By now, you've thumbed through the magazines, read the predictions (The Canes were picked third in Coastal Division of the ACC preseason poll) and played at least half of the Canes' season on NCAA Football 2009 on your PS3 or XBox 360. Along the way, you've probably wanted to punch pundit Phil Steele in the face (he's the guy who replaced the Canes among the state's Big 3 on his preseason magazine cover with South Florida). And you've also probably heard about the new team motto this season in Coral Gables: "No excuses."
Well, with the start of fall camp (Aug. 2) and Canes media day (Aug. 1) a little more than a week away now, it's time for me to get back to work. And what better way than feeding you my own predictions and position breakdowns to get you ready for Camp Shannon, Take 2. A year ago, new coach Randy Shannon told reporters and a crowd of 3,000 at Canesfest Miami "wouldn't just be thinking about an ACC championship, but the national championship." Call it a simple rookie mistake. Monday in Greensboro, Ga., the only thing Shannon promised reporters: "we'll be better than we were last year."
Canes fans should appreciate this year's preseason prediction from Shannon -- because unlike last year's this one isn't full of testosterone and pride. It's from a coach who learned a lot through a tough first season. Those who wear green and orange glasses fulltime, though (and you know who you are), shouldn't confuse "we'll be better" to with much better than last year's 5-7 season (the worst at UM in nearly 30 years). These Canes will just be better.
And the root of Miami's improvement won't be because as Jason Fox put it Sunday "the cancers are gone." Or, because everyone on the team is now wearing linebacker Glenn Cook's wristbands that read 'No Excuses'. Or, because a new seven player council will be laying down the law and policing the misfits. The reason UM will be better this season is because of what I could only say should be the team's 2008 slogan -- UM Football 2008, We've Finally Got Some Guys That Can Play Quarterback Again.
OK, so Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have never thrown a pass in college. So what? It didn't take anyone with two working eyeballs very long this spring to see both can play the position better than what Miami had under center the last three seasons. Say what you want about Kirby Freeman's game-winning drive against FSU or the few times Kyle Wright was able to connect with a receiver downfield in his career. Freeman and Wright combined to throw 15 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions last season. Quarterback U finished dead last in passing in the ACC and 108th out of 119 teams in the big boy college football division. And an offense without a triggerman is like getting on a plane without a pilot. You aren't going to get very far rolling down the runway.
Last year, you could have put Walter Payton, Barry Sanders or even Bo Jackson's video game character from Tecmo Bowl in the backfield last season and that offense still wouldn't have produced much more than it did. Yes, the passers and playmakers will be young this year. But at least they will be available for use (they were injured or in high school last year) and that will make a difference. It will be enough, at least, to net a few more W's. In the end, I'm calling for an 8-5 season (including a trip to a bowl game) and plenty of optimism heading into 2009 by season's end.
Aug. 28, Charleston Southern, W 52-14
Sept. 6, @Florida, L 34-10
Sept. 20, @Texas A&M, L 27-24
Sept. 27, North Carolina, W 20-16
Oct. 4, Florida State, W 28-26
Oct. 11, UCF, W 31-21
Oct. 18, @Duke, W 30-23
Oct. 25, Wake Forest, L 27-24
Nov. 1, @Virginia, W 23-17
Nov. 13, Virginia Tech, L 17-10
Nov. 20, @Georgia Tech, L 14-10
Nov. 29, @N.C. State, W 35-20
Dec. 26, Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Miami will beat Penn State, 30-24
- The highpoint will be: Bouncing back from a 1-2 start with three straight wins at home over Butch Davis and North Carolina, the Noles and then UCF. And then winning on the road at N.C. State to clinch a trip to a bowl game.
- The lowpoint will be: Hearing it from Gator fans after they pick up their first win over Miami since Randy Shannon's freshman season at Miami in 1985.
- Offensive MVPs: Javarris James and Graig Cooper. It's hard to see the Canes giving this award to only one player this season especially since I believe Cooper will lead the team in rushing and James will lead the team in scoring and receptions. It was quite evident in the spring offensive coordinator Patrick Nix wanted to get the ball in both of their hands. Expect to see a lot of screen passes and quick outlet passes to both players this season, something Miami didn't do enough of in '07 when the duo combined for only 27 catches, 229 yards and only 1 touchdown.
- Defensive MVP: Randy Phillips. The one thing new defensive coordinator Bill Young is going to create with his young defense this season is turnovers and well as opportunities to score on them. Phillips, who has been itching to be a defensive playmaker his entire career, will be the beneficiary and will parlay a great senior season at safety intercepting passes and making plays into making at least the second or third round of the NFL Draft in April. Phillips, by the way, led the team last season with three picks.
- Freshman Of The Year: Sean Spence. Considering the Canes played 10 freshmen last year and will play nearly as many this season, giving this award out isn't easy. But I've watched Spence play since his freshman year of high school and have been blown away with how much he knows the game. This kid had all the talent in the world and I expect him to be starting by the end of this season if not outright in the fall. I think he'll be the second-leading tackler on the team behind Colin McCarthy (the best LB). His former Northwestern teammates, quarterback Jacory Harris, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and receiver Aldarius Johnson will be right behind him when it comes to production.
- Sophomore Of The Year: DeMarcus Van Dyke. He started as a true freshman and more than looked the part in the spring, putting on some muscle and weight and looking like a guy who could be headed to the NFL early. I think Van Dyke has a huge sophomore season and starts opposite Bruce Johnson with Chavez Grant and freshman Brandon Harris working in the mix at corner.
- Biggest Surprise: Joel Figueroa. Ok, so maybe it won't be that much of a surprise considering he already was making huge strides in the spring. But I think Figueroa is going to be a solid starter for the Canes at guard and will be one of the guys on the line counted on most heading into 2009 after Jason Fox (the Offensive Lineman of the Year) caps a great junior season by heading to the pros early.
- Best Receiver: Sam Shields. I'm going to be optimistic on this one because most of us in the business aren't. Despite all his off field issues, Shields still finished second on the team in receiving last year with 27 catches for 346 yards and 3 TDs. If he can keep himself on the field and out of Shannon's doghouse, then he'll be the go-to-guy on third downs on this team. If not, look for a solid seasons from Kayne Farquharson, Leonard Hankerson and a few good rookie seasons from freshmen Aldarius Johnson, Travis Benjamin and Laron Byrd.
- Best Defensive Lineman: Eric Moncur. Allen Bailey's pectoral injury will probably be the only thing that slows him down a bit enough to allow Moncur to be the team's most productive defensive lineman. Moncur, who made the big sack against Duke last year and plays with Bryan Pata's wristbands on every Saturday, is the tyep of guy who will quietly have a stellar senior season. It's going to be a tough, learning season for guys like Adewale Ojomo, Forston and Miami's other incoming freshman lineman. But Moncur will provide a solid foundation of leadership.
- Best Special Teamer: Damien Berry. After being moved from safety to running back in the spring, Berry will find himself sitting behind JJ and SuperCooper and likely Shawnbrey McNeal waiting for carries. In the meantime, he'll continue to play like the special teams demon he showed flashes of being last year. I'm calling for two blocked punts and several bone-jarring hits on kickoffs.
FOR U... OK, so now it's your turn to have a little fun. I want to get some feedback from you guys with your picks for these same awards as well as your predicitions for the season. And while you are at it, leave me some questions you'd like for me to ask players or coaches when camp opens.