by Gary Olshan Chief Analyst

Although second-year HC Al Golden has been proactive in working with the NCAA, to the point of self-imposing a bowl last year, there is no telling what the organization will do to punish the school, especially after a shocking series of new allegations, this time against Golden and assistant Michael Barrow by former equipment room staffer Sean “Pee Wee” Allen, who also reported the original set of charges aginst UM that has affected the athletic department and the football program for more than a year now. In those charges, Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro claimed violations that involved more than 70 former and current Hurricane athletes.

Nevertheless, undaunted Golden is optimistic about the upcoming campaign when asserting, “Overall. as a team I think we’re much stronger than we were, I think our conditioning is better after we were pushed around at times last year. A lot of guys changed their diet, our body weight is good and our strength is markedly better than a year ago. We don’t have a lot of Achilles’ heels this year. And we were a top-10 recruiting class despite the things that happened and despite the bowl ban.” Former Miami head honcho and now-retired Howard Schnellenberger was gushing after watching the team work out in the spring, “That’s the best physically looking football team I have ever seen in my life, pro and college,” he exclaimed. OK, that statement might be a bit hyperbolic. But while the NCAA will soon hand down some serious sanctions, we expect Golden to have his athletic, harder-working (and stronger) bunch ready to compete on a high level, week-to-week. Remember, in last season’s mediocre 6-6 campaign, the Hurricanes only managed back-to-back wins only once, but they were a “tough-out” every week, with all six defeats coming by eight points or fewer!

The final of Miami’s final spring game was Orange 7, Green. 6. The spring’s offensive struggles were exacerbated by TB Lamar Miller, WR Tommy Streeter and LT Brandon Washington leaving early for the NFL. But part of the reason for minimal production was partially due to the absence of QB Stephen Morris (left; 26 of 37 LY with two ints. in 2011; 1, 240 YP, with seven TDs & nine picks in 2010)., who has elite arm strength, but needs to make better decisions. Morris underwent back surgery but is ready to go in the fall. That gave Ryan Williams, who started 10 games for Memphis as a freshman in 2010, an opportunity to make his case to be the triggerman of an attack (26.5 ppg LY) that returns only four starters. Golden was impressed with his performance when saying, “He’ doing a good job. He’s very smart He’s a bright, drop-back passer.”

After waiting for three seasons, unspectacular RB Mike James (only 3.8 ypc in 72 totes)--who came on strong at the end of last season--gets his shot, but there is great anticipation for the arrival of frosh Randy “Duke” Johnson (70 TDs in his illustrious prep career), one of the big prizes in the 2012 recruiting class. Hurricanes lost their top two WRs, but return a couple of quality targets in sophs Rawshawn Scott, Philip Dorsett and jr. Allen Hurns (left; 31 grabs LY). Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch says he expects his TEs to double their production from last season, when the position accounted for only 29 catches. Some concerns exist on a rebuilding OL returning only two starters, including Jon Feliciano, who is making the move from RT to RG.

Golden was extremely pleased with the performance of the defense (5 starters back on unit that allowed 20.1 ppg LY) in the spring when he exclaimed, "I was pleased with the way the defense ran to the ball and was physical,” Golden said. “I’ve been waiting for that for about a year-and-half.” In three spring games, Miami had seven interceptions after amassing only six last season, with only one coming from a CB. The secondary also allowed a whopping 66.3% completions, which struggled to make third-down stops. The DL is woefully thin of experience (there is only one scholarship senior!), with the best of the group blossoming soph DE Anthony Chickillo (right, chasing down Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington), who is solid pass-rusher.with a non-stop motor. The interior should be stouter vs. the run this season, with the return of 6-1, 300-pound DT Curtis Porter, who is at full strength afer missing all but two games last year. Golden believes last season’s WLB Denzel Washington is ready to take over at MLB for departed Sean Spence (team-leading 106 tackles,1 4 for loss LY), while senior OLB Ramon Buchanan is ready to pick up where he left off after missing the final 8 games after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the fourth outing. And you can be sure the skillful but under-performing senior CB Brandon McGee and safeties Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque are primed to end their careers with NFL scouts taking notice after they found themselves demoted on the depth chart at various times fo not making plays, poor tackling or having off-field issues. PK Jake Wieclaw (11 of 14 FGs last year) and punter Dalton Botts (42.7 yards per punt; second in ACC) are proven commodities.

Summary...Although the cloud of possible NCAA sanctions continues to hang over the Hurricanes, Golden and this staff are doing what is necessary to turn the program’s fortunes around. Though the offense is not blessed with a surfeit of proven skill performers, we do think the young, eager attack could transform into a more consistent (if not more explosive) unit behind a maturing Stephen Morris (or Ryan Williams). The defense has a solid cast of playmakers in the back seven, and if the youthful front wall lives up to the coaches expectations, the stop unit could trim its ppg allowance from 2011. The schedule does force Golden’s squad--which enters 2012 with less buzz than any team since the 1970s--to become unified right away, with road games vs. hungry Boston College, resurgent Kansas State and Georgia Tech in the first four weeks.


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