The Al Golden years are nowhere near the golden years of Miami football. Starting with the Hurricanes 1984 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska, Miami spent most of the next 20 years as one of college football's most feared programs. The only thing that seemed to be able to stop the "U" was the NCAA's enforcement division. Golden has won 28 of the 50 games he's coached at Miami; a far cry from the standards set during the days of Schnellenberger, Johnson, Erickson and Davis. I suspect that at this point, many fans of the 'Canes have second thoughts about the dismissal of Larry Coker.
It's not like Miami has been lacking in elite-level talent; they've been sending players to the NFL consistently and harvest their fair share from the talent-rich state of Florida. But it hasn't come together yet, and the general feeling is that Golden has to deliver something more than seven or eight wins this season. 2014's 6-7 record just won't cut it in South Florida.
Miami's legacy of great quarterback's is one of the foundations of the program, and sophomore Brad Kaaya proved himself as worthy as a true freshman to join the legions of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. Thrust into the starting lineup to open the season at Louisville, Kaaya didn't wilt in the transition from high school to college. He played remarkably well in a losing effort last September in Lincoln and by the end of the season, he was the ACC Rookie of the Year. The 6'4" 209 pound quarterback completed 221 of 378 passes for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. By season's end, he was a leader on the team and if Miami is going to make anything happen in 2015, it's going to start with Kaaya. But what if Kaaya goes down due to injury? More than likely, it'll be redshirt freshman Malik Rosier (6'1" 212 lbs.), who split his time this spring between football and baseball. His first priority is football; he stayed in Florida for summer workouts with the football team rather than travel to Omaha for the College World Series. Also on the roster is 6'3" 224 lb. junior Gray Crow, who's bounced back and forth between H-back and quarterback in his Miami career, and 6'1" 187 lb. sophomore Vincent Testaverde. (Yes, THAT Testaverde. Vinny's kid transferred from Texas Tech, where he played in one game where he completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards. The younger Testaverde was not on scholarship at Texas Tech, so he's immediately eligible to play.)
Duke Johnson may have moved onto Cleveland as the Browns' third round draft pick, but Miami has some nice options in sophomore Joseph Yearby (5'9" 195 lbs.) and junior Gus Edwards (6'2" 230 lbs). Yearby averaged a nifty 5.9 yards per carry as a freshman, rushing for 509 yards last season on 86 carries - and most notably, not fumbling. Edwards has more explosiveness than you might expect from a 230 pound back; he rushed for 349 yards and six touchdowns last season on just 61 carries. (Edwards claims that his fastest 40 time is 4.49 seconds; Ameer Abdullah ran a 4.6 at the NFL Combine and a 4.55 at the NU Pro Day, FWIW...) ESPN named Edwards to a list of five darkhorse candidates for ACC offensive player of the year.
Johnson's departure might hurt Miami more in the passing game, where Johnson's 38 catches ranked second on the team. Miami needs to replace their top three receivers this season, but there's no shortage of three and four star guys to take their place. In 2013, Stacy Coley (6'1" 187 lbs.) was a freshman sensation, catching 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Hampered by a shoulder injury as a sophomore, he only caught 23 passes for 184 yards. New secondary coach Kevin Beard sees the talent there, and thinks his issues last year were more mental in trying to live up to the expectations following a freshman all-American season. Senior Herb Waters (6'2" 195 lbs.) has been a reliable receiver as a backup, catching 20 passes last season for 277 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Braxton Berrios (5'9" 183 lbs.) caught 21 passes as a freshman for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Junior tight end Standish Dobard (6'4" 262 lbs.) will be an invaluable asset for his blocking, but he's got the tools to develop into a solid receiver now that he'll be the top tight end for the 'Canes.
Miami has to replace three starters on the offensive line including a first and second team all-ACC honoree on an otherwise average offensive line. Junior left guard Danny Isidora (6'4" 322 lbs.) has 13 career starts; Phil Steele named him to his third-team preseason all-ACC team. Sophomore center Nick Linder (6'3" 300 lbs.) started four games last season. Junior Taylor Gadbois (6'8" 321 lbs.) missed eight games last season with a knee injury, but was cleared to physically return to full activity at the end of May. But earlier today, Golden dismissed Gadbois off the team. Prior to the dismissal, Miami's offensive line only had 27 returning starts including Gadbois', tanking 121st out of 128 division 1-A teams in returning offensive line starts. Now, they are even more inexperienced.
Miami's defense may have finished 14th in total defense last season, but that was in spite of meltdowns against Nebraska and Georgia Tech on the ground. And with the need to replace more than half of the front seven, the likelihood is that the 'Canes step back at the start of the season. Senior defensive tackle Ufomba Kamala (6'6" 295 lbs.) didn't start a game last season, but put up the best numbers of anybody who's returning up front with 34 tackles, four for a loss. Senior nose tackle Calvin Heurtelou (6'3" 315 lbs) missed spring practice due to a knee injury, but is expected back. He started 12 games with 25 tackles last season. Three sophomores should see regular playing time at the defensive end spots: Chad Thomas (6'5" 265 lbs.), Al-Quadin Muhammed (6'3" 260 lbs; suspended in 2014 for an incident with a former roommate last spring), and Trent Harris. I'd keep an eye on Muhammed myself as a potential star.
Star middle linebacker Denzel Perryman and his 110 tackles are off to San Diego, but junior outside linebacker Jermaine Grace (6'1" 208 lbs.) and senior linebacker Raphael Kirby (6'1" 235 lbs.) are back. Grace (60 tackles last season; 6.5 for loss) and Kirby (54 tackles last season; 4.5 for loss) are the 'Canes leading returning tacklers and are both preseason second-team all-ACC honorees by Phil Steele. At 208 pounds, Grace seems undersized for linebacker, but he makes up for it with his athleticism: his 4.38 in the 40 yard dash was the fastest of any Miami football player this spring. Kirby is battling sophomore Juwon Young (6'2" 245 lbs) for Perryman's spot in the middle; if Young wins the job, Kirby will assuredly stay at the other outside...but then where does senior linebacker Tyriq McCord play? Last season, McCord flexed between a 3-4 outside linebacker and defensive end, but spent the spring at outside linebacker. Considering McCord's history with injuries (he had his knee scoped this spring), having options is a good thing.
The Miami secondary should be the strength of the 'Canes defense this season, and they'll be led by senior safety Deon Bush (6'1" 205 lbs.). Bush led the secondary with 53 tackles last season and five forced fumbles; that's good enough to have considered entering the NFL draft early. Junior safety Rayshawn Jenkins missed all of 2014 with a back injury; if he's ready to go, he'll fill the hole left by Nantambu-Akil Fentress in the secondary. Junior cornerbacks Artie Burns (6'0" 193 lbs) and Corn Elder (5'10" 183 lbs) should continue their steady play as well. This secondary ranked 17th last season in passing yards allowed (192.5 yards per game) and could rank even higher if they get a little support up front from the pass rush.
Considering the multitude of questions on offense (outside of Brad Kaaya) and the underperforming nature of the defense in the Al Golden era, I suspect this is a game that Nebraska can win on the road, even in the afternoon heat in Miami. But it'll have to be due to a solid performance by the Huskers, because this is a game that Miami has the talent to win. And more importantly, it might be a game that Miami points at to restore the aura of the Miami program. Miami... or at least silence the calls to change coaches at the "U" momentarily.