ACC: Al Golden

It wasn’t quite Operation Coastal Chaos this season in the ACC, but the division did house four teams that finished the regular season 6-6. Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech all finished at .500, and all four wildly underachieved.

For the ACC to cause a permanent shift in the league’s national perception, all of those teams need to take a step forward and break free from a sustained stretch of mediocrity. However, no program can alter the ACC’s image quicker than five-time national champion Miami, which is why it’s pivotal for the Hurricanes to close 2014 strong against South Carolina in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl and build momentum for 2015.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami freshman QB Brad Kaaya showed improvement throughout the regular season, finishing with 25 TDs.
The conference had visions of Miami annually representing the Coastal Division in ACC championship games and on national stages when the Canes entered the league a decade ago. When Miami agreed to join the ACC in 2003, the program was coming off consecutive appearances in national title games and the New York Times wrote the expanded ACC would be a “college football powerhouse.”

For much of the past decade, it’s been a house of straw.

Fourth-year coach Al Golden also needs some positive vibes heading into the offseason following a late-season collapse that saw the Canes drop their final three games -- the last two in a fashion so ugly it was fair to question Miami’s coaching and motivation. A winning record and 7-6 looks a lot better than 6-7 with a four-game losing streak. A win won’t quiet the unrest among the fan base, but it will keep Golden’s warm seat from intensifying. Canes athletic director Blake James reiterated Golden is his coach, but another 6-6 season and sub-.500 conference record next year, which would be his third in five years, could have Miami searching for another coach in hopes of duplicating its early 2000s success.

Miami is best suited among those four teams to make the jump to the 10-win plateau, too. It begins with true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, the conference’s top rookie and one of the league’s best signal-callers already. He threw for just shy of 3,000 yards and tossed 25 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions.

The Canes are sufficiently stocked on offense around him, even if star tailback Duke Johnson bolts for the NFL. Freshman Joe Yearby ran for 489 yards with a an average of 6.1 yards per rush, and the offensive line will have four full- or part-time starters return in 2015.

The defense could take its lumps, but the unit improved dramatically this season and, while the team did not look like a top defense at times, still managed to finish the season ranked 14th nationally in total defense.

A break in scheduling also should benefit Miami in a crucial season. Nebraska makes its return trip with a new coach, Louisville drops off the schedule and Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all travel to Miami.

“Look at Mississippi State last year,” said junior defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, pointing to the Bulldogs’ 7-6 record in 2013. “We got a chance to come in and win seven games. With the young talent we can easily turn things around.”

This bowl season, no 6-6 team needs a stronger finish than Miami for the sake of the program, its coach and its conference.
Miami coach Al Golden is not going anywhere. That question has already been answered time and again.

But there are many other questions looming over a program that underachieved in 2014, one that ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak -- including dispassionate losses to Virginia and Pitt.

The most immediate question that comes to mind: If Miami could not get up for a home finale against Pitt, what will get the Hurricanes motivated to win in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Lousiana, against an average South Carolina team that was among the most disappointing in the country?

Miami athletic director Blake James tried to put a positive spin on the bowl assignment, saying in a conference call with reporters Monday, "I'm confident Al and our guys will be ready to go and go out there and play a great game. There's a lot of things to look at as a real positive and a lot of things for our guys to get excited about, just going against an SEC opponent right away."

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya, Deon Clarke
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMiami fans see a talent like Brad Kaaya and then losses to Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.
While the negativity in Coral Gables will not magically disappear with a Miami win, a loss would not exactly tamp down what has become a smoldering fire among alums and fans that cannot accept a .500 Canes team under any circumstances.

James realizes this, saying multiple times, "We have to get better. 6-6 isn't acceptable at the University of Miami. We need to get better as a program."

How exactly will that happen? James was asked whether coaching changes outside Golden could be in store once the bowl game is over. He said any staff changes would have to come from Golden, not him. James was also asked whether he has lost any confidence in the coaching staff over the last year.

"After the bowl game, I'll reflect back on the entire season and talk with Al about it," James said. "As I've said numerous times, he's our coach. He's going to continue to be our coach. He knows we have to get better, I know we have to get better so I have to talk to him about what I can do to support his efforts to getting better because at the end of the day, that's the expectation for the University of Miami football program."

A win would obviously be a big boost to morale, because 2015 is shaping up to be a critical year for both the Canes and Golden. Miami is losing its best defensive player in Denzel Perryman and potentially its two best offensive threats in Clive Walford and Duke Johnson, who has to decide whether to return or enter the NFL draft.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya showed tremendous grit, determination and growth in his first year as a starter. He presents the biggest reason for optimism. As he noted, "For us, the bowl game is important to getting some momentum for next year. We can get some good bowl practices in and let that carry into next season and guide us to next year."

Miami has an opportunity to build around its first bona fide standout at the quarterback position since Ken Dorsey. What will the Canes do with that chance? Golden is not in danger right now, but another 6-6 season changes that completely.

Golden has been through the ringer at Miami. James and the administration have waited patiently as the NCAA cloud cleared. But that cannot be used as an excuse much longer. Not when Miami so clearly had the talent to be much better than 6-6 this season. That is why so many among the fan base have lost faith in Golden and the coaching staff.

They see the players on the field, and they see the record, and it simply does not compute. They see how Miami took Florida State to the wire, and they see what happened against Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.

"I'm disappointed any time we lose. It probably maybe stung a little bit more in those last two because I felt we made such great progress through the Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina games and even in that Florida State game," James said. "I felt coming out of there that we'd be able to go out and perform at a high level and I didn't see it from my vantage point in those final two weeks. That's something Al and the guys will be working on. We need to get that fixed and be ready to go in Shreveport."

If not, what already is a long offseason will feel much, much longer.

ACC morning links

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
The Heisman Trophy has its finalists, and only three players were invited to New York.

The reigning Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, is not among them. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise for several obvious reasons.

