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Scouting Miami

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Miami starts practice tomorrow, but why wait? The Canes certainly aren't hesitating to get into the heart of their schedule.

It's Randy Shannon's third year, and the college football world is growing restless for the Canes to make their comeback. There's no question Shannon is recruiting for the future, but after a 12-13 record, he needs those freshmen and sophomores to win now. Is it a fair demand considering the Canes are still very young, they're breaking in a sophomore quarterback, they've got a grueling schedule and two new coordinators?

It's probably still a year too early to think Miami is going to be knocking on the door of the top 10 BCS Standings, but there's no question their schedule sets them up for such a ranking. Even if Miami started its season 3-0, it's ascension to the top of the ACC would be seemingly overnight. On the other hand, an 0-4 start is equally as possible.

The players insist they're focused on Florida State and only Florida State, but back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will go a long way in determining the course of Coastal Division race before October. The biggest question facing Miami is how quickly can it start? Here are a few others:

1. How much will the new coordinators really affect the team's progress? Judging from what Shannon and his players have said this offseason, the hire of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator John Lovett has been a seamless transition. They have already established good relationships with the players, and the players caught on quickly to what the new assistants wanted to do. In particular, the offensive players on more than one occasion have told me Whipple is like a "father figure" to them. Quarterback Jacory Harris has been soaking up everything Whipple has to say, and should flourish under his guidance. Defensively, Bill Young was a great coach who will be tough to replace, and going through three coordinators in as many seasons definitely has an impact. But Lovett's peers throughout the conference have only talked about his work ethic and their respect for him.

2. Will tight end Dedrick Epps be ready? He says he is, and he better be, because the options are limited. Epps had surgery on Jan. 26 for a torn ACL, and the position is so thin that Shannon didn't hesitate when former forward Jimmy Graham decided he wanted to use his final year of eligibility to play football. Epps, though, is proven, and he was the team's third-leading receiver a year ago with 304 yards.

3. Did Miami's run defense learn anything from Georgia Tech last year? Unfortunately for the Canes, we won't have to wait long to find out, as Miami faces the Jackets on Sept. 17. Paul Johnson's triple option offense baffled the Canes, and Shannon was disappointed his team didn't play assignment football that day. It was hardly the only time Miami's run defense was run over, though. Miami ranked last in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing 151.8 yards per game. The front seven should be better this year, especially with the maturation of hard-hitting sophomore linebacker Sean Spence, the return of injured Colin McCarthy, and a deep defensive line. Depth at linebacker remains a concern, though.