Last year, Allen Hurns went from good to great.
Tracy Howard went from a lost freshman to an ALL-ACC caliber player.
And early in the season Tyriq McCord was also on his way to a major improvement from his first season in Coral Gables, until injuries slowed him down.
So which players might take the next step this season and become the next great Hurricane?
Let's take a look at the possibilities.
Candidate 1: Gus Edwards
Gus "The Bus" is a 235 pound bulldozer who has the feet of a scat back. He runs a little bit upright, but shows excellent burst and finishes runs very well after contact. UM will look to keep Duke Johnson healthy and fresh, so either Edwards or incoming freshman Joe Yearby are definitely going to get some carries. But can Edwards be enough of a factor in the passing game and in blitz pick-ups to be a complete player? We're not sure about his hands, but his frame should make him a very effective situational blocker. Additionally he could be a devastating runner on the goal line, if he lowers his pads just a little bit.
Candidate 2: Beau Sandland
After working his way to becoming the #1 rated JUCO TE in the country, a lot more was expected than the 9 catches and 94 yards Sandland garnered his first season in Coral Gables. At 6'6 255 and with above average speed and good hands, it was surprising that #85 did not see more targets. Considering how good Walford has been, and the fact even he appears underused, this could be a reach. Then again whomever is at QB for the 'Canes this season will be a first time starter. And everyone knows that a good TE is the safety blanket of any green signal caller. The key for Sandland will be showing the coaches enough to get more snaps.
Two new starters are penciled on Miami's offensive line. The big guys rarely get noticed unless they commit a penalty or get beat badly. Aforementioned new starter at QB is going to need both of these guys to avoid both the former and the latter if UM's offense is going to hum. Isidora appears to have the advantage of the two in pure ability, but Gadbois makes up for it in confidence. Both players lack experience, but both appear to have the potential to be very good starters.
Candidate 4: Al-Quadin Muhammad
AQM showed flashes of his explosive talent last season, but did not quite finish some plays (see FSU game). He has the talent to be an absolute beast as a pass rusher. Hopefully he is also strong enough to contain the edge on rushing plays as well. If Miami's defense finally works its way to respectability this season, Muhammad will likely be a big reason why.
Candidate(s) 5: Jermain Grace/Raphael Kirby
Both of these guys were well regarded recruits coming out of H.S. Both also have the looks of big time players, but neither has really made a dent so far. With Denzel Perryman headed back to the inside, one of these two really needs to step up at OLB for Miami's LB corps to reach the next level. Grace has only one year in the program, but he is undersized. Kirby has been unspectacular in his two seasons, but has big time talent. The 'Canes really need one or both to live up to their potential this season, especially considering recent events leave them a bit short on depth at the LB position.
Candidate 6: Jamal Carter
Carter really opened the coaches' eyes this spring with his play. He is a thumper as a hitter and has very good range in coverage, not to mention ideal size for the safety position. If all goes to plan, he could be the intimidating force UM has lacked on the back end of its' defense for the last several years.
Candidate 7: Artie Burns
Burns is my personal favorite to make the biggest improvement on the roster this season. Last year you could see his special abilities in flashes. If he can lock down a starting CB position opposite Howard, he should get a plethora of chances to show off his talents. He has already made a name for himself as a track athlete, but his true stardom could/should be as a top notch cover corner.
Who do you think will be UM's most improved player in 2014?