Foremost, his numbers didn't warrant inclusion to New York City no matter how brilliant he was down the stretch in games. The reality was he probably was going to need to be better than he was in 2013 statistically. There's a reason no player has won the Heisman in consecutive seasons since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns last season leading up to the Heisman ceremony. As a redshirt sophomore this season, Winston has thrown for 261 fewer yards and 14 fewer touchdowns. He's also thrown 17 interceptions this season, which ranks dead last among FBS quarterbacks.

Then there are the off-field issues that turned off some Heisman voters before the season even began. Winston was cited for stealing seafood at the end of April and was suspended in September for screaming an obscenity on campus.

Winston, of course, won't mind missing out on New York City if he gets his team to Arlington, Texas, for a shot at defending FSU's national championship. For a team looking to make history this season, the Heisman was always going to be secondary.

Biggest disappointment: UNC or Miami

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
In a lot of ways, Miami and North Carolina aren't particularly different. Both entered the season with ample talent at the skill positions. Both had questions in the trenches that were largely overlooked by the preseason prognosticators. Both have felt the sting of looming NCAA sanctions that have hindered depth at the program for years. Both wrapped up the year with unflinchingly awful performances to finish the regular season at 6-6.

So really, we're splitting hairs when we discuss which program was more disappointing this season, and to ask their respective fan bases, both are rightfully frustrated. But since it's our job to split hairs, David Hale and Andrea Adelson debate which .500 team disappointed the most in 2014.

Hale says it's North Carolina.

The case for North Carolina as the most disappointing is pretty simple: The Tar Heels stunk all year.

They stunk in the beginning. They rebounded a little, just enough to highlight how talented they really were, even if the production hadn't matched the skill. They had a high point in the penultimate game of the year against Duke, then finished things with a 35-7 defeat to rival NC State in what may well have been the most embarrassing loss of Larry Fedora's tenure -- and this is in a same season in which his squad gave up 70 points to East Carolina.

What happened at Miami is somewhat understandable. The Canes were playing relatively well, lost a gut-wrenching game to Florida State, then folded in the final two contests. At UNC, the scenario is far more perplexing.

It was just a year ago that the Heels opened 1-5 but finished red hot. That strong finish boosted expectations and players unanimously said they were prepped to avoid another lackluster first half. So what happened? A narrow escape against San Diego State was the only thing that kept UNC from starting 1-5 yet again.

Miami at least put a quality product on the field more often than not. UNC's defense spent most of the season not just playing poorly, but historically so. The Heels allowed 450 yards or more eight times this season. Only Texas Tech had more among Power 5 programs. They had five losses by 14 points or more, something no other team with a .500 or better record managed. In other words, UNC wasn't out-talented. It was just outperformed.

The counter is simple, too. As bad as UNC's defense was, the offense was pretty good. But that's an even bigger indicator of just how much talent this year's Heels' team wasted. How could the same offense that torched Duke for 45 (in spite of three turnovers!) manage just seven a week later against the Wolfpack? How could a team that averaged nearly 35 points per game still lose five times by two touchdowns or more? Miami's early troubles revolved around a true freshman QB getting his feet wet. North Carolina's revolved around an unnecessary QB competition that took a month to finally resolve itself. How could a team that beat the top two teams in the Coastal also lose to ECU, NC State and Virginia Tech?

And if that's not enough to convince you that UNC is the bigger disappointment, there's always this trump card from Nov. 1: Miami 47, North Carolina 20.

Adelson says it's Miami.

Forget for a minute that Miami was the preseason choice to win the Coastal Division. Failing to make it to the ACC championship game (again) classifies as a disappointment nearly every year. But the reason Miami is the biggest disappointment this season has nothing to do with failing to meet those expectations.

They were too high from the start. The reason this team disappointed so much is how it played, especially to end the season.

Miami has no business being a 6-6 team. Not with a dominant running back in Duke Johnson. Not with a Butkus Award finalist in Denzel Perryman. Not with a Mackey Award finalist in Clive Walford. Not with a rising star in quarterback Brad Kaaya. Miami had seven players recognized on the All-ACC team as first- second- or third-team selections. North Carolina had three. Talk about underperforming.

Especially when we saw exactly what this team was capable against Florida State. Miami played with heart, it played with conviction. It played with passion, it played with a purpose. But those moments proved to be fleeting. Once the Canes lost such an emotionally draining game, they seemed to give up on the season.

They were lifeless against Virginia, and listless against Pittsburgh, two teams Miami should have beaten. But as has become a trademark now, the Canes cannot seem to get themselves motivated for teams that mean little to them.

Getting up for Florida State is no problem. But getting up for Virginia and Pitt? That was a problem. Getting up for Duke last year? That was a problem. Getting up for Louisville in the bowl game last year? That was a problem. These are continuing trends, not just exclusive to this season. North Carolina has been mediocre two years in a row. But what does it say that Miami won nine games a year ago, and just six games with arguably a better team -- and a healthy Johnson for all 12 games?

The only way that makes sense is if you take a closer look at the intangibles that separate good teams from great ones. While it is true Miami coach Al Golden has had to fight the NCAA and depth concerns from the moment he arrived, it also is true his teams often look unprepared to play. That falls on him, and it falls on his staff.

Both have taken heavy criticism for coaching decisions, schemes, alignments and non-adjustments during wins and losses. That obviously is a problem, too. But players need to take accountability as well. It has been 15 years since Miami could roll its helmets onto a field and win, even if it gave half its effort. The Canes are not that team anymore. They have to win the way just about everybody else does: with a fighting mentality, heart, determination, unbending work ethic and an unstoppable drive to win.

Those intangibles were not evident for large portions of the season. So it ended in disappointment, despite all the talent.
The smoke Miami has run through the last decade before each home game hasn't been so much about intimidation anymore as it has been a mask for a program without the requisite talent or direction.

Miami presented itself like the South Beach Strip with its flash and style and swagger, but it was cosmetic. The Hurricanes were passable in a middling conference, far removed from the glory days of "The U."

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Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami's hopes of ascending to the national title game in seasons to come rest on the successes of freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.
The U is not back. Let's get that out of the way now, because that's what every Miami conversation devolves into. Despite a decade of mediocrity, Miami is still a program above moral victories. Fourth-year coach Al Golden was emphatic about that after the 30-26 loss to No. 3 Florida State.

