I had a phone interview (right before UM met FAU in the opener) with ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, regarded as one of the best in the business.
When he talked to me, Herbie said it was too early to make a pick for the UF-UM game. But, of course, like almost everyone else, he picked the Gators to defeat the Hurricanes last Saturday -- maybe partly because he went out on a limb, the wrong limb, to pick Toledo over the Gators in Week 1.
Herbstreit talked about Al Golden, the UM defense and that four-letter-word, as Golden calls it, and how it could affect the Hurricanes.
Q: How would the NCAA sanctions coming down during the season as opposed to before it, affect the Hurricanes performance-wise -- or in any way?
Herbstreit: “I think that’s kind of a big asterisk next to this 2013 team. I’ve been blown away by the job Al Golden has done in his two years of blocking these distractions out and putting his team last year in a position to get to an ACC Championship game before they self-sanctioned their postseason. So they have proven they can block things out.
"But if the sanctions were to come down during the season, to me, unless it’s good news -- are they impressed with what Miami has already done and they agree and say, 'Hey, you know what, you’ve done enough, it’s time to move on’; or do they say, ‘Oh, you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. We’re going to hit you with this, this and this.’
"I think it really depends on what kind of news they get. Because no matter what Al Golden has been able to do, if they get devastating news it’s going to be hard for it not to affect this team. On the other hand, if they finally have a break in this dark cloud that is hovering over their program and get good news, boy, that could be a real boost to what they’re trying to accomplish and what looks like a team that can be pretty competitive this year and have a great shot at getting back to where they were last year, when they had a shot to get to the ACC Championship."
Q: What would you consider a severe punishment for UM?
Herbstreit: "Any more postseason bans, taking scholarships away, taking them off TV – anything like that could really affect a kid that’s excited right now. If you and I went into the Hurricanes locker room right now and kind of took all the cameras and microphones away and talked to these kids I bet you there’s a real sense of excitement of what they think they can accomplish with  returning starters off a team that won seven games last year.
"I’m not saying they’re going to get bad news – hopefully they’ll get great news; But to potentially get devastating news about, ‘you can’t go to a postseason game this year,’ that alone would be something that could really affect you and your psyche when you think you’ve got a chance to have a great year."
Q: Do you think UM can beat UF?
Herbstreit: "I think they can. I had a chance to see the Miami-Florida State game last year and the thing I walked away from was, No. 1, their defense, which was much maligned last year – they’re young. They were playing so many guys that night who were on a high school field the year before. They had so many true freshmen and redshirt freshmen and sophomores just littered throughout that entire defense. So it was really hard to sit there and say, ‘Wow, they don’t get pressure on the quarterback enough. Where are their playmakers?’
"It was hard to do that when they were so young. But I do remember walking out of that game and thinking, ‘Wow. [Safety] Deon Bush is going to be a really good player.’ There were a number of other guys that stood out to me that night who were young, athletic kids. And now they’re a little more familiar with what Mark [D'Onofrio] is trying to do on defense and what it takes to be successful in college football. I think you’re going to see really great strides on that side of the ball, which is key for them to be able to hang with teams like Florida and others. We know they’re going to be able to score with Morris and Duke Johnson and those receivers, but can their defense grow up, can they become more physical, can they become more dominant? That’s the thing nationally people want to see from Miami this year.
"I think playing as many young players [on defense] as they played last year. There were not a whole lot of guys making many plays that were seniors. You’re talking about probably a ton of guys who were probably pretty humiliated and embarrassed with the way they played on that side of the ball and are pretty anxious to have a chance to get back out there."
Q: What's your prediction for Miami's record this season?
Herbstreit: "I picked Miami to play Clemson in the ACC championship. I picked Clemson to beat Miami. Depending on what the NCAA says, if it’s status quo, or they get good news, I think an 8-4, or if everything really goes good, a 9-3 year would be great for them."
Note that Herbstreit, of ESPN's College GameDay, is promoting the Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes, in which fans can register for a chance to win a trip with three friends to the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl to watch the game with Herbstreit.
The grand prize package also includes a 2014 Buick Enclave and a trip to Pasadena, Calif, for the BCS title game. To enter, go to AllstateCFB.com.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN