There was a time toward the end of October that the Hurricanes had the look of an ACC champion, if not more. And why not? At 5-1, they’d already beaten Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Oklahoma, rising into the top 10. Although three more losses, including the Champs Sports Bowl to Wisconsin, modified the outlook, there was no denying that Randy Shannon finally had the program pointing in the right direction. Miami’s nine wins and No. 19 ranking, achieved with a slew of young players on both sides of the ball, was the school’s best finish in four years and a potential launching point for the future.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Jacory Harris
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Allen Bailey
Biggest Surprise The opening third of the season. There were whispers in the preseason that the ‘Canes might start the year 0-4. The schedule was that thorny. Instead, they won three of those games, including a nail-biter in Tallahassee and a blowout of eventual ACC champion Georgia Tech. Unranked and largely overlooked when the season started, Miami rose all the way up to No. 11 after nipping Oklahoma, 21-20, for a statement win.
Biggest Disappointment Losing to Clemson, 40-37, in overtime on Oct. 24. In one of the wildest games of the entire season, the Hurricanes failed to hold serve at home, giving life to a Tiger team that entered the game just 3-3. Defense and special teams repeatedly let Miami down, yielding 326 yards passing to freshman Kyle Parker and a 90-yard kickoff return to C.J. Spiller. How strange was this loss? It was just the second time in the last 115 games that the ‘Canes lost when scoring at least 37 points.
Looking Ahead After a few years of building and assembling deep recruiting classes, Shannon and Miami have been building to this point. There are plenty of returning starters on offense and defense, and depth doesn’t figure to be a concern. Following an up-and-down sophomore season, it’s time for Harris to really turn the corner and reduce the number of his mistakes. Graig Cooper’s serious knee injury and Javarris James’ graduation mean the ‘Canes need to develop a new feature back in the offseason.
Why to get excited After playing the last two seasons with a ton of underclassmen, the Hurricanes go into 2010 loaded with veterans everywhere. Jacory Harris is back for his third season as the starter under center, and presumably ready to play with more consistency and fewer mistakes. When star DT Allen Bailey decided to pass on the NFL, it meant the defense would lose just a couple of players from last year’s two-deep, giving it a chance to be the best in the Randy Shannon era.
Why to be grouchy The ‘Canes had problems running the ball consistently when Javarris James and Graig Cooper were available. Now what? James has exhausted his eligibility and Cooper suffered a knee injury that could shelve him for all of 2010. While Miami isn’t destitute, it’ll have to dig deep and rely more than ever on veteran Damien Berry and rookie Mike James.
The number one thing to work on is The offensive line. A perennial problem at this campus, things won’t get any easier with the graduation of all-star LT Jason Fox. The Hurricanes desperately need to build around the three returning starters and improve on a year ago, when they were 100th nationally in pass protection and 70th at running the ball.
Biggest offensive loss: LT Jason Fox
Biggest defensive loss: LB Darryl Sharpton
Best returning offensive player: QB Jacory Harris, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Allen Bailey, Sr.