However, it's not just smoke and mirrors in Miami for the first time in a long time, though. There's substance to this team, and it's OK to believe in Miami, which has never played in an ACC championship. You won't be burned this time, because the Hurricanes have a quarterback. In fact, he's their best QB since Ken Dorsey, and his name is Brad Kaaya.

Kaaya is Miami's 6-foot-4, 209-pound all-business true freshman quarterback. He committed to the Canes in May 2013 without much national fanfare, unlike recent predecessors. Kaaya was a Southern California kid and unbeknownst to most Miami fans at the time of his pledge. He wasn't the local stars Jacory Harris and Robert Marve were, nor did he have the national profile of Brock Berlin or Kyle Wright. UCLA and USC didn't think enough of Kaaya to offer him a scholarship until after his senior season began.

Yet as a freshman, Kaaya has started every game for Miami and was within minutes of making the Hurricanes the Coastal Division favorite Saturday. After just 10 starts, he is already one of the ACC's five best quarterbacks and leads the conference in quarterback rating, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt.

It was his poise against the reigning national champions that stood out most Saturday.

"He's doing a good job. We're asking him to do a lot. That's a big stage and a big moment. I think we certainly can take from this that it's not too big for him. He grew up a lot this season," Miami coach Al Golden said.

Miami has lacked talent at nearly every position since falling from its perch atop college football, but it was never more evident than at quarterback. Promise rarely turned into production, and now the Canes have that with Kaaya.

"He was on the money with just about everything," FSU safety Tyler Hunter said.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher called Kaaya a "heckuva player."

With a capable quarterback and the team's clear leader, the rest of the Hurricanes are taking shape around Kaaya. It has been a long process for Golden in Coral Gables, but Miami is putting together a roster with the ability to win an ACC title. At the top is Kaaya.

Football is a quarterback-driven sport, and Miami hasn't been right with the players behind the wheel in quite some time. Marve, Harris and Wright never lived up to the hype, and Berlin and Stephen Morris were serviceable but not much else.

Miami isn't looking to 2015 with three games left on the schedule, but the future is bright with Kaaya. Most of the offense will remain intact in 2015 (and 2016), and while the defense will lose key seniors, there is renewed confidence and consistency in defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's scheme.

The talent gap between Florida State, the ACC gold standard, and Miami was not as wide as it has been recently. The Canes left Sun Life Stadium with the feeling it let the Seminoles off the hook. They did, failing to put away a resilient Florida State team early. Part of that is a lack of depth as Golden dealt with NCAA sanctions and putting his own stamp on the program.

The bigger part is that those close losses are routine for a team learning how to win. They struggle to close out wins and make the necessary plays late in games, but it's all part of the process. Florida State went through the growing pains early in Fisher's career and it appears Miami is doing the same. Fisher admitted last week this was a better Miami team than the 7-0 squad he throttled in 2013.

"I'm not giving you a laundry list of 15 things and they all had to happen [to win]. We just needed a couple things," Golden said. "We're crushed from it, but there's so many positive things."

The positives begin at quarterback, and they could end -- finally -- with an ACC title.
Miami is not a program that can happily live in a vacuum. Not when its history is so intricately tied to its present.

Big wins are expected. So are championships. And that is why there is more pressure on Miami coach Al Golden than there is on Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher headed into their showdown on Saturday. That might not make much sense on the surface because Fisher needs to win out to get Florida State into the College Football Playoff.

But Fisher has succeeded where Golden has not. Fisher has his signature victories on his résumé.

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AP Photo/Alex MenendezAl Golden is 0-3 against rival Florida State heading into their matchup on Saturday night.
Golden is still looking for one. He is 0-3 against the rival Seminoles. Including games against the Noles, Golden is 3-7 against teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time Miami played them. His two biggest wins ended up turning into duds -- No. 17 Ohio State in 2011 and No. 12 Florida in 2013. Both those teams ended up with losing records.

“For everybody, to win this game would be big,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said. “The past four years, we've been coming up short, so to have that win would be big for us and the coaches and the program, To have that W is always great momentum.”

When the senior class signed with Miami, there was no way to envision being winless against the Seminoles.

“Of course not, you come to Miami to beat Florida State,” offensive lineman Shane McDermott said. “It’s been four years, and we haven’t beaten them. it’s been a rough road in that sense, but we have a great shot coming up this Saturday. It’s my senior year, so we’d really like to get that win.”

Given the way both Florida State and Miami have played of late, the oddsmakers have made the Noles slim favorites, bolstering expectations for a close game and potential Hurricanes win. If Miami gets blown out, you can bet the Golden critics will be out again, the way they were after Miami lost to Georgia Tech to drop to 3-3.

A group of fans flew a banner over Sun Life Stadium the following week during the Cincinnati game, reading “Fire Al Golden.” Prominent alumni started questioning the direction of the program. But all those critics have grown silent during the Canes’ three-game winning streak.

Golden has had plenty of people come to his defense, too, from former receiver Michael Irvin to former running back Mike James. Athletic director Blake James remains firmly behind him as well.

“Coach Golden’s done a tremendous job,” McDermott said. “He stayed here throughout all our NCAA storm, and he handled every single thing with class, and he’s really showed love for our university. There’s been a lot of yapping going on around the program, but he just ignores it. That’s one great quality he has. Every single day, he goes to practice, and he wants to make us the best possible team he can. We’re starting to become that.”

Golden has hung signs up around the football facilities that say, “Ignore the Noise.” Despite disappointing results against Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, Miami has the No. 11-ranked defense in the country (312 ypg) and is on pace to have its best rushing performance since the 2001 national championship team.

On the flip side, Miami has lost three of its four toughest games this season. Of its six wins, only one is over a power-five team with a winning record -- No. 21 Duke.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Golden said. “Obviously, you open the season with an inexperienced quarterback at two very difficult places to play at Louisville and Nebraska. So I think we learned a lot from that. Certainly, our quarterback has learned a lot. He’s done a better job protecting the ball, and he's grown throughout the season. It’s a great challenge coming up.”

