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2015 State of the U Miami Hurricanes Football Preview

Can UM return to glory? Will this season be the end of the Golden Era? All that and more in this comprehensive look at all of the story lines, key players, match-ups, and more for the upcoming season on the gridiron for the 'Canes.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Coastal Division Title or Bust?!!

"No one’s happy with six wins when you play 13 games, If anyone’s happy about that, they’re probably not a Hurricanes fan."  -  Miami AD Blake James

While the development of a potential star at QB in sophomore Brad Kaaya, emerging potential break out players like Jamal Carter, Jermaine Grace, and Joe Yearby among others, Gus Edwards being lost for the year,  and new WR Coach Kevin Beard's potential impact are all intriguing plot lines,  Al Golden's hot seat is undoubtedly the biggest story heading into 2015.

And while AG stresses that he and his team are focused and ignoring "outside noise,"  the urgency around the program is palpable.

To his credit, it appears Golden has been more open than ever this off season and fall camp  to making changes.  There are a lot of talk that the defense will go more frequently to an aggressive 1 gap Vs the thinking man's 2 gap scheme along the defensive line.

On offense the players are already raving about the new wrinkles the staff has put in.

Additionally, the locker room appears to be more cohesive than ever.  Something the staff deserves some credit for.

"We’ve changed a lot of different things, Operations, recruiting, different approach with a lot of different facets of the program internally. There are a lot of subtle changes that aren’t as easily noticed." - Al Golden

Read more here:

"Coach Golden is not having any more nonsense any more. It’s all about business. Team leaders are holding guys accountable. We didn’t want to focus on all the distractions holding Miami back. This team is clean."  Brad Kaaya

Will it all pay off?

Despite heavy losses to the pros (Duke Johnson, Clive Walford, Denzel Perryman among others), you can make a strong argument that the Hurricanes still have the third most talented roster in the conference behind Clemson and FSU.

'Canes fans do not need to be reminded that Miami has yet to win the ACC Coastal Division since joining the conference in 2004.

It would seem the only surefire way for Golden and his staff to come back in 2016 would be to finally get over the hump and make an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

As mentioned above, they do have the talent to save their coaches' jobs.

Lets take a closer look at the team position by position:

QB -  Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism this season is the clear advantage Miami should have with Brad Kaaya as its' signal caller.

Kaaya exceeded all expectations as a true freshman & ACC Rookie of the Year last season, and he's only going to get better. His work ethic, intelligence and dedication to the game dictate it.

"I think about all the great quarterbacks that came before me, I’m wearing the U right now. I think about that all the time."  - Kaaya

For UM to return to glory, the soon to be 20 year old will need to be one of the best players in the conference if not the country.

He'll need some help from the players around him, especially on the O line, but this team will go as far as their QB takes them.

It's that simple.

Backing up BK is the much improved Malik Rosier.   Rosier could see some action in wildcat packages as well.

Vincent Testaverde and freshman Evan Shirreffs make the position significantly deeper than in previous years.

But again, its all about Kaaya.

He needs to be productive and stay healthy.

RB - The loss of Edwards is significant but can be compensated for, as long as no one else gets hurt.

Joe Yearby could emerge as a 1,000 yard back with increased touches minus "Gus the Bus."  Yearby put on some weight over the summer, and could need it with the work load he will now face.

True freshman Mark Walton, who has similar abilities to Yearby, should also gets lots of early carries with Edwards shelved. Interestingly enough, despite being under 200 pounds, he considers himself a power back.  He's also a talented receiver coming out of Booker T. Washington H.S.

Trayone Gray is having a sensational fall camp, and could also see his role expanded. He's perhaps the best breakaway threat of the group, despite being over 220 pounds..

The player to watch most though now that Gus is out, could be Walter Tucker.

Tucker is already an accomplished FB.  But he has the track speed to to also play some tailback, and his size could make up for Edwards absence as the power back.  Think Najeh Davenport light.

Overall, there's still plenty of talent despite the loss of Edwards.  Yearby should get the first crack at being the feature back, but plenty of others will get touches.

WR  - This is a group with immense potential but also a few question marks.

Early reports are that Beard has the group playing precise and energetic.   And that is promising.

Rashawn Scott needs to stay healthy.  If he does, he can be the #1 target for Kaaya with his blend of speed, size, and his penchant to make plays over the middle.

Stacy Coley was a freshman All-American in 2013, but a near non factor last season. Look for Coley to bounce back big time.

The slot position is loaded.  Herb Waters has had a fantastic fall camp, and should get the most reps early on. But Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis should also get plenty of targets.

