With a cloud of controversy hovering overhead, the embattled Miami-Florida Hurricanes will take the field on Monday evening to battle the Maryland Terrapins in ACC action.
When Al Golden decided to leave Temple and accept the vacant head coaching position at the University of Miami, he had no idea what he was walking into. Imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro began diming out past and current Hurricanes to whom he provided significant gifts, both cash and otherwise, over a nearly decade-long period. As a result, Golden plays this opener without several key members of his team, as the school beat the NCAA to the punch by declaring the individuals ineligible.
Like Miami, Maryland has a new head coach in the person of Randy Edsall, who jumped ship from the University of Connecticut. Edsall replaced the immensely popular Ralph Friedgen, who led the Terps to a 9-4 record last season and earned ACC Coach of the Year honors, not exactly the type of results that warrant a firing. Clearly, the Maryland brass will accept nothing short of excellence, and with seven starters back on both offense and defense, Edsall has some significant talent with which to work.
Miami took an 8-7 series lead over Maryland with a 26-20 triumph over the Terps last season.
Quarterback Jacory Harris is one of the eight Miami players ruled ineligible, and the offense will undoubtedly miss his leadership if the suspension is upheld. Harris had an up-and-down junior campaign, completing just over 54 percent of his passes, for 1,793 yards with 14 TDs and 15 INTs. Sophomore Stephen Morris finished his freshman season with 1,240 passing yards, and he has the talent to guide the Miami offense to success in place of Harris.
Wideout Travis Benjamin (43 receptions, 743 yards, three TDs) has also been ruled ineligible, so LaRon Byrd (41 receptions, 441 yards, one TD) will have to step up as the top target on the outside.
Keep an eye on Lamar Miller in the ground attack, as he showcased his big-play potential last year by averaging 6.0 yards per carry en route to Third-Team Freshman All-American honors.
Just as the Hurricanes will miss Harris on the offensive side of the ball, linebacker Sean Spence will leave a gaping hole in the defense if he is not reinstated by kickoff. With 111 tackles a year ago, including 14.5 TFL, Spence has already shown his first-round ability to NFL scouts.
Safeties Ray-Ray Armstrong (79 tackles, 4.5 TFL, three INTs) and Vaughn Telemaque (58 tackles, three INTs) were supposed to be part of one of the nation’s top secondaries, but both are members of the ineligible list.
Maryland lost its top two playmakers from last season’s offense, but the club does welcome back ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien under center. O’Brien started 10 games for the Terps and finished with 2,438 yards passing and 22 TDs, outstanding numbers for a freshman.
“He’s a rare individual,” says Edsall of his signal caller. “I haven’t been around a lot of guys like Danny in terms of how he prepares, how he studies, and how important the game is to him.”
The team also returns leading rusher Davin Meggett (720 yards, four TDs) and scoring machine D.J. Adams (11 TDs) to the backfield.
“I told him he needs to be ready to be a work horse,” said Edsall of Meggett. “I think he relishes that opportunity and he needs to be a complete running back.”
While the Maryland defense returns seven starters as mentioned, arguably the two best players from the 2010 unit are gone. In an effort to assuage the losses, the Terps are moving All-America candidate Kenny Tate (6-4, 220) from free safety to Star (a LB/S tweener). Tate (100 tackles, 3.5 sacks last season) is a dynamic defender who is a difference-maker, but he won’t be able to do it alone.
Up front, the Terrapins will rely on the inside play of tackles A.J. Francis (44 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Joe Vellano (63 tackles, five sacks). The loss of a player of Tate’s caliber would cripple most secondaries, but Maryland still has playmakers in the defensive backfield, highlighted by two-year starter Cameron Chism (5-10, 190) at cornerback.
Is it possible that Miami will overcome all of the turmoil and put forth a winning effort on the road in an early conference game? Sure it is, but that still seems a bit unlikely. Edsall’s debut will be a successful one, as O’Brien will be the best quarterback on the field.
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