Golden and Davis do have one more thing in common. As McDermott alluded to, both coaches had to deal with NCAA sanctions at the start of their tenures. Davis eventually beat Florida State after five straight losses, and set the program up for its fifth national championship.

But 15 years later, there seems to be more impatience from many Miami supporters, desperate to get back to national prominence the way Florida State has over the past three years. Golden and his players are desperate to win, too. They try to “ignore the noise” but they are not completely blind and deaf.

They know the perception. They know they have to win this game.

“Of course, you get angry, but you turn that into fuel and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to prove everyone wrong here,'" McDermott said.

Their opportunity to prove it comes on Saturday.

Miami defense clicking at right time

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
Something was not right in the Nebraska game. The primetime audience knew it. Miami fans knew it. And you can be sure Mark D'Onofrio knew it, too.

The Hurricanes had given up season-highs in points (41) and yards (456). They had shown no answer for the Cornhuskers' ground game, which relentlessly pounded its way to 343 yards on 54 carries. They were on their way to a 2-2 start, and skepticism surrounding the program's direction continued to mushroom.

So D'Onofrio popped in the tape that week looking to tighten a systematic approach. What he saw was the source of all of his frustration.

"I looked at it and I said, 'You know what? We have too much freelancing going on, and we had the opportunities to make plays and we didn't make the plays,' " Miami's defensive coordinator said. "And I really showed it to the defense and took a good, hard look at it."

What has transpired since is one of the bigger in-season turnarounds throughout the country. Miami's oft-vilified defense finds itself ranked No. 11 nationally as it readies for Saturday's prime-time showdown with rival Florida State, as the Canes come out of a bye with seemingly as good of a shot as anyone at knocking the defending national champion off its throne.

[+] EnlargeMiami defense
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesMiami has forced opponents into eight turnovers since its last loss on Oct. 4 to Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes look wholly different from the team that Nebraska ran over on Sept. 20.
Four wins in the five games since the letdown in Lincoln have boosted the unit's confidence. And it has all, in many ways, come down to the simplest of fundamentals:

Better tackling.

If that sounds elementary, consider the layers to it.

"A lot of tackling is knowing where your help is and then trusting each other; there is an art to tackling," head coach Al Golden said. "We're just doing a better job of, A, knowing where our help is; B, following the ball to the unblocked players, because every defense is designed with obviously the ball getting to the unblocked players so they can make the tackle.

"We're using the sideline better on perimeter plays and not letting up explosive runs, which we did not do a year ago, and I think the kids are finishing better. They're bringing the technique to the game. They're playing with a base, their eyes are up and then of course we're getting after it. So those five elements are present right now. I can't say that that was always the case early in the season or certainly last year."

Depth has rounded into form throughout this season, too, with Golden praising the maturity and growth of first- and second-year players. Sophomore linebacker Jermaine Grace (4.5 TFLs, 2 fumble recoveries) and sophomore corners Artie Burns (2 sacks, 5 break-ups) and Corn Elder (1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) are among nine defensive freshmen or sophomores on Miami's two-deep. Late leaps have come from upperclassmen, too, with senior linebacker Thurston Armbrister leading the team in sacks (5), tackles for loss (7) and forced fumbles (2).

A safety who was a late, under-the-radar addition to Golden's first recruiting class, Armbrister moved to linebacker his sophomore year and has bulked up some 40-plus pounds during his time in Coral Gables, up to 241.

"He's got really good length, he's very versatile," D'Onofrio said. "He can play on the ball for us at the Sam linebacker, which is his primary position, but he does a nice job when he plays off the ball. And the thing he added this year that we hadn't done with him in the past is we have him rush on third down, and he asked to do that."

Armbrister, like everyone else on Miami's defense, failed to record a stop behind the line of scrimmage at Nebraska. That has all changed in the nearly two months since, starting with a win over Coastal Division-leading leading Duke that saw the Blue Devils score just 10 points in their lone loss of the season. The Canes recovered from the following week's setback at Georgia Tech, with D'Onofrio disappointed only in his unit's inability to create takeaways against the triple-option attack.

Miami has forced eight turnovers in its three games since, all 20-plus-point wins that were decided by the fourth quarter. Its 19 takeaways on the season are tied for fourth in the ACC and 20th nationally. The Canes are playing their best ball at the best possible time, and they might just be in position to turn the tide on their rivalry with the Seminoles while throwing a major wrench into the College Football Playoff picture.

"I just knew that we had to get our guys to execute, we had to get them to trust, and if we did that, we were on the right track," D'Onofrio said.

"I think we've played really, really well," he later added. "Yards per play and third down, we're taking the ball away, we're creating pressure. So I'm very pleased with where we're at. It doesn't mean anything if we don't play well Saturday night, but I think our guys are developing a lot of confidence because of the performance, demonstrative performance, both in practice and in the games."
It was around this time last year that Boston College running back Andre Williams made his move into the Heisman conversation.

Can Miami running back Duke Johnson and Pitt running back James Conner do the same? It is a fascinating question to ponder, especially when you consider how many good running backs there are in college football this season.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami's Duke Johnson is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin and Ameer Abdullah at Nebraska top that list, at least for now. Gordon has been featured among the top three on the Heisman Watch for the last several weeks; Abdullah had been on the list, but he got hurt last week and dropped out.

With Abdullah off the list, Johnson picked up two fourth-place votes this week, including one from me. Simply put, his performances against Virginia Tech and North Carolina are hard to ignore.

Conner, who leads the nation in rushing, merits similar consideration as well -- though his team’s 4-5 record won’t do him any favors.

I asked one ACC defender who has faced both players for his input. Would he put Johnson or Conner on the Heisman Watch if he had a choice?

“I would definitely put both on the Heisman Watch because they’re both incredible players,” he said. “I would say that Conner -- he’s the most unique back we’ve seen in the sense that he’s 250 pounds, 6-2 and he can flat out run. It’s really a thing that you’ve never seen before.

“Duke Johnson is probably the most unbelievable athlete I’ve ever seen play. Some of the cuts he makes and some of the lateral moves he can make are out of this world. He’s one of those guys you know for a fact is going to make it in the NFL. He’s that good.

