Welcome to Miami Hurricanes Game Day. It's been too long, right?
Some things to check out on a day of many firsts (free form, random order):
***Mark Richt's first run out of the smoke as a coach and first appearance on the sideline. What will his demeanor be wearing the orange and green and white after 15 years as Georgia's head coach? Also, don't miss the Canes Walk at 4 p.m. at Southwest Gate of Hard Rock Stadium.
***Hard Rock Stadium. Will it feel like a new one after about $500 million in renovations?
***The fans. Kudos to UM athletic director Blake James for being right on point. He said he expected the Hurricanes to surpass 40,000 season tickets sold as of game day, and he announced Friday that, indeed, UM had surpassed that mark -- up more than 11,000 from last year's total. Here's hoping there's a big crowd out there today.
***The players -- how will their demeanor be on the sideline? Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, with his up-tempo, aggressive, get-to-the-quarterback style, thought these Hurricanes were not nearly emotional enough when they did something worth celebrating (without getting penalized of course). I'm interested to see if they step up to his challenge.
DEFENSE: A. How will the defense as a whole step up with the dismissal of end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace? UM was 101st in rushing defense last season, 110th in red zone defense and 77th in scoring defense.
B. Defensive line: How much will Trent Harris (broken hand), who replaced Muhammad as starter, actually play? Can Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh carry the load for the tackles, with talented tackle Gerald Willis suspended and A.J. Moten out with a shoulder injury?
C. Linebackers * (see next listing)
D. Freshmen: If Richt starts three true freshmen at linebacker -- Shaquille Quarterman in the middle, Michael Pinckney at weak-side and Zach McCloud at strong-side (and if not Zach, then redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier, who also has never played in a college game) -- it is likely the first time Miami has ever done that. That's a "wow" for sure. The three are considerable talents, and all arrived in January in time for spring ball, so all have been around Richt and Manny Diaz, who also serves as the linebackers coach, for as long as their older peers. Really looking forward to see how they handle the pressure and how they tackle.
E. Defensive backs: Count on a good amount of two linebackers and five DBs to compensate for youth at LB. Looking forward to seeing Texas graduate transfer Adrian Colbert playing corner for the first time in college.
PENALTIES: Note that UM was dead last in penalties-per-game and penalty yards last year in the FBS, with an average of 9.31 penalties and 83.63 yards of penalties a game. We're thinking that is going to change this season.
OFFENSE: A. How will the strength of this team step up as a unit and make it a bit less pressure-packed for the thin, young defense?
B. Mark Richt's play-calling: Psyched to see how Mark Richt does in his first play-calling gig in several years.
C. Running backs: Gus-the-Bus Edwards is back in the lineup after missing last year with an injury. Mark Richt runs a true pro-style offense, and likes the backs to do a good amount of work to make it easier on quarterback Brad Kaaya. How will Mark Walton, Joe Yearby (who surpassed 1,000 yards last season) and Edwards do? Also really looking forward to getting a glimpse of true freshman Travis Homer. Heard he was doing very well in practice.
D. Offensive line: Finally, they say they're all healed up after an injury-laden 2015. They are close with Kaaya and know his tendencies. This should be a vastly improved part of UM's defense. I'm interested in seeing how big, appreciative Sunny Odogwu does after knee surgery. Everyone admires him on the team, including offensive line coach Stacy Searels, and says he's been really good in practice. Center Nick Linder should be healthy and at his best.
E. Quarterback: Really looking forward to see Brad Kaaya today (on his 21st birthday). I know it's FAMU, but still... I'm sure Miami will play as vanilla as possible, but quarterbacks guru Richt has said Kaaya has improved in his mechanics, and just keeps improving in everything else.
F. Receivers: So sorry we don't get to see Lawrence Cager (ACL), but looking forward to the Kaaya-Stacy Coley and Kaaya-Braxton Berrios connections, as well as newcomer Dayall Harris and true freshman Ahmmon Richards (if his turf toe is not ailing him too much). We expect talented slot man Sam Bruce to be suspended at least today -- and maybe even next week. That's yet to be seen. Like Richards, he could have a nice impact on the Hurricanes.
G. Tight ends: Watch David Njoku do his thing, as well as Chris Herndon. And won't that be fun if Michael Irvin II gets in there?
H. Fullback: Marquez Williams makes his debut with the Hurricanes. Will he put some guys on their backs?
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN