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1. Year 4
On a scale of 1-10 (1 being Erickson at Miami, 10 being O'Brien at Penn St), how hard has Al Golden's job at Miami been through 3 years?— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) June 17, 2014
Three years into his tenure as Miami's head coach, Al Golden has made it difficult to get a read on his performance. So let's play a little game of What We Know.
We know that Golden inherited a roster that had played far-from-incredible football. Recruiting rankings aside, Miami had gone just 28-23 in Randy Shannon's four seasons in charge (2007-10), which smacks of mediocre football. That sets the bar pretty low.
We also know, however, that there was some bad luck involved in Miami only going 7-6 in 2010. The Hurricanes ranked 17th in the F/+ ratings in 2009 and fell only to 23rd in 2010, losing tight, frustrating games to Virginia and USF, staying reasonably close to Ohio State and Virginia Tech, and beating three teams that went 8-5 or better. That sets the bar a little higher.
We know that Miami was smacked with the Nevin Shapiro scandal not long after Golden came aboard as coach, and that the lengthy, drawn-out, and mostly fruitless investigation lingered like a black cloud over recruiting for quite a while. That lowers the bar.
We also know that Miami has some built-in geographic and historic recruiting advantages, which keeps the bar from getting too low. That, combined with dogged effort from Golden and his staff, led to recruiting classes that, according to 247 Sports, ranked 10th in 2012, 14th in 2013, and 12th in 2014. Good recruiting is often part of good coaching. That's a point in his favor.
We know that Golden has yet to produce a top-30 F/+ performance. That's a point deduction. Miami ranked 32nd in 2011, 65th in 2012, and 36th in 2013. The Hurricanes broke out to a 7-0 start in 2013 and found themselves seventh in the BCS standings heading into their November 2 battle at Florida State. Now, they were in no way a top-10 team, as evidenced by narrow wins over North Carolina (when the Heels weren't playing that well) and dreary Wake Forest. They peaked at 17th in the F/+ rankings, but ... hey, that's 17th. That's pretty strong progress.
We know that Miami completely fell apart down the stretch in 2013. The combination of an injury to star running back Duke Johnson and a completely demoralizing 41-14 loss to Florida State led to an offensive slump and a defensive collapse, and a 7-0 start begat a 2-4 finish and a slip to 36th overall.
We know that's not good enough for Miami. But we know that's an improvement over 2012. And we know that of Golden's three great recruiting classes, the first is only now reaching its third year in the program. Even with blue-chippers, experience matters.
Miami will always have high expectations, but they were lowered at least a little bit because of NCAA trials and tribulations. And really, whether Golden has cleared the bar so far or not doesn't matter. His job is safe, and he has built a strong base of talent (on paper) despite self- and NCAA-imposed sanctions.
If this team lives up to its recruiting billing in the coming years, then the Hurricanes won't be competing for national titles, but they'll at least be winning the occasional division title (since joining the ACC in 2004, they have yet to actually play in an ACC title game) and breaking 10 wins here and there. That might not be enough to satisfy a fanbase that has both a long memory and a fickle reputation, but it will be enough to keep Golden employed and maintain a healthy program.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 36|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|30-Aug||Florida Atlantic||73||34-6||W||47.4 - 12.7||W|
|7-Sep||Florida||48||21-16||W||20.5 - 34.1||L|
|21-Sep||Savannah State||N/A||77-7||W||41.9 - 18.8||W|
|28-Sep||at South Florida||99||49-21||W||41.7 - 33.7||W|
|5-Oct||Georgia Tech||34||45-30||W||62.2 - 20.6||W||18.7|
|17-Oct||at North Carolina||38||27-23||W||39.2 - 30.5||W||13.5|
|26-Oct||Wake Forest||81||24-21||W||36.0 - 34.1||W||16.6|
|2-Nov||at Florida State||1||14-41||L||38.8 - 25.7||W||14.6|
|9-Nov||Virginia Tech||27||24-42||L||43.0 - 48.4||L||11.9|
|16-Nov||at Duke||41||30-48||L||38.7 - 41.3||L||3.1|
|23-Nov||Virginia||79||45-26||W||28.6 - 36.7||L||-0.2|
|29-Nov||at Pittsburgh||54||41-31||W||41.8 - 37.4||W||0.3|
|28-Dec||Louisville||12||9-36||L||18.4 - 29.7||L||-4.6|
|Points Per Game||33.8||33||26.8||66|
|Adj. Points Per Game||38.3||9||31.1||93|
2. Duke and demoralization
Again, Miami wasn't actually a top-10 caliber team after seven games, but it was a good one. The offense was adept at huge plays via run and pass, and while the defense wasn't good enough, it was still a bit above average. But when the Hurricanes visited Tallahassee, everything changed.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Miami 41.0, Opponent 26.3 (plus-14.7)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 38.7, Miami 34.1 (minus-4.6)
For one thing, the 41-14 debacle (which wasn't even as close as the score would suggest) brought a level of shame to a program that desperately wanted to think it was close to being elite once again. The defense, which really didn't play terribly against FSU considering the quality of the opponent, fell into a drastic slump down the stretch. After allowing greater than 5.5 yards per play just once in the first seven games, the Hurricanes allowed at least 6.6 in five of the final six. Allowing 7.1 per play to FSU isn't the end of the world, but ... 6.6 to Pitt? 7.3 to Louisville? 7.0 to Virginia Tech? Yikes.