“It’s scary to play both players. I couldn’t tell you which one is better, but in their own way, they’re really good.”

For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at how Johnson and Conner have fared through nine games, compared to Williams through nine games last season.

While Conner leads the nation in rushing, Johnson leads the nation in yards from scrimmage. He separates himself from both Williams and Conner because of the way Miami has used him out of the backfield.

Johnson has fewer yards rushing than both Williams and Conner through nine games; however, he has 21 receptions for 273 yards and two touchdowns. That’s also more than Abdullah and Gordon have receiving. If you factor in total yards from scrimmage for the two Big Ten backs, Johnson has the highest yards gained per play (Gordon is at 7.4; Abdullah at 7.1).

Resident ACC stat guru David Hale dug up some more numbers that tilt in Johnson’s favor:

  • Johnson has had at least 90 rushing yards in every game this season, the only player in the country to do that in his first nine games.
  • Since Week 5, he is second in the nation to Gordon in rushingyards (843).
  • Since Week 5, he has run 97 times and with only seven carries that went for a loss or no gain (7.2 percent) -- the lowest rate for a non-option back with at least 75 carries. Since Oct. 1, he has been tackled behind the line of scrimmage just five times.
  • Since Week 5, no running back in the nation has averaged more yards per rush than Johnson’s 8.7 (min 75 carries).
  • Overall, Johnson has 39 runs of 10 yards or more. Conner has more (40), though he has 62 more carries. Based on percentage of rushing attempts, no running back in the nation has a higher rate of runs gaining 10-plus yards (24.7 percent).

Hale also points out one more interesting stat. Through nine games, Conner (1,342 yards) and Johnson (1,213) rank second and third, respectively, in yards rushing among all ACC players in the last decade. Williams tops the list.

Based on his versatility and overall consistency, Johnson has the edge over Conner. In two games this season, Conner has averaged 4 yards or fewer per carry. The lowest mark Johnson had was in the opener, 4.5 yards per carry against Louisville, a team that geared all its efforts to stopping Johnson and putting the game on the shoulders of a true freshman quarterback.

Johnson also does not fumble nearly as much, and that needs to be valued as well.

Where Williams truly separated himself was in Weeks 9-11, when he racked up 897 yards rushing (including 339 against NC State). That incredible span helped send Williams to a 2,000-yard season and New York for the Heisman ceremony, where he finished fourth.

While Johnson isn't on pace for a 2,000-yard rushing season, the Florida State game next week is absolutely critical for his potential Heisman hopes.

In two previous games against the Noles, Johnson has 124 combined yards and averaged 3.9 yards per rush. Last season, he broke his ankle in the third quarter after coming close to 100 yards and missed the rest of 2013.

But now, coach Al Golden says Johnson is running better than at any point in the last three years. The opportunity is there for Johnson to make a statement in the month of November, the way Williams did a season ago.

ACC reporter David Hale contributed to this report.
Miami telegraphed its intentions early on against Virginia Tech last week. The Canes wanted to ride Duke Johnson all the way to a win.

Some may have wondered: What took so long?

Johnson had his biggest game of the season because Miami made a strong commitment to him and the run game, pounding and pounding away against what is normally a stout Virginia Tech group. Miami opened the game with seven straight runs from Johnson. By the end of the night, he had 29 carries for a career-high 249 yards -- the most for an opponent in Lane Stadium history.

It also was the first time a Miami running back went over 200 yards since Willis McGahee rushed for 205 against Virginia Tech in 2002.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
AP Photo/Steve HelberDuke Johnson's career-best day against Virginia Tech was his fourth 100-yard game in a row.
Johnson now has four straight 100-yard games, and as a result, his first 1,000-yard season. Perhaps overlooked because of his terrific rushing performance, Johnson also led the team with 37 yards receiving and ended up with two total touchdowns.

Nobody ever doubted Johnson was the best player on the Miami offense. But now, we are seeing a different, much better version of him.

“What can you say about what Duke is doing right now?” coach Al Golden said. “What you could see two years ago is how talented he was, but now you’re seeing somebody that’s very talented but also very skilled. He’s trusting everything and then when he gets in the second level, he does his thing. We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball.”

Perhaps Miami did not get him the ball as much as it should have early in the season, though there are various reasons for that. Miami had turnover issues and played from behind in a few games. Johnson was terrific against Georgia Tech, but the Canes could not get him the ball more because they failed to sustain drives. Early on, teams were loading up the box, placing all of their emphasis on slowing down Johnson to make true freshman Brad Kaaya beat them.

But as Kaaya has grown, teams have had to begin to respect the pass -- especially with such a talented group of receivers. The Miami offensive line also is playing much better, and it had its best game of the season against the Hokies.

What stood out in the game, however, was the way Miami did not give up on the run after going three-and-out on the first drive. The Canes came back with Johnson in the Wildcat, and he got 15 yards. His next three carries led to a first down, and away Miami went.

“You pound the ball for the first quarter, the second quarter, second half, the big runs will come,” Johnson said. “That’s all Coach Golden was telling us all day, just keep doing what you’re doing and the big runs will come.”

Johnson ended up with eight runs that went 10 yards or longer. Only one of those came out of the Wildcat. His first big run while lined up at tailback came on the final play of the first quarter -- on his ninth carry on a handoff.

Given the opponent Saturday -- a North Carolina defense giving up an average of 210 yards per game -- a similar strategy could be used. Because Johnson has proven he is incredibly hard to tackle. Even Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster admitted after the game, “I was scared to death of Duke Johnson and he proved why.”

“We have the privilege of watching him every day,” Golden said. “He’s so much more mature right now, and I’m really happy for him because he deserves it. He’s working really hard. He’s finishing his runs really well, his pad level, not too many cuts in the backfield, second level, he’s doing his thing. He’s so smart down the field -- he protected the ball. All the little things that he did, he did it perfectly. He had a good mindset going into the game.”

Golden and teammates have seen a different Johnson since fall practice, when he was finally full go after a broken ankle against Florida State last year sidelined him. Johnson got bigger and stronger in the offseason. Though he is down to about 204 pounds now, the added strength is beginning to show itself now that Miami is in its final stretch of the season.

Johnson is averaging a career-high 7.5 yards per carry -- third-best in the country among running backs with 100 or more carries.

“I’ve been seeing it in him since he came back, just working at a different level,” Golden said. “These long runs he’s making, he’s doing it every day in practice. He’ll take the ball and go 30 yards, and the rest of the team will just look at him.”

Now everybody is looking at him. Because he is hitting his stride -- and that makes Miami a much more difficult team to stop.

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Earlier in the week, Willie Byrn said he expected an air of desperation between his Virginia Tech team and Miami in Lane Stadium on Thursday night.

One team played with desperation.

The other looked desperate for answers.

With each team needing a win to stay alive in the Coastal Division, Miami dominated from start to finish, playing its most complete game of the season in a decisive 30-6 win. Duke Johnson was unstoppable, running for a career-high 249 yards as Miami racked up 364 yards rushing -- the most ever given up by a Frank Beamer-coached team.

The defense, meanwhile, played with an unmistakable edge, holding Virginia Tech scoreless until the final 1:30. It added up to the first road win of the season for the Canes, and it came at the best time imaginable.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
AP Photo/Steve HelberDuke Johnson led Miami with a career-high 249 yards and a touchdown.
Miami has renewed Coastal title hopes -- with North Carolina coming to town next week. At 2-2 in ACC play, they remain one loss behind Duke, Pitt and Virginia. Miami owns the head-to-head win over Duke, with games against Pitt and UVa coming up in November.

"No one wants to go on the road and lose. No one wants to take a plane ride somewhere and not come back with a W," Miami offensive lineman Shane McDermott said. "We take pride in that. This is an ACC Coastal game and we wanted to execute. We needed to execute to keep alive in the Coastal. We came out and did that."

For Virginia Tech, it looked about as hopeless as it has over the last three uncharacteristically weak seasons. That might seem like a harsh assessment, but this team has regressed after showing some early glimmers at Ohio State. Indeed, that victory in September continues to confound many. How could Virginia Tech look so good in that game, but so bad in its four losses?

After falling behind 24-0, three third-quarter fumbles sealed their fate against Miami. Now, the Hokies are staring at a 1-3 deficit in ACC play, strange and uncharted territory for a program that has made its name as the Coastal flag bearer.

As bad as it has been for Virginia Tech, the Hokies have never before been 1-3 in conference play, calling into question not only why this team has failed to progress, but how much progress can definitively be made as long as Beamer is in charge.

Yes, there are some terrific young players. But Miami also has terrific young players who have gotten better each week. Take the quarterbacks, for example. Miami freshman Brad Kaaya looks nothing like the player that started the opener against Louisville. Three times in the last four games, he has not thrown an interception and is finding ways to make plays.

While he was not asked to do much against the Hokies, Kaaya made some good throws and did not get the Canes into any trouble. Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, does not have nearly the same type of command. Perhaps it is because Kaaya has a much better supporting cast. But there is no denying Kaaya has made improvement. Brewer does not give Virginia Tech an edge at the position.

"It wasn't a pretty picture all night, but I saw some things we can certainly build on," Beamer said afterward, trying to put an optimistic spin on the night. "We are going to be a better football team. We have a lot of good players on this team. I look forward to the future because I think we are going to be pretty good."

While that might be true, the reality is Miami ran circles around Virginia Tech in every imaginable way -- and Beamer is being judged not on potential in 2015 but what he has in front of him now. The Miami coaching was better; the play calling was better; the game plan was better; the talent was better.

Miami's problem this season has been an inability to put everything together in one game. Finally, the Canes got the best out of their offense and defense. Maybe that was due to the Hokies, not exactly a juggernaut this season. But after weeks of criticism and questions, Miami and its coaches deserve some credit.

They got the most out of their players in a place that has vexed the program since 2005. What awaits next is tougher: sustaining that edge, effort, drive and intensity for the final four games.

"We're getting better," coach Al Golden said. "We had really good practices leading up to this game, good attitude, everybody concentrating on what they need to concentrate on and block everything out. We've got a long way to go. But I think the guys have made a commitment to get better each week and each day and are staying positive."
Two stats paint a bleak picture as Miami prepares to hit the road to play Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

The Canes are winless away from home this season; and they have not won in Blacksburg since 2005. In order to change that narrative and get back into the Coastal Division race, the objective seems pretty simple. Play better on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsTaking care of the ball will be key for Brad Kaaya and Miami on Thursday night at Virginia Tech.
How do the Canes do that? Miami lost each of its games at Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech for different reasons. Against Louisville, the Canes limited their playbook and ran a conservative offense, contributing to stalled drives; in Lincoln, Miami could not stop the run; in Atlanta, Miami ran less than 50 plays.

However, one common thread emerged in each -- close games turned into double-digit losses thanks to untimely turnovers that turned momentum the other way. Of the eight turnovers Miami has committed on the road, seven came in its opponents’ territory.

Among the costliest:

  • With the game tied at 7 against Louisville in the second quarter, Miami forced Will Gardner to fumble deep inside his own territory. The Canes faced a first-and-goal at the 7, the perfect opportunity to quiet the hostile road crowd. But Stacy Coley fumbled on the first play. Miami never got closer to the end zone.
  • Down 24-21 against Nebraska late in the third quarter, Duke Johnson fumbled inside Nebraska territory. The Cornhuskers picked up the ball and returned it 57 yards for a score.
  • With the game tied at 14 against Georgia Tech midway through the second quarter, Brad Kaaya threw an interception from the Jackets 27. Miami scored a field goal the rest of the game.

Turnovers always hurt, but giving the ball away in such critical situations is painful, especially with a freshman behind center. Kaaya has thrown nine interceptions, third worst among ACC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. He has not thrown an interception in two games this year -- his last two home games against Duke and Cincinnati.

The good news for Miami, though, is that Kaaya already has played in front of two electric prime-time crowds at Louisville and Nebraska. Virginia Tech is known for its wild Thursday night atmospheres, but there may not be a full crowd at Lane Stadium. Since he already has been road tested, Kaaya should not show many jitters.

