- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders. The Canes are next up on the list -- assuming, of course, that they’ll be eligible to contend this fall ...
Why they’re a contender: The dynamic duo. Quarterback Stephen Morris will be one of the best in the ACC, and all-purpose threat Duke Johnson is coming off a Rookie of the Year season. As a true freshman, Johnson racked up 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. Morris finished 2012 on a hot streak, as he threw for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns – with no interceptions -- in his final four games. Miami has two of the ACC’s top playmakers on offense, and they should be even better this year, considering Miami returns all five starters on the offensive line.
Why they’re a pretender: Defense, or lack thereof. Miami’s defense couldn’t make enough stops on third down last year. It wasn’t stingy enough in the red zone. It was one of the worst teams in the country at generating sacks. Overall, it just wasn’t very good, and there weren’t many encouraging signs through the season that it was getting much better. If Miami is going to be a contender in the Coastal Division this year, it can’t allow Virginia 41 points. The Canes beat Duke last year -- but gave up 45 points in the process. If Miami is going to win its first ACC championship, it has to find a championship-caliber defense.
Final verdict: Contender. One of Miami’s biggest strengths should be up front, where the Canes return every single starter on both the offensive and defensive lines. Miami also has the intangible of a favorable schedule, as it doesn’t have to play a league game until Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. It doesn’t even have to leave the state until Oct. 17 at North Carolina. There is plenty of time for Miami to work any kinks out before it gets into the heart of the ACC schedule, and considering how poorly the defense played last year, it can only get better.
4dDavid M. Hale