The defense regressed considerably, but the loss of one player on offense changed that unit's upside by at least a touchdown. Sophomore running back Duke Johnson broke his ankle against FSU, and what was once a solid running game fell apart. After rushing for 200+ yards in five of seven games, the Hurricanes rushed for greater than 90 just twice in the final six.
That put far too much pressure on the Miami passing game, and while it continued to play pretty well for the most part -- Stephen Morris went 16-for-29 for 324 yards, two scores and no picks (and three sacks) against an elite Hokie pass defense -- the offense still wasn't as good. Miami was able to outscore Virginia and Pitt in shootouts, but the offense couldn't keep up in blowout losses to Virginia Tech, Duke, and Louisville.
The two most proven components of the passing game (Morris and underrated receiver Allen Hurns) are gone, but that might not matter if Johnson is full strength, as expected, this fall. He is a difference-maker, and he proved it in his absence.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.5%||51||Succ. Rt. +||121.0||8|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.0||14||Def. FP+||103.4||21|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||65||Redzone S&P+||98.6||69|
|Q1 Rk||1||1st Down Rk||3|
|Q2 Rk||8||2nd Down Rk||4|
|Q3 Rk||8||3rd Down Rk||8|
3. Stats vs. eyeballs
Give Miami credit for one thing: the Hurricanes don't stop trying to come back. When losing big, they passed almost exclusively. This increases your odds of scoring and getting back into the ballgame and really increases your odds of getting blown out by a larger margin. Miami's four losses came by an average of 22.5 points, so we know which way that went, but there's something admirable about going down in a blaze of attempted glory.
Even while losing Johnson for more than a third of the season, Miami still finished the year ranked 12th in Off. F/+. A lot of people have scoffed at that, but I think I can explain it. First of all, these blaze-of-glory tendencies gave way to a lot of turnovers, mistakes, etc., when a given game was out of hand. It left the eyeballs with a damning impression of futility after the stats had stopped counting (since these stats are filtered for garbage time).
Plus, the variance was enormous. Against Florida, Florida State, and Louisville, in perhaps the three most visible games on the schedule, the offense averaged 14.7 points per game and 4.0 yards per play. But the Hurricanes did relatively well against other good defenses (against Virginia and Virginia Tech: 34.5 points per game and 6.2 yards per play) and thoroughly destroyed most mediocre and bad defenses. They averaged 10.4 yards per play against Georgia Tech, and even without Johnson, they averaged 7.7 against Pitt and 7.2 against Duke.
Those high-visibility games left a nasty impression, which the Hurricanes thwarted when nobody was actually watching.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Ryan Williams||6'6, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||22||32||369||3||1||68.8%||2||5.9%||10.4|
|Gray Crow||6'3, 224||So.||3 stars (5.6)||6||8||55||1||1||75.0%||0||0.0%||6.9|
|Kevin Olsen||6'3, 212||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jake Heaps (Kansas)||6'1, 210||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||128||261||1414||8||10||49.0%||23||8.1%||4.3|
|Brad Kaaya||6'4, 213||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
4. You still need a quarterback
Of course, I can defend Miami's 2013 ratings all I want. The 2014 Miami offense won't get anywhere close to 12th if it can't find a new quarterback. Morris is gone, and presumptive starter Ryan Williams is going to miss at least part of the season with an ACL injury.
