012.
Golden dismissed talented safety Ray Ray Armstrong in the off-season and also must find adequate replacements for safety JoJo Nicholas and cornerback Mike Williams. However, senior safety Vaughn Telemaque (59 tackles, one INT) is back in the fold and a slew of youngsters will get their chance to shine.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Miami's kicking game is in fine shape with the return of seniors Jake Wieclaw and Dalton Botts. Wieclaw was a perfect 39-of-39 on PATs a year ago, while going 11-of-14 on field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards. Botts averaged 42.7 yards per punt (second in the ACC), while placing 11 inside the 20-yard line.
OUTLOOK: Controversy has once again reared its ugly head at Miami, as now it is Golden's staff which may have been guilty of recruiting violations.
Golden was careful with his approach to answering questions regarding the alleged allegations.
"There will be a day when I can refute that or discuss that. I look forward to that day, now is not the time to do that. I also don't want to lose sight that the person in that whole deal has not been with us for a year. So, we're not talking about something that happened yesterday. This is behind us, we are moving forward."
Despite the outside influences and a slew of youngsters on the roster, Golden is confident his team can press forward.
"Again, I just hope we have a team that has become internally driven and intrinsically motivated and doesn't make excuses and doesn't allow that trap door creep into this building. We're going to keep working until we get that. Again, ultimately that's my charge as the head coach. That's what I've been tasked with. And I do that through our staff. I do that through our leadership and ultimately we choose."
The non-conference schedule consists of home dates against Bethune-Cookman and USF, but road tilts at Kansas State and Notre Dame seem daunting. The Hurricanes open up with a pair of road games, traveling to both Boston College and the aforementioned Wildcats and could find themselves in an early hole. Other ACC games on the road include treks to Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke. Only the game against Blue Devils should ben penciled in as a victory.
The team does get its toughest conference games at home in the form of Florida State and Virginia Tech, but the team will be an home underdog in both. NC State and North Carolina will also make appearances at Sun Life Stadium.
Matching last year's six wins won't come easy, as this looks to be another year in transition for Miami.