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2013 ACC Previews: Miami

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Miami running back Duke Johnson, along with quarterback Stephen Morris, give the Hurricanes one of the top RB/QB combos in the country, but will that be enough to in the up-for-grabs ACC Coastal Division? Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images.
Miami running back Duke Johnson, along with quarterback Stephen Morris, give the Hurricanes one of the top RB/QB combos in the country, but will that be enough to in the up-for-grabs ACC Coastal Division? Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images.

As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. We will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. Next up is Miami.

Head Coach: Al Golden (third season)

Last Season: 2012 was much like 2011 for the Hurricanes, with the only major difference being they went to war with a large group of underclassmen a year ago en route to a 7-5 record. Once again, the Hurricanes appeared miles behind major FBS teams, getting embarrassed in games against Kansas State, Notre Dame and Florida State. Miami secured wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech and, thanks to North Carolina’s postseason ban, the Hurricanes qualified for the ACC title game. Miami chose not to participate in the postseason for a second straight season, hoping to soften the blow the NCAA is nearly ready to hand down. It will be interesting to see what the punishment is, and how the team reacts during the season ahead.

Key Losses: In short: Not many. Twenty starters return to the team along with a slew of others who got playing time. Workhorse back Mike James is the only major loss the Hurricanes suffered.

What To Expect On Offense: Last season, the Hurricanes used a balanced attack under Jedd Fisch with West Coast concepts designed on utilizing a solid running game and quick throws to playmakers on the outside with the occasional big play mixed in. Fisch is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars and it's up to James Coley to create an offense capable of competing with the toughest teams on the schedule. Coley isn’t going to change much, but may increase the tempo at some stages when the matchups on the field dictate. Quarterback Stephen Morris made strides last year, but his inconsistencies were on hand against Notre Dame and Florida State. Despite his excellent stats (3,345 yards, 21 touchdowns, seven interceptions), he completed just 58 percent of his throws and his inaccuracy sometimes is startling. He will have plenty of weapons at his disposal this season, including juniors Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott.  The offensive line could be one of the best in the country.

The Hurricanes also have some guy in the running for the Heisman Trophy in the backfield who set a school freshman record for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry and is capable of taking the football to the house whenever he touches it, whether that be rushing receiving or returning. Too bad I can’t remember his name.

What To Expect On Defense: Miami’s defense was a catastrophe in 2012, ranking behind even Duke in many defensive categories. The Hurricanes ranked 116th (out of 120) in yards per game against (486.3) and finished at the bottom of nearly every ACC defensive statistic. Twenty-four players started at least one game, most of them freshmen and sophomores. Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job, which probably is a good thing for a developing group. Establishing some sort of continuity is vital.

Defensive end Anthony Chickillo played well as a freshman in 2011, but failed to develop a consistent game last year. The improvements on defense start on the line and he will be one of the main cogs if the Hurricanes contend.

Breakout Star: Raphael Kirby is a physical force that evokes many linebackers from years gone by. The position has been a headache both on and off the field of late — Golden has dismissed two linebackers from last season’s squad due to disciplinary issues. Like many freshman, Kirby was pressed into playing time but failed to make an impact. Playing with Jimmy Gaines (both are MLB but may split reps), who enjoyed a productive season last year, will help Kirby develop on the field.

Big Games: It seems that every year there is a big team on the Hurricanes’ schedule that serves as a proving ground game. If they win against team X, they will be “back.” Of course Miami is oh-for in that department for quite a while. Two games against teams in the Sunshine State, vs. Florida on Sept. 7 and at Florida State on Nov. 2, will be prime chances to amend that problem.  A Thursday night battle in Chapel Hill — everyone knows the record of road teams in those games — likely will determine the division champion.

Outlook: I was shocked when the media overwhelmingly chose Miami to capture the Coastal Division. Of course, the Hurricanes are one of few teams that can make it to Charlotte, but it is far from a given. Just because the entire team returns from an average ACC squad does not guarantee a massive step forward. Miami barely got by conference weaklings Duke and Boston College a year ago.

Fortunately for the Hurricanes, every team in the division is vulnerable. If Duke Johnson (that’s it!) can produce the offense he did last season, that might be enough to carry the team to Charlotte.

Predicted Record: 9-3, second ACC Coastal.