That leaves a bit of a grab bag. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen finished the spring atop the depth chart, but he could be pushed by sophomore Gray Crow, incoming freshman Brad Kaaya, or, as of this week, Kansas and BYU transfer Jake Heaps.
Three of the four players above -- Olsen, Kaaya, and Heaps -- are at least former four-star recruits. And while Heaps has never really hinted at blue-chip potential, Olsen and Kaaya are blank slates. If either of them is worth his recruiting hype, Miami could just be fine at quarterback in 2015 and beyond. But Williams' absence lends serious uncertainty to the offense as a whole, especially with early trips to Louisville and Nebraska (and a potential home shootout against Duke) coming up on the schedule before October.
The good news is that the new quarterback will have help. Johnson should be just fine, for starters. Broken bones heal, and a full-strength Johnson gives Miami one of the most consistent big-play backs in the country. In 2013, 110 FBS players rushed at least 140 times. Only 14 of those averaged at least 6.5 highlight yards per opportunity, and of those 14, only seven had an opportunity rate (frequency of five-yard carries, basically) of at least 41 percent. Filtering out quarterbacks (Auburn's Nick Marshall and Ohio State's Braxton Miller) and mid-majors (Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon), that leaves us with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, LSU's Jeremy Hill, Missouri's Henry Josey, and Johnson. That's lovely company.
Gus Edwards was relatively efficient (and not at all explosive) as a freshman, and blue-chipper Joseph Yearby joins the rotation this fall. But Johnson will get as many touches as he can handle.
The new QB will also have a receiving corps that loses Hurns but returns three explosive wideouts in sophomore Stacy Coley (who averaged an elite 11.8 yards per target), junior Herb Waters (9.0), and senior Phillip Dorsett (11.3). Coley lived up to blue-chip hype as a true freshman, and tight end Clive Walford has some explosive potential as well.
Miami still needs a quarterback, but we at least know the floor for the offense will be pretty high with this supporting cast.
|Duke Johnson||RB||5'9, 206||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||145||920||6||6.3||6.5||43.4%|
|Gus Edwards||RB||6'2, 235||So.||3 stars (5.6)||66||338||5||5.1||3.9||43.9%|
|De'Andre Johnson||RB||5'8, 196||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||5||21||0||4.2||1.3||60.0%|
|Walter Tucker||FB||6'0, 218||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Joseph Yearby||RB||5'9, 191||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Clive Walford||TE||6'4, 263||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||50||34||454||68.0%||14.0%||78.3%||9.1||53||9.3||94.9|
|Stacy Coley||WR||6'1, 185||So.||4 stars (5.9)||50||33||591||66.0%||14.0%||40.0%||11.8||196||12.5||123.5|
|Herb Waters||SLOT||6'2, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||45||28||406||62.2%||12.6%||61.9%||9.0||61||7.5||84.8|
|Dallas Crawford||RB||5'9, 206||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||24||20||171||83.3%||6.7%||50.0%||7.1||-43||6.2||35.7|
|Phillip Dorsett||WR||5'10, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||24||13||272||54.2%||6.7%||47.8%||11.3||100||12.4||56.8|
|Malcolm Lewis||SLOT||6'0, 193||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||19||7||71||36.8%||5.3%||60.0%||3.7||-46||1.7||14.8|
|Beau Sandland||TE||6'6, 255||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||13||9||94||69.2%||3.6%||N/A||7.2||-11||0.0||19.6|
|Duke Johnson||RB||5'9, 206||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||6||4||77||66.7%||1.7%||66.7%||12.8||29||11.3||16.1|
|Rashawn Scott||WR||6'2, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||5||3||38||60.0%||1.4%||N/A||7.6||0||0.0||7.9|
|D'Mauri Jones||WR||6'4, 196||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Standish Dobard||TE||6'4, 260||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Braxton Berrios||WR||5'9, 181||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Brandon Linder||RG||39||2nd All-ACC|
|Jon Feliciano||LG||6'5, 320||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||33|
|Shane McDermott||C||6'4, 296||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||23|
|Ereck Flowers||LT||6'6, 322||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||18|
|Hunter Wells||LG||6'6, 312||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Danny Isidora||RG||6'4, 316||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Alex Gall||C||6'5, 306||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Sunny Odogwu||RT||6'8, 324||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|KC McDermott||LT||6'6, 308||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Trevor Darling||RG||6'5, 315||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. More than half of a great line is gone
It took a while for Miami to settle on a line in 2013. The Hurricanes started five different combinations of linemen in their first six games, then started a sixth combination after FSU, but despite a total lack of continuity, the line held up. Miami's was one of only two offenses in the country to rank in the top 15 of both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate (the other: NIU), and given both Duke Johnson's injury and Miami's aggressive downfield passing, that's incredible.