True freshman Lawrence Cager was being recruited by Alabama and FSU among others, before picking the 'Canes. The 6'5 monster from Towson, Md is going to see action as well.

Lanky red zone threats Tyre Brady and Darrell Langham should also get long looks.

The big keys and Scott and Coley.  But the offense will have no shortage of talented options on the outside, and the group could be downright scary if they reach their potentials.

TE - With Clive Walford in the NFL, a drop off should be expected at the tight end spot.

But it may not be as precipitous as pundits expect given the promising abilities of a few young players.

Standish Dobard is a proven blocker who has had some trouble holding on to the football.  But that is a correctable issue. He should be the starter, at least early on. Look for Dobard to double his productivity and pick up 20-30 catches this season.

Jerome Washington is a JUCO transfer with HUGE potential.  But he may take some time to learn the speed of the game at this level.

H Back types David Njoku and Christopher Herndon are more receiving threats than complete TEs at this stage of the game.  But Njoku is particular was impressive during the summer, and should get a lot of red zone chances.

Jake O'Donnell provides depth and is a good blocker in 2 TE sets.

Right now it's Dobard's position to lose.  However Washington and Njoku could supplant him over time, and emerge as big time players by season's end.

Offensive Line - This is a group that has plenty of ability, but could be murky early on due to lack of experience.

LT Trevor Darling played beyond his years last season as a true freshman, and could be fine.  Ditto sophomore C Nick Linder.

RG Danny Isidora is experienced and a mauler in the run game.

After that things get a little more unsettled.

Alex Gall is the listed starter at LG, and while he has seen some game action, he has to be something of a question mark early on.

And at RT Sunny Odogwu gets the first nod as the starter.  Saying Odogwu has been shaky in his 'Canes career ths far, would be an understatement.

Kc McDermott was a 5 star recruit coming out of H.S. but is recovering from knee surgery.  Once he is 100% look for him to push Odogwu.

True freshman Tyree St. Louis looks like a beast, and should be a factor and could eventually find a spot as a starter pretty quickly.

JUCO transfer Jahair Jones is another talented option at G or T, and G Joe Brown has really come on this summer and should also see reps.

As has always been the case under Golden, look for a lot of players to rotate in and out along the offensive front.

We’re going to play  Kc McDermott a bunch, and Hunter Knighton and Joe Brown have really come on, and  Hunter Wells. We’ve built some strong depth there, and that’s been the case at a lot of positions on our team." - Miami Offensive Line Coach Art Kehoe

Read more here:

This is a group that definitely bares watching though, especially if Odogwu isn't significantly improved, and McDermott isn't healthy.

Offense Overview: The O line could struggle early, but should improve as they gain continuity.  The weapons around Kaaya will be scary to defend, and fun to watch.  Everything revolves around the sophomore QB, who could be an All Conference performer.  Linder, Scott, Coley, and Yearby also may merit consideration.  Overall there's enough here to win the Coastal, so long as the bigs up front evolve over the course of the season.

Defensive Line -  I've gone on record as saying that Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas are a pair of NFL bookends based on pure talent, and if they live up to their potentials, this unit could be a strength of the team.

Thomas is a former 5 star recruit, and Muhammad could be the even more talented of the two.

The key will be if Miami can stop the run well enough to give AQM and Thomas ample opportunities to rush the passer.

Ufomba Kamalu Calvin Heurtelou, and Courtel Jenkins will be counted on to fill that role.  Kamalu is also a pretty decent pass rusher in his own right.

Keep an eye on freshman DT/NT Kendrick Norton as well, who might be too good to keep off the field for long.

But for this unit  and arguably the team as a whole to thrive Muhammad and Thomas need to emerge as the stars they were recruited to be.

LB - Raphael Kirby finally broke through last season as a reliable presence at OLB.

His reward?

Take over for one of the best MLB's in recent program history in Denzel Perryman.

The good news is if the players around him improve enough, he will not need to be as good as DP52 and should be successful just being solid and providing leadership, if not stardom at MLB.

If there is a star in the group, that mantle should fall on Jermaine Grace.

He was awarded as one of the off season workout warriors by the team and also clocked in with the fastest forty for the entire squad at 4.38.  Grace has a shot to be an all conference performer.

Tyriq McCord has been pretty steady during his stay in Coral Gables as a pass rusher.  This season he will be asked to stand up and play exclusively at OLB.  He'll still get some shots to blitz, but his ability to hold the point of attack on runs, and drop back in coverage against TEs and RBs might be exposed.  His adaptation to the new role will be one of the biggest keys to the LB group.

Darrion Owens will get a lot more snaps if McCord falters.  Owens has more prototypical size and strength to be a stand up OLB and might end up the better option.