Even better news rests with the Coastal Division, where every team has at least one loss. At 1-2 in ACC play, Miami is only one game behind Duke, Virginia and Pitt -- all 2-1. Miami already has a head-to-head win over the Blue Devils, which could help if there is a tiebreaker down the road.

“Maybe when we got back from Atlanta, we had some guys that maybe didn’t understand how early it was in the race,” coach Al Golden told reporters in Miami on Monday. “Based on what’s transpired since then, maybe they’re believing now. Maybe they have a little more faith that this thing is far from over. We’ve got to take care of our business and not worry about anything else. It’s a one-game season right now and when we get back from Blacksburg, it’ll be another one game season. That’s all that matters.”

Winning on the road matters, too. Miami will have a tough time winning the division if it keeps falling flat away from home.
Miami entered its bye week off a big win over Cincinnati, but that victory has not done much to quell the questions surrounding the program.

At this point, a nonconference win against a mediocre opponent is not going to present many answers to the bigger picture -- trying to get into the ACC championship game. Miami sits 1-2 in conference play, and that slow start has given critics a reason to start hollering about coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.

We are not just talking about fans. Prominent alumni have joined the growing chorus wondering whether Golden and D’Onofrio are doing enough to coach up their players. Phillip Buchanon, Joaquin Gonzalez and Brett Romberg, who all played on the 2001 national championship team, have voiced their frustrations, either on the radio or social media.

[+] EnlargeMiami
AP Photo/Alex MenendezDoes Al Golden have Miami pointed in the right direction? Many fans and some prominent former Hurricanes have doubts.
Their comments show the growing disconnect between the program's most passionate supporters and Golden, who has come under fire on multiple fronts -- from his defense of D’Onofrio to his coaching decisions to his record in big games.

There is little doubt, then, that the Thursday night game at Virginia Tech next week is a must-win, not only to tamp down the outrage but also to climb back into the division race. Miami sits 1½ games behind Virginia, but in the topsy-turvy Coastal, no lead is safe.

Having said that, the Canes cannot afford to drop a third league game -- not with back-to-back games looming in November against Florida State and Virginia.

Playing in Virginia has not exactly brought a tidal wave of good feeling. The last time Miami won in Blacksburg was 2005; in Virginia it was 2008. So you can see why the pressure is on the preseason Coastal favorite to hit the road and actually win -- something the Canes have yet to do this season.

Miami has dropped its first three road games, the first time that has happened since 1995. The reasons have varied. In the opener against Louisville, the offense was a shell of itself as Miami started true freshman Brad Kaaya. Against Nebraska and Georgia Tech, the Canes could not slow down the run -- particularly maddening because the defense seemed out of position and improperly aligned on multiple occasions.

But there were two similar threads in all three losses, issues that have plagued Miami in all its games this season. In the three road losses, Miami turned the ball over eight times and converted just 6 of 28 third-down opportunities.

“We’ve been prepared,” Golden said Wednesday on the ACC coaches' call. “At Lincoln, we go down and move the ball and score, and at Georgia Tech, we do the same thing. There’s a lot of little details about why we didn’t win those games, but it wasn’t for the fact of being on the road. We didn’t have many procedural penalties in either of those two games or anything that would indicate there’s an issue.

“[Virginia Tech’s] a great challenge for us. Our guys are going to be excited about going into that environment. They know what it entails and what you have to do to win. It’s not going to change our preparation. We know the environment we’re going into and the type of team we’re going to play.”

Miami has not done much better holding on to the ball and converting on third down at home, where the Canes have played only one Power 5 team in four games. No surprise, then, that Miami ranks No. 13 in turnover margin and No. 14 in third-down conversions in the ACC.

Couple those offensive issues with an inconsistent defense that still has problems with its front seven and it is easy to see why Miami is 4-3.

“There’s a lot of things we need to improve and a lot of things we’re working on,” Golden said. “There’s a lot of positives, but our focus this week is to eliminate the issues and things that are holding us back.”

While the NCAA investigation into the program concluded last year, the Hurricanes are still trying to get out from under its cloud. That is a valid point to be made in defense of Golden, though fans and alums are tired of hearing excuses.

They are desperate for Miami to be a winner again. The longer it takes, the more vocal the critics will get.
The calls for Miami coach Al Golden to relieve defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio of his duties were quieted momentarily through the first quarter of the season. The Hurricanes’ defense showed signs of improvement and was among the ACC’s best defenses, albeit against a soft schedule.

Then in came Nebraska, and mind you not the Nebraska of old under Tom Osborne, who built a brand of Cornhuskers football based upon option football and 350 yards per game rushing. In a 41-31 loss Saturday, the Hurricanes were bullied to the tune of 343 rushing yards allowed.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikThe Miami rush defense was completely overwhelmed by Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska.
According to Palm Beach (Florida) Post writer Matt Porter, it was the fourth time Miami has allowed 300 yards rushing under Golden. That number could move to five next weekend as the Canes host Duke, which stated its case as a legitimate top-25 team last season against the Canes with a 358-yard, five-touchdown effort on the ground.

“We don’t read it, don’t listen to it, don’t look at it,” Golden said of the criticism of D’Onofrio. “The biggest thing for us is to move forward. We got a great opportunity and haven’t played a Coastal game yet. ... We need to stick together and take accountability for what didn’t go right but also take a deep breath. Let’s move forward with a unified front going into the Duke week.”

While the Blue Devils hardly have been tested, part of the reason the 4-0 team is still unranked, the offense is clicking for the reigning Coastal champions. The offense ranks 17th nationally in scoring average (43.5) and 22nd in rushing average (261).

Last weekend, Nebraska’s Heisman candidate, Ameer Abdullah, rushed for 229 yards. His longest rush was only 26 yards, which means the Hurricanes consistently were giving up chunks of yardage; there were no outliers among Abdullah’s carries that misrepresented his total. Golden said Miami allowed about 170 yards after contact, too.

