The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 44: Miami Hurricanes
Coach: Al Golden (22-15, entering fourth season; 49-49 overall)
2013 record: 9-4 (5-3 in ACC, tied for second in ACC Coastal Division)
Look back: The Hurricanes' biggest victory came off the field when it finally closed out the protracted NCAA investigation into former booster Nevin Shapiro's impermissible contact with UM athletes. The NCAA determined the school had already self-imposed enough penalties, clearing Miami to participate in postseason play.
Miami took steps forward, including a decisive victory over rival Florida and a 7-0 start. The team later took a few big steps back, with its defense struggling during the heart of ACC play. It didn't help that veteran starting quarterback Stephen Morris suffered a severe ankle injury early in the season that altered his throwing motion and limited his success for much of the year. Later in the year, star tailback Duke Johnson broke his ankle against rival Florida State. Miami lost three of its final five games without Johnson out of the lineup.
The team did enough to earn a bid to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, but the Hurricanes had no answers for Louisville star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and suffered a 36-9 loss.
Miami coach Al Golden vowed to improve the defense, but he declined to shake up his coaching staff. At one point, it appeared he was going to leave South Florida and take the Penn State head coaching job, but Vanderbilt's James Franklin ultimately accepted the job.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: QB Stephen Morris, OL Brandon Linder, OL Seantrel Henderson, WR Allen Hurns, P Pat O'Donnell
Top returnees: RB Duke Johnson, WR/PR/KR Stacy Coley, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo, OL Ereck Flowers, WR Phillip Dorsett
Strengths: Johnson has vowed to return and help his teammates get a dose of revenge when they face off with Louisville, a team that thrashed the Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl. He has worked to add muscle to his frame to help him better handle hits and is eager to make the case he should be an NFL Draft pick to benefit his family. His ultra-competitive spirit should give Miami a big boost.
Playmakers Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett and Artie Burns should all give the Hurricanes' offense a boost.
Golden said he has seen key improvement from the defense. It will be up to veteran linebacker Denzel Perryman to set the tone for the unit.
Weaknesses: Reserve quarterback Ryan Williams, who gained significant experience behind Morris, was expected to easily step into the starting role but he suffered a major knee injury late in spring football. He is battling to return quickly from the injury, but now Miami is counting on Kansas transfer Jake Heaps to adapt quickly to the Hurricanes' system and run the offense.
Miami also has to offset the loss of talented offensive linemen Brandon Linder and Seantrel Henderson.
Outlook: Golden has proven to be a strong recruiter who pushed young players into the spotlight early in his tenure. He should reap the rewards of those investments and the Hurricanes should contend for a Coastal Division title, but UM needs the defense to take a big developmental step forward and Heaps to step up as a solid game manger.
Sept. 1 at Louisville
Sept. 6 Florida A&M
Sept. 13 Arkansas State
Sept. 20 at Nebraska
Sept. 27 Duke
Oct. 4 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 11 Cincinnati
Oct. 23 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 1 North Carolina
Nov. 15 Florida State
Nov. 22 at Virginia
Nov. 29 Pitt
Previously revealed on the countdown:
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