COLLEGE PARK, MD - SEPTEMBER 05: Quarterback Stephen Morris #17 of the Miami Hurricanes throws a pass against the Maryland Terrapins during the first half at Byrd Stadium on September 5, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
I haven't looked at every outside projection of how many games Miami is going to win in 2012, but I imagine that if you averaged them out, you'd arrive at about six wins. Even the most optimistic Canes fans see about eight wins, while the dimmest projection I've seen has been four wins. And that sounds pretty on the money, right? This seems like a six win team -- just taking into account the schedule, the players who left for the NFL and the players that are replacing them
But Miami could win eight games. And -- gulp -- they certainly could win four. So what I'm going to do today is try and pinpoint three things that would lead to Miami winning more than six games and three things that would lead to them winning less than six games.
Let's start with the potentially good first:
1. Stephen Morris is better than anyone thinks he is
I'll let this out of the bag at the jump: I'm really high on Stephen Morris. He has had problems with interceptions in his brief career, but the combination of being a freshman and operating Mark Whipple's offense was going to lead down that road no matter what in 2010, and last year he was working with a patchwork offense against Maryland. From a physical standpoint, he should excite Canes fans: his arm is very strong, he's big, he's mobile and he's a smart kid.
There have been growing pains, but there have also been flashes of dominance. Some games that spring to mind: at Georgia Tech in 2010, the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame. Even some of his biggest disappointments can easily be viewed positively. In his first game against Virginia -- after getting inhospitably welcomed to the college game in the third quarter after relieving an injured Jacory Harris -- he led Miami on three fourth quarter scoring drives in what was nearly a miraculous win. In last year's opener vs. Maryland, too, he made a number of very impressive throws and generally speaking played admirably considering the circumstances surrounding that game.
I think Morris can be a great quarterback -- better than preseason prognosticators are giving him credit for and better than any quarterback UM has had in a decade. Jedd Fisch did amazing work getting the most out of Harris last season, and I think there is a vast field of potential with Morris that Fisch can tap into to elevate this team beyond where people think it can go in 2012.
2. Mike James wasn't Mike James in 2011
Lamar Miller's breakout 2011 season made it easy to forget that Mike James was rather awful last year. He ran 72 times last year for only 275 yards -- or, he ran for 3.8 yards per carry and 22 yards a game. This was a pretty dramatic step down from the player James was as a sophomore in 2010, when his 70 carries were good for 398 yards, or 5.7 yards per carry. Like last year, Miami is going to want to slow games down to protect its defense, but that requires the ability to move the ball on the ground. If James is closer to who we saw in 2010 than 2011, when he was reportedly suffering from turf toe, it may radically change how good this offense can be. This team has a lot of questions at receiver, so answering this one at running back would go a long way towards exceeding six wins.
3. Miami manages to flip the turnover numbers
Miami is, by design, going to play a lot of close games this year. Again, this team is almost certainly going to try and play slowly. That's going to contract games and lead to a lot of slim leads either way. Possessions are going to be at a premium, and Miami would especially benefit from being on the positive side of that equation. Fumbles are pretty volatile, but the Canes need Stephen Morris to take care of the ball. UM teams of the past few years could win when Jacory Harris threw multiple interceptions, but I don't think that will be true this year. There has been talk about UM's defense making more plays on the ball this year, but I'm skeptical. It's hard, I think, to get younger teams to play fast and aggressive, because they're more worried about not screwing up. So the onus falls on the offense -- well, Morris -- to not waste possessions.
And now the bad:
1. Stephen Morris gets injured
If Stephen Morris has to miss any significant time (like, a game or more) it could torpedo the season outright. I know there are people that feel comfortable with Ryan Williams as a back up, but the ability to complete a lot of passes for very small amounts of yardage against this Miami defense in practice scrimmages isn't much to hang a hat on. Williams was a two-star recruit coming out of high school with offers from Eastern Michigan and Memphis, the latter of which has been the worst team in the FBS for some time. Unless Williams has improved drastically, that's not the type of player you want at quarterback if you're trying to have success in a major conference.
2. No one emerges along the defensive line
As it pertains to the defensive line, Al Golden had a two-pronged task upon taking over at Miami: improve depth, improve talent. The first part has been accomplished, and the depth on the line will get even better with this upcoming recruiting class. But it's up in the air whether that second task has been accomplished, at least to the point where the line is going to be noticeably better in 2012. If the defensive line gets ravaged this year, it's going to be a long season. And it certainly could happen.
3. The offensive line can't pass protect
There hasn't been much talk about Miami's offensive line as the season approaches. It has been generally assumed that the line is going to be the bedrock of this offense, and at least on the interior that's probably true. But Miami is also opening its season with one offensive tackle who has barely played college football and another who will be playing his first game ever. Malcom Bunche and Ereck Flowers both come with solid pedigrees and have impressed coaches in camp, but still, am I the only one concerned by this? If Flowers plays like a freshman, Bunche isn't quite ready to be a left tackle yet and Seantrel Henderson never gets things together, the entire offense could break down.
What are y'all's thoughts on things that would lead Miami to exceeding projections, or having as bad a season as we all fear?