The ACC Coastal has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in college football over the last couple of seasons. Miami was expected to be a consistent conference title contender when it joined the ACC, but the Hurricanes have yet to play in the championship game. Expect much of the same from the Coastal in 2014, as Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh are all expected to contend for the division title.
Al Golden came to Miami after resurrecting Temple from college football’s cellar to a bowl team in 2009. However, the results have been harder to come by in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are just 13-11 in ACC play over the last three seasons, and all four of their losses came by at least 18 points.
Golden has recruited talent to Coral Gables, but now it’s time for the Hurricanes to take the next step and win the Coastal Division.
Miami Hurricanes 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 1
Spring Game: April 12
Five Things to Watch in Miami’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. The quarterback battle: Stephen Morris earned third-team All-ACC honors last season and finished with 3,028 yards and 21 scores. Although losing a proven quarterback is never a good thing, Morris was inconsistent at times and the Hurricanes have four intriguing options vying for time this spring. Ryan Williams has played in nine games since transferring to Miami and threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role last year. He enters spring as the frontrunner, but sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and true freshman Brad Kaaya are in the mix. Kaaya won’t arrive until the summer, so he will have some ground to make up in the fall. Olsen ranked as the No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season learning the ropes behind Morris. While the winner of this job needs to have a good year to propel Miami into Coastal Division contention, there is a strong supporting cast in place to ease their transition into the starting lineup.
2. Replacing two starters on the offensive line: With Ereck Flowers, Shane McDermott and Jon Feliciano returning, Miami should have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC next year. However, there are two vacancies to fill in the spring. Guard Brandon Linder departed after earning second-team All-ACC honors last season, while tackle Seantrel Henderson expired his eligibility after 2013. This unit’s depth took a hit when Malcolm Bunche decided to transfer to UCLA. Can line coach Art Kehoe find the right answers this spring? Incoming freshman KC McDermott could be an answer at one spot, while redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu is another name to watch in preseason workouts. Sophomores Danny Isidora and Taylor Gadbois gained experience last season and will push for starting jobs in the spring. Trevor Darling will enroll early this spring and should provide valuable depth this spring.
3. Who steps up at running back?: In the fall, this position won’t be a concern for Miami. Duke Johnson is sidelined this spring due to a leg injury, while touted freshman Joseph Yearby is also out. Dallas Crawford finished second on the team with 558 yards last season but is expected to move to defensive back. With Crawford playing defense, Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker are the top two options at running back. This position isn’t necessarily a concern, but the spring is a good opportunity for Edwards and Tucker to get comfortable working with the No. 1 offense in case Johnson or Yearby is sidelined during the year.
4. Fixing the defense: It’s a large storyline, but the defense has several issues and it’s easier to group them into one. Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is under fire for the performance of the defense over the last few years, as Miami finished 12th in the ACC (conference-only games) in points allowed in 2013. The Hurricanes also allowed 5.8 yards per play, which ranked 12th in the conference. That’s the bad news. The good news for D’Onofrio? Seven starters are back, including likely All-ACC selections in end Anthony Chickillo, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tracy Howard. The depth seems to have improved thanks to recruiting, so there is hope for some growth by the defense in 2014. The additions of Calvin Heurtelou and Michael Wyche from the junior college ranks will bolster the available bodies on the line, and a full season from safety Deon Bush should help the secondary. Getting results on third down also has to be a priority for D’Onofrio. The Hurricanes were 90th nationally on third down conversions, which ranked last in the ACC. Another problem for Miami was the pass rush. After registering only 12 sacks in conference games, the Hurricanes have to push that number closer to 20 in 2014. Is the biggest problem with this unit experience or talent? Or is depth the biggest issue?
5. Finding a punter: Go ahead and laugh because we mentioned the punter. However, Pat O’Donnell was one of the best in the nation last year, averaging 47.1 yards per kick. Sophomore Aaron Martinez, redshirt freshman Grant Coffman and senior Ricky Carroll are the three options on the spring roster vying for time. Will Golden and this staff find the right answer to replace O’Donnell?
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
The Coastal Division is there for the taking for Miami. The Hurricanes have the pieces to win the Coastal, but a questionable defense and an uncertain quarterback situation could hold this team back in 2014. Golden has assembled the No. 2 roster in the ACC. Assuming running back Duke Johnson returns at full strength, and the defense shows slight improvement, Miami should be the favorite in this division. The schedule isn’t too taxing, but a non-conference date at Nebraska will be tough, and the Hurricanes won’t be favored to beat Florida State on Nov. 15. Miami has increased its win total in each of the last three years. Will that continue in 2014?