Of the seven players who finished the season with starting experience, however, four are gone. The left side of the line is still intact with the return of guard Jon Feliciano and tackle Ereck Flowers. Those two and center Shane McDermott have combined for 74 career starts, but there's work to do on the right side, and there's no semblance of a proven second string. It's not a guaranteed problem, but it's a red flag.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.2%||90||Succ. Rt. +||91.7||95|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.1||43||Off. FP+||99.5||68|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||74||Redzone S&P+||99.1||64|
|Q1 Rk||90||1st Down Rk||92|
|Q2 Rk||79||2nd Down Rk||93|
|Q3 Rk||69||3rd Down Rk||88|
6. A train wreck on passing downs
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio has been Al Golden's right hand man for a while. That he was able to mold a Temple defense into a top-60 unit (52nd in Def. F/+ in 2008, 56th in 2009) would, in theory, suggest that he could craft a top-30 unit with greater talent at Miami. To put it kindly, that has not been the case. D'Onofrio inherited a defense that had ranked 12th in 2010, and in three years, the Hurricanes have fallen to 73rd, then 88th, then 91st.
Again, things got a lot worse after the FSU game last fall, but at its best this was a slightly above average unit. And even before FSU, this defense suffered an inexcusable number of breakdowns on passing downs. The pass rush was decent, but the pass defense was both inefficient and leaky. Miami ranked 116th in Passing Downs S&P+. That just cannot happen.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Anthony Chickillo||DE||6'4, 277||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||13||35.5||4.8%||7.5||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Olsen Pierre||DT||6'5, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||25.5||3.5%||1.0||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Tyriq McCord||DE||6'3, 248||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||13||10.0||1.4%||4.0||4.0||2||1||3||0|
|Ufomba Kamalu||DE||6'6, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||9||9.0||1.2%||3.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Al-Quadin Muhammad||DE||6'4, 242||So.||4 stars (6.0)||13||7.5||1.0%||2.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jelani Hamilton||DT||6'5, 290||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||4||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Earl Moore||DT||6'1, 304||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Corey King||DT||6'1, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Calvin Heurtelou||DT||6'3, 318||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Michael Wyche||DT||6'3, 325||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Chad Thomas||DE||6'5, 255||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Trent Harris||DE||6'2, 242||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Anthony Moten||DT||6'4, 292||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Demetrious Jackson||DE||6'5, 225||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
7. Blood transfusion up front
Of course, passing downs issues would have been an even bigger deal if Miami had actually forced more passing downs. But with a defensive front that ranked 112th in Adj. Line Yards and 118th in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line), passing downs were often few and far between. There was plenty of experience and plenty of former four-star recruits on the Miami line last year, but it stunk regardless.
In this sense, it's probably a good thing that, of the 10 linemen who logged at least 7.5 tackles last year, five are gone. It offers opportunities for new blood. Now we just have to see if that new blood is any good. Junior college tackles Calvin Heurtelou and Michael Wyche have plenty of size to offer, and five-star end Chad Thomas could be an immediate contributor. Sophomore Al-Quadin Muhammad is a bit undersized but could be a potential weakside weapon; 2.0 of his 7.5 tackles were sacks. Combined with decent-but-unspectacular seniors Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre and other well-regarded newcomers, you've got the makings of a strong unit.
But on paper, last year's unit should have been pretty strong too. There's a pretty high burden of proof here.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Denzel Perryman||MLB||6'0, 242||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||88.5||12.0%||5.0||1.5||0||3||1||0|
|Thurston Armbrister||OLB||6'3, 235||Jr.||NR||13||29.0||3.9%||5.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Figueroa||OLB||6'3, 242||So.||NR||9||14.5||2.0%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Raphael Kirby||MLB||6'1, 235||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||13||9.0||1.2%||2.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jermaine Grace||OLB||6'1, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||6.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|JaWand Blue||MLB||6'0, 232||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Darrion Owens||OLB||6'3, 235||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Juwon Young||MLB||6'2, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ladarius Gunter||CB||6'2, 198||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||41.0||5.6%||2||0||3||9||1||0|
|Rayshawn Jenkins||S||6'1, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||38.0||5.2%||1||0||3||5||0||0|
|Antonio Crawford||CB||5'11, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||29.5||4.0%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Tracy Howard||CB||5'11, 184||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||13||28.5||3.9%||1||0||4||1||1||0|
|Deon Bush||S||6'1, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||11||27.0||3.7%||2||2||1||1||1||0|
|Artie Burns||CB||6'0, 198||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||16.0||2.2%||0.5||0||1||3||1||0|
|Kacy Rodgers II||CB||12||14.0||1.9%||1||1||1||0||1||0|
|Nantambu-Akil Fentress||S||5'9, 193||Sr.||NR||13||9.0||1.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Corn Elder||CB||5'10, 182||So.||4 stars (5.9)||10||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nate Dortch||DB||5'11, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||6||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dallas Crawford||S||5'10, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jamal Carter||S||6'1, 207||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Kiy Hester||DB||6'0, 201||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
8. No excuses in the back
Miami's secondary was definitely too young to be elite in 2013. Of the top seven tacklers, four were sophomores, one was a freshman, and only one was a senior.
But the combination of high recruiting rankings -- for players like Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, Artie Burns, and Corn Elder -- and disturbingly awful passing downs numbers made this unit a crushing disappointment. There were plenty of hints of play-making potential -- the top six returnees combined for 6.5 tackles for loss, 13 interceptions, and 22 break-ups -- but the glitches were enormous. If this unit improves with experience, there's plenty of upside, but again, a unit that allowed 141 passes of 10+ yards (119th in the country) and 46 of 20+ yards (92nd) faces all the burden of proof.
You can put together one hell of a highlight reel with the big plays this defense made in 2013, but you can put together an even longer one of the plays opposing offenses made. No excuses in 2014.
|Matt Goudis||6'0, 172||Jr.||4||64.3||1||0||25.0%|
|Matt Goudis||6'0, 172||Jr.||57-57||11-12||91.7%||2-5||40.0%|
|Stacy Coley||KR||6'1, 185||So.||22||25.9||1|
|Duke Johnson||KR||5'9, 206||Jr.||14||28.3||0|
|Stacy Coley||PR||6'1, 185||So.||10||22.0||1|
|Phillip Dorsett||PR||5'10, 185||Sr.||9||6.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||42|
|Field Goal Efficiency||67|
|Punt Return Efficiency||32|
|Kick Return Efficiency||107|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||64|
9. Efficiency vs. explosiveness, special teams edition
Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson each averaged more than 25 yards per kick return in 2013, which is top-notch. But Miami ranked 107th in Kick Return Efficiency because of the all-or-nothing nature of the returns. Trading away a couple of 50-yard returns for more 25-yard returns might work in Miami's favor in the field position battle, and the Hurricanes could use the extra field position help thanks to the departure of punter and kickoffs guy Pat O'Donnell.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|4-Oct||at Georgia Tech||44|
|23-Oct||at Virginia Tech||19|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||10.9% (29)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||25|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||5 / 3.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. The road will tell the tale
No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I balk at the names on the quarterbacks list, I just cannot be worried about the Miami offense. There's too much proven talent at the skill positions, and the line should still be solid, if not quite as good as last year. The offense will score.
But as they say, defense travels. And considering most of Miami's bigger games are on the road in 2014 -- Louisville, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech -- the Hurricanes' fortunes in 2014 will probably be tied to defensive competence. There just wasn't enough of it in 2013. The line wasn't talented enough, and the secondary suffered a glitch for every good play. The front of the defense gets some new blood, and the back is far more experienced, but there's a very good chance that defense will hold the Hurricanes back again this fall. The question is how much.
To have a chance at the division title, Miami might need to only win one of the three conference road games listed above (Louisville, GT, VT). But to have a legitimate chance at their first 10-win season since 2003 (yep, 2003), the Hurricanes might need to win two. Is that actually a possibility? Can the defense improve that much? Probably not.
Expectations are a funny thing for Miami right now. A series of strong recruiting classes have offset the uncertainty of lengthy Nevin Shapiro investigation, and Al Golden will probably get less benefit-of-the-doubt moving forward. His offense will give him a chance against basically anybody not named Florida State, but unless he gets things figured out on defense, he's going to struggle to clear a rising bar.