2014 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Key Players: Brad Kaaya, Joseph Yearby, Deon Bush, Jermaine Grace, Artie Burns
Al Golden has heard the criticism the past few seasons, but plenty of folks including the Miami administration have had his back and supported him as he helped lead the program through an NCAA investigation and subsequent sanctions.
Now in his fifth season leading the Canes, Golden has a team of his players and the looming cloud of NCAA backlash has dissipated. That means the pressure on him will increase and the critical whispers will turn to shouts if his 2014 campaign isn’t successful.
Brad Kaaya surprised everyone last season by skyrocketing from an afterthought on the preseason QB depth chart to a bona fide true freshman star. Kaaya completed 58.5% of his passes for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Even with the budding star QB returning, Miami has to replace All-ACC tailback Duke Johnson, top receiver Phillip Dorsett, tight end Clive Walford who was second on the team in receptions in 2014, and three starters on the offensive line including blindside protector Ereck Flowers.
Gus Edwards was one of the likely replacements for Johnson but he’s now out for the year after suffering a torn foot ligament late in preseason camp.
“We feel badly for Gus,” head coach Al Golden told the media this week. “I’m disappointed for him. He worked really hard. He’s going to be back. He’s in great spirits. But it’s a great opportunity for the other three guys to step up and execute.”
Edwards will be replaced with a combination of the much Joe Yearby, true freshman Mark Walton, and former high school quarterback Trayone Gray. Clearly, the Canes will rely heavily on Brad Kaaya, who was named the ACC Rookie of the Year as a true freshman QB in 2014. The weapons around Kaaya will still be talented as they always are in Coral Gables, but they’ll be very young and unproven as opposed to a bunch of potential NFL starters.
On defense the Canes must replace Denzel Perryman who was one of my favorite players in the conference last season. The linebacker was the leader in the middle serving as a crucial lynchpin for a unit that despite some rough outings against Nebraska and Georgia Tech, still finished 14th in the nation in total defense. The corners are solid with Corn Elder and Artie Burns while Jermaine Grace hopes to fill some of the void at linebacker after making 60 tackles last season as a backup.
The Hurricanes lost a ton of talent to the NFL from a team that only finished 6-7 in 2014. It’s hard to get overly bullish on this year’s group simply because there are so many unknowns. Will a young offensive line gel and protect its star QB? Can a tailback separate himself and lead a strong running attack? Will the defense be strong enough up the middle?
Overall, it appears that Miami is in the same position as most preseasons in recent memory. They have loads of talent, it’s just matter of getting everyone to execute consistently enough to win games.