No, the season isn't officially over. Miami still has to play in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 27. But even coach Randy Shannon has said the next few weeks are basically the start of 2009. So, in honor of that motto, let's close the chapter on 2008.
Over the next couple of days my plan is to take a look at each unit, from the preseason expectations to what actually happened on the field. I'll give you a breakdown of who did well and who didn't, pick an MVP, a pleasant surprise and a biggest disappointment. And then, we'll peek ahead to '09 and what we should expect.
>THE PRESEASON HYPE: Shannon basically said this was going to be the strength of the team, pointing to the starting experience of four players -- Jason Fox, Chris Rutledge, Reggie Youngblood and Orlando Franklin. The big questions were who would emerge at center, how would the interior of the offensive line do after losing veterans to graduation and would Miami have enough depth to survive the season?
> WHAT HAPPENED: The Canes' Big Uglies didn't turn out to be the strength of the team like Shannon said, but they survived injuries to both of their starting tackles in Fox and Youngblood and still managed to win key games -- including against ACC champion Virginia Tech when Jason Fox was out. As a unit, UM surrendered 25 sacks (the same as 2007) and with the exception of the Virginia game really didn't draw many holding or false start penalties. Xavier Shannon, who transferred in from FIU, had his moments with a few high snaps at center, but was the only offensive lineman to start all 12 games. The running game certainly slipped a bit, averaging 130 yards -- 15 yards fewer a game than in '07. But part of the blame can go to the injury of running back Javarris James. OVERALL GRADE: B. It wasn't a great year, but a good one -- probably better than what they'll do in 2009.
> THE MVP: I got to give it to Xavier Shannon -- high snaps and all. Like I said, he was the only lineman to start all 12 games and he certainly filled a huge need. Where would have UM been this season without Xavier? Jason Fox is obviously the best of the bunch, but even he had a few mediocre moments with holding penalties. He did score a touchdown, however. First UM lineman to score since... shoot he might be the only one.
> WHERE UM SUCCEEDED: With the exception of Chris Barney's injury, Miami's offensive line battled through injuries and stayed relatively healthy the whole season. Yes, Youngblood played through pain all year. But Jason Fox started 11 games at left tackle and Rutledge played in all 12 games at right tackle, starting 10. Where Miami impressed me the most were in the wins at Virginia (overcoming the Fox injury and a ton of penalties) to pull out the come-from-behind win. A.J. Trump (THE PLEASANT SURPRISE WINNER) came back from two seasons of injuries and proved to be the next best breakthrough player after Xavier Shannon. Trump started the final nine games. Sophomore Orlando Franklin started 11 of the 12 games at left guard and had a solid season.
> WHERE UM FAILED: Developing enough experience for next season. Aside from Fox (33 starts), Franklin (14) and Trump (9), Miami will go into next season with guys who have hardly played. For the fourth year in a row, UM will go into the off-season having no clear-cut front runner for the starting center position. Trump could become that guy, but has become valuable at guard. Sophomore Joel Figueroa could be considered the biggest disappointment. He started three of the first four games of the season, but then appeared to have a drop off even though he played in all 12 games. Matt Pipho played in all 12 games, but didn't see any real action until the final three or four games of the season when Fox went down. Tyler Horn played in two games. And finally, has anyone seen or heard from Harland Gunn? This kid was the nation's eighth best center in the country coming out of high school in 2007 according to Rivals.com. But I'm on the verge of filing a missing person's report. I'm not even going to talk about Ian Symonette.
> THE COACHING: Jeff Stoutland has done a pretty good job getting at least one guy to overachieve in each of his two seasons here. Last year, it was Chris Rutledge. This year it was Trump. You'd think Figueroa or Gunn would have to be that guy next year. Either way, it's going to be another challenge for Stoutland, who obviously didn't have a lot to work with when he got here.
> LOOKING AHEAD TO '09: There's no question Miami is going to have to land some junior college kids who will be able to come in and play right away. Brandon Washington, who was a star in prep school this season after his great run at Miami Northwestern in '07, should contribute some. But there are still going to be major holes to plug -- center AND right tackle among them. Look for the Canes to nab a few guys over the next few weeks. I just don't expect any high-profile names. By the way, right now, Jacksonville's Cory White is the only current commitment outside of Washington who actually started on the offensive line this season. That's why the No. 1 recruiting priority right now is offensive line.