Depth is a real problem for this group, especially if Juwon Young isn't healthy and/or available.

Converted S Marques Gayot is currently on the two deep.  True freshman Jamie Gordinier was also getting looks at ILB during fall camp.

With Kirby's leadership and Grace's potential this group should be pretty decent, but they absolutely can not afford much in the way of injuries or it could spell trouble for the Hurricanes.

DBs -  All things considered might be the overall strength of the roster.  The S position in particular is loaded.

Deon Bush does everything well and has the look of a high NFL Draft pick at FS.

With Rayshawn Jenkins now healthy, Jamal Carter having the best camp of the group as a whole, and true freshman Jaquan Johnson one of the most game ready players in the class, safety has an embarrassment of riches.

I really like Carter an Bush the best of the group, but even senior RB convert Dallas Crawford (listed as a starter on the first depth chart) is solid if not spectacular.

S is easily the deepest position on the team.

The CB position is a little more top heavy, but with Tracy Howard primed for a big senior season, Artie Burns getting better every camp, and underrated Corn Elder right there with Howard and Burns, the top 3 have a chance to be very good.

Depth is an issue at CB, but true freshman Sheldrick Redwine has accounted well for himself thus far, and could see plenty of snaps.  Bush has also played some this summer as a nickel/dime CB as well to help things at the corner position.

The DB group as whole is one of the better units on the team and Bush/Carter/Burns/Howard are potentially as good a top 4 as any in the the ACC.

Defensive OverviewPerryman's absence means the D needs a new leader and a new star to emerge. In the former I expect Kirby to provide the vocal leadership the unit needs. Bush, Muhammad, Thomas, Howard, and Grace all have the talent to provide the latter.  The real hope here though, is that the coaches play more aggressive schemes and maximize what should be a very talented group. Bend but don't break philosophies will keep UM in games, but creating more big plays (tackles for loss, sacks, & turnovers) will be needed to win the division.

Special Teams -  PK Michael Badgley and P Justin Vogel both return and Miami is in good shape in both areas. Coley will resume his KR responsibilities and hopefully regains his 2013 explosiveness.  Look for Walton to get a shot as well. Berrios/Coley will return punts.  The Hurricanes need far more big plays from the return units this season.

The 'Canes ST Coach is their Head Coach.  Among other areas of scrutiny for this program in 2014 was a lackluster performance from their special teams.   This has to improve in 2015.

ST Overview: With their team speed, and talented specialists, there is no reason why this group should not be well above average in all areas.

The Schedule:

Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Saturday, September 05 2015 6:00 PM EDT
@ Florida Atlantic Owls Saturday, September 12 2015 8:00 PM EDT
Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday, September 19 2015 3:30 PM EDT
@ Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday, October 01 2015 7:30 PM EDT
@ Florida State Seminoles Saturday, October 10 2015

8:00 PM EDT

Virginia Tech Hokies Saturday, October 17 2015 8:00 PM EDT
Clemson Tigers Saturday, October 24 2015 8:00 PM EDT
@ Duke Blue Devils Saturday, October 31 2015 8:00 PM EDT
Virginia Cavaliers Saturday, November 07 2015 7:00 PM EST
@ North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday, November 14 2015 12:00 PM EST
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Saturday, November 21 2015 12:00 PM EST
@ Pittsburgh Panthers Friday November 27 2015 7:00 PM EST

Schedule Overview: The first two games should be gimmes.  Things get tricky from there with Cincy, FSU, Clemson, and Va Tech all posing unique challenges.  (especially FSU and Clemson).  Miami really needs to find a way to beat solid opponents like Georgia Tech and Duke and yet not lose to teams they shouldn't like Pitt and UVA.  From the looks of things, an 8 win regular season seems the most realistic outcome.  If they make huge strides and somehow split Florida State/Clemson, double digit wins could happen.  If they can't avoid losing to inferior opponents an abysmal 4-5 win season could also occur.  This season more than any in recent memory is a total crap shoot to predict.

Team Overview: Will Miami finally win the Coastal Division and make the ACCCG? The talent is there. Even with massive losses to the NFL, the offense is loaded. The D has some concerns (CB, LB depth), but also has some potential break out stars.  Even with an a schedule that is exceptionally challenging, any team that features Kaaya, Grace, Yearby,  Bush, and a pair of potential top end pass rushers, should contend to win its division at minimum. Expectations in Coral Gables are never going to subside.  It is time for this team to live up to them. If they don't it could/should mean the end of the Al Golden era in Miami.

Feel free to leave plenty of comments and feedback below.