Buried beneath pounds of paperwork from the NCAA is the fact that Miami’s depth chart should be good enough to win the Coastal Division in 2013. With so much attention focused on the NCAA investigation, Nevin Shapiro has gotten more ink (unfortunately) than quarterback Stephen Morris. And Morris is going to be very, very good.
As Miami begins spring practices on Saturday, the Canes do so underneath a cloud for the third straight preseason under coach Al Golden. If those within the program, though, can focus on their on-field goals and avoid the distractions once again, Miami should pick up right where it left off in 2012 -- at the top of the division standings. Miami returns 10 starters on offense and defense. Golden and his staff brought in the No. 15 recruiting class in the country, coupled with the experience of 21 freshmen who played in 2012.
This Coastal Division race is going to be tight. Expect every team in the division to be better. Trying to predict the division winner right now is like trying to predict when the NCAA will hand down its verdict. On anything. Miami fans, though, have reason to believe that if the program is eligible to play in the postseason, the pieces are in place to get them to Charlotte.
Here are three reasons why Miami is my way-too-early pick to win the Coastal Division:
1. QB Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson: This dynamic duo is going to be a highlight in the ACC. As a true freshman, Johnson had arguably the greatest freshman season in the program’s history. He was named the ACC’s Overall and Offensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. And Morris can be good enough to push Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as the ACC’s best quarterback in 2013. Morris finished 2012 on a hot streak, as he threw for 1,131 yards and 11 TDs – with zero interceptions -- in his final four games. Morris finished the season with a program-record 3,415 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous mark of 3,412 held by Bernie Kosar.
2. Experience up front: Miami returns all five starters on the offensive line (Malcolm Bunche, started 12 games at left tackle; Jon Feliciano, started 12 at left guard; Shane McDermott started 12 at center; Brandon Linder started 12 at right guard; Seantrel Henderson started seven at right tackle and Ereck Flowers started four at right tackle). Miami also returns all four starters on the defensive line (Anthony Chickillo 12 at defensive end, Curtis Porter the last three at defensive tackle, Olsen Pierre 11 at defensive tackle, and Shayon Green at defensive end). How many schools in the country can say they return every starter on both their offensive and defensive lines? Granted, the defensive line is Miami’s unit most in need of improvement this offseason, but considering the group only had 13 sacks a year ago, it should only be better.
3. A favorable schedule: Miami has an entire month to prepare for league play, as its first ACC game isn’t until Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. It doesn’t even have to leave the state until Oct. 17, when it travels to North Carolina, and even then the Canes have a bye week to prepare for the Thursday night game against the Tar Heels. Yes, they have to play rival FSU on the road, but they do get Virginia Tech at home. Winning at Pitt on a Friday in November won’t be easy, but getting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home helps compensate for it.