The Canes wrapped up a 9-3 season -- better than most expected -- with arguably its second-best performance of the season after Georgia Tech. There is a lot to be excited about if you bleed orange and green, for instance:
-- UM now has a shot at finishing with double digit wins for the first time since 2003.
-- The team avoided its recent tradition of late-season slippage. The 3-1 effort this month marked the first time since 2005 UM finished the last month of the regular season with a winning record. UM had been 3-9 in the previous three Novembers combined. With the win, the Canes also finished undefeated in non-conference play (4-0) in the regular season for the first time since 2005.
-- The Canes improved their bowl stock while other ACC teams (North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Clemson) slipped. With UNC losing, UM can claim to be the fourth best team overall in the conference behind Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Boston College also finished 5-3.
There will be a lot more to reflect on over the next two weeks. As players focus on finals and private workouts for the next 14 days, my plan is to provide a regular season report card, some recruiting updates, player rankings and to get a few days off myself. But for now, here is the final report card of the regular season.
> Quarterback: He still didn't have a lot of zip on his passes because his thumb is still aching and he caught a few breaks (his TD pass to Dedrick Epps was intended for Travis Benjamin), but Jacory Harris played his first turnover free game since UCF. He finished 11 of 21 (his fewest attempts of the year) for 161 yards (the second fewest yards this season) and two touchdowns and did a much better job with his decision making than in previous weeks, opting for safer passes most of the game. The most unique thing about this game was that this was the first time all year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple didn't put the weight of the offense on Harris' shoulders. In fact, the disparity in run plays (47) to passes (22) was the largest gap of the season. Grade: A
> Running backs: What else can you say about Damien Berry? He's proven over the past month he's the best player in UM's backfield. Saturday was no different. He ran for 114 yards on 12 carries, but saw his scoring streak snapped at seven games. Junior Graig Cooper had a good game himself, finished with 83 yards on 16 carries. Javarris James had 37 on 11 carries and two touchdowns. The 240 yards on the ground were the second most this season (UM had 268 vs. Virginia) and marked the third time this year UM topped 200. USF came in ranked 44th nationally against the run. Grade: A
> Receivers/tight ends: With the running game working so well, UM's receivers basically got a much deserved night off. Leonard Hankerson capped a stellar regular season with two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown to become the only Canes receiver to catch a pass in all 12 games. Dedrick Epps had a drop early in the game on third down, but bounced back with an excuse-me touchdown. From the strange stat category: Aldarius Johnson (2 catches), LaRon Byrd (2 catches) and Travis Benjamin (3 catches) -- considered by most to be UM's top three receivers entering the season -- have combined to make seven catches over the final two games. I think that just shows you how deep UM really is with pass catchers. Remember what it was like when Larry Coker was here? Grade: B+
> Offensive line: By far the biggest props from Saturday have to go to Orlando Franklin and Brandon Washington, who proved they could protect Jacory's Blind Side (Great movie by the way). Not only did Franklin dominate two-time All-American defensive end George Selvie in his first start at left tackle, he helped paved the way for a solid UM ground game. Harris was sacked once and pressured once. So, the other guys did their job for the most part too. The ugly: Five false start penalties. Grade: B+
> Front seven: There were plenty of tense moments when BJ Daniels was scrambling around Saturday. But for the most part, the Canes did their job, holding USF to 143 yards rushing and creating enough pressure to help out the secondary. Linebacker Darryl Sharpton continued his dominance by matching his career-high from a week ago with 12 tackles. He also forced a fumble safety Randy Phillips recovered and led to a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Ramon Buchanon quietly had a solid game with five tackles including 1.5 for loss. Colin McCarthy, Steven Wesley and Sean Spence all had sacks to match a team season high. Even with a few long Daniels runs, this was without question UM's best defensive effort up front since Georgia Tech. Grade: B+
> Secondary: It wasn't their best game statistically, but it definitely felt like the best UM's secondary had played all season. Brandon Harris continued a stellar sophomore season by getting his hands on his second interception of the season. He also batted away another pass. USF's passing game wasn't among the nation's best. But the Bulls still had plenty of skilled playmakers at receiver who didn't do much at all. Of the six pass completions for USF, three went to receivers. That's called lockdown D. Grade: A+
> Special teams: Not much to complain about other than long kickoff return for a touchdown Matt Bosher had to prevent with his sixth tackle of the season. Bosher also had two punts bounce into the end zone after only having five go for touchbacks in the regular season. It's amazing how you have to zero in on the little things to find mistakes when it comes to Bosher, who finished the year 14 of 16 on field goals and second in the ACC in punting (42.7 avg). He's become almost as legendary as Chuck Norris or Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World.
> Coaching: Yes, there were a few more of those head scratching time outs because the right personnel weren't on the field. But when you are up big you can afford to use them. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland gets the game ball this week for showing us he could get Orlando Franklin (first start at LT) and Brandon Washington (first career start) ready for a big game. Randy Shannon gets a helmet sticker for having his team ready to play from the get-go. USF had every reason to be up for this game -- home sellout, recruiting. The Canes were the only team who really showed up. Grade: A.
> Uniforms: I didn't love them, but they weren't the worst uniforms I've seen. They just seemed to be a little too plain. I would have like to have seen more color (green or orange) on the shoulder pads and pants. But the numbers and gloves looked really cool to me. Grade: C+