“It’s important when we call pressures we make them pay. We didn’t have any tackles for loss or sacks [against Nebraska],” said Golden, who estimates the Canes blitzed 60 percent of the time on first and second downs. “We have to analyze ourselves and ask are we putting playmakers in the best position on every play?

“At the end of the day we got to do a better job and that’s tackling, play-calling, personnel. We have to look at everything and learn and move forward and get ready for Duke.”

Golden, in his fourth season as a coach, does not see a team or a program that is wilting in games. He praised the effort of his team, and he said many of the defensive issues are players trying to make a play outside the scheme of the defense, which is allowing opposing running backs to gash the Canes.

But Golden said he cannot question the spirit of his team, not after watching the Canes come to the aid of freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya after a questionable hit. He wasn’t pleased his players lacked the discipline to remain on the bench during an on-field scuffle, but he can appreciate the fact that his team is not lacking passion.

“I don’t want anyone coming off of the bench, period. For that, I’m disappointed and I’ll address that,” Golden said. “From our standpoint, the silver lining is this means something and it is worth fighting and standing up for.”

ACC morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
Virginia kicker Ian Frye went through quite a harrowing ordeal during the BYU game last weekend.

When the team started to walk to the locker room at halftime, Frye noticed his mother coming down a set of stairs toward him. She yelled to Frye that his dad, Mark, was having chest pains. Frye went into the locker room briefly before finding his dad, who was seated just outside the door having a hard time breathing. He spoke with his dad and the paramedics, before his parents urged him to go back to his team.

Mark Frye, 58, was transported to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack. Ian Frye was left to play the rest of the game, worrying about his dad. But that did not keep him from nailing a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"Just sitting there on the sideline was tough," Frye told local reporters Monday. "But I wanted to be there with my team, support them, and do what I needed to do. I was called out for a 46-yard field goal. That was probably one of my hardest kicks that I've ever had to do, just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team. I kicked it for him."

After the game ended, BYU police escorted Frye to the hospital to see his dad, who had undergone successful surgery. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited in the hospital and brought Ian a meal. Ian Frye stayed overnight in Utah and returned to Charlottesville on Monday after a lengthy flight delay in Atlanta.

Mark Frye remains in a Provo hospital but is expected to recover. He has taken great pride in Ian's career, never missing a game. The 46-yard field goal Frye nailed was the first kick Mark Frye had ever missed his son attempt.

But he is not completely out of the loop. He was the first one to text Ian on Monday and let him know the ACC named him its Specialist of the Week after making all four field goal attempts in the game.

He is now 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Pretty amazing story.

In some other Virginia news, quarterback Greyson Lambert had a walking boot on Sunday and will be evaluated throughout the week. Matt Johns and David Watford will get increased reps at quarterback in case Lambert is not ready to go against Kent State this weekend. He is not the only ACC quarterback who is day-to-day.

Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is having his knee examined after he tweaked it against FIU. Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters Monday that it was too early to tell whether Gardner will be able to play against Wake Forest. If he can't, Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to go after missing last week following his father's death.

Now a quick look around the ACC:
Our reporters will periodically offer their takes on important questions in college football. They'll have strong, though often differing, opinions. We'll let you decide who is right.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini's Huskers are close to returning to national prominence.
Nebraska and Miami renew a unique rivalry on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes have played 10 times -- the past five in bowl games, four of which crowned the national champion. Most recently, Miami beat Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Since the Canes joined the ACC a decade ago, neither program has made it to a major bowl game.

So today's Take Two topic: Which is closer, Nebraska or Miami, to a return to the top of college football?

Take 1: Mitch Sherman

I'll go with the Huskers, though almost by default as Miami continues to feel its way through the new world order in college football, having lost five games or more in six of the past eight seasons. Sure, Miami uses a proven recruiting formula under Al Golden, but that's the problem. Florida State does it better. And so does half of the SEC.

Some might make similar claims about Nebraska. After all, the Huskers play in the Big Ten, where Ohio State resonates more deeply with recruits, and Penn State has seized momentum in recent months.

At least the Huskers have stability. Say what you want about coach Bo Pelini's lack of championships, but his teams have played in league title games three times in his six years, and he's never won fewer than nine games. Those 9-4 and 10-4 records do little to soothe the feelings of Nebraska fans who long for the glory years, but that era is long gone.

This week, Nebraska can take some solace in knowing that it's closer, by the numbers, to regaining elite status than Miami. And the weak Big Ten, despite conventional logic, might help Nebraska, which has upgraded its talent while others in the conference have not.

A win over Miami would complete an unbeaten nonconference season. Hurdles remain in the league, but for the Huskers, a re-emergence nationally is closer than many envision.

Take 2: Matt Fortuna

[+] EnlargeMiami
AP Photo/Alex MenendezAl Golden's ability to recruit in talent-rich Miami bodes well for the Hurricanes.
The idea that Miami has not played in a single ACC championship game yet is perplexing. Instead, the men's basketball team is the one that can claim a league title. Go figure.

Looking down the road, though, I think the Hurricanes have the more direct path back to their glory days, or at least at getting closer to what they once were. For one: Location, location, location. There is simply too much talent in Miami for this program ever to fall on down times. Golden, in his fourth year, has taken advantage of this, on pace for his fourth straight top-15 recruiting class. Let's not forget that this was also a program that was operating under the black cloud of the Nevin Shapiro scandal for two-plus years.

The same argument that the Big Ten provides a clearer path for Nebraska can be used for the ACC and Miami; the Coastal Division is a mess. But the most promising aspect for the Canes may be just that: promise.

Yes, fans want more out of this regime, which has lacked some punch at times. But there is still time to clean things up and for Miami -- which, we should note, has had some pretty awful luck with injuries offensively -- to improve. What Pelini has done in Lincoln is no small task, and I do think he is taken for granted, but I wonder if he has maxed out there. That may be tough to accept for a fan base that is so used to dominance, but as you said, that era appears gone.

What isn't gone is the talent in Florida, and in the Southeast. By virtue of its location, and by surviving a potentially program-crumbling scandal, Miami at least has the upside to make a return to the top of the college football world a possibility in the not-so-distant future.



Saturday, 12/27
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12