Virginia fans may feel a strange kinship with the Hurricanes of Coral Gables. Both fan bases are embroiled in intense debates about ties as appropriate gameday apparel, and both are ... less than thrilled with the state of the program. Cam Underwood from State of the U weighs in to preview the 2015 Miami Hurricanes.
STL: This seems almost silly to ask, but: What's the mood around Al Golden? It looks to outsiders like the coaching seat in Coral Gables is about as hot as the one in Charlottesville. What are the odds Golden is the Canes' coach in 2016?
SOTU: The mood around Al Golden is anxious. Miami fans are tired of seeing middling (at best) results, and, fair or not, that puts the focus on Coach Golden. In many of his press statements, Golden has said improvement "starts with him". This year, if there isn't a tangible change in the W/L record, I think those statements could end up being his undoing.
Let us be clear: Al Golden is on the hot seat. He may not want to address that when talking to the media (who would?) but that doesn't change reality. The odds of Golden being Miami's coach next year are wholly dependent on the Canes winning 8+ games and challenging for the ACC Coastal Division Championship. While I think that that level of achievement is possible, it needs to become a reality or else, I believe, the Canes will be searching for a new coach in January.
STL: Who are the most important players to watch who return from last season?
SOTU: On offense, you have to start with QB Brad Kaaya. He was a Freshman All-, and ACC rookie of the year, both high honors, to be sure. Kaaya started every game for the Canes last year, and threw for 3,126 yards, 26 TDs and 12 INTs. He is the face of the franchise, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Because he's on the roster, the Canes should have an advantage at QB over every team that they play.
Other returning offensive players of note are RB Joseph Yearby, a sophomore who is listed as co-starter, WR Stacy Coley, a Freshman All-American in 2013 looking to rebound from a terrible Sophomore Slump in 2014, and WRs Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters, both of whom have immense talent, but have struggled to consistently put it together on the field.
The lone returning starter on the Offensive Line is RG Danny Isidora. Sophomores Trevor Darling, Nick Linder, and Kc McDermott (editorial note: that's the spelling of his name: Kc - like "casey") all played in the rotation last year and figure prominently this year as well. RT Sunny Odogwu is a raw athlete who has made strides over the last year and in fall camp. His potential is high, but it remains to be seen if his skills match his 6'8" 330lb frame.
On defense, the DL returns DE Ufomba Kamalu, DT Calvin Heurtelou, and DT Courtel Jenkins up front. All 3 showed flashes of dominant play in 2014. 5-star recruit DE Chad Thomas returns for his sophomore year and looks to make "the leap" in terms of performance and production. DE Al-Quaddin Muhammad returns to the team in 2015 after being suspended for the fall semester last year after an altercation with another UM student.
Linebacker Raphael Kirby moves to the Middle to replace the graduated Denzel Perryman (now of the San Diego Chargers). Fellow LB Jermaine Grace was the 2nd leading tackler in 2014 without starting a game. He moves into the weakside LB spot Kirby vacates.
CBs Artie Burns and Tracy Howard have NFL talent, but haven't consistently shown it. Corn Elder is a dynamic athlete and will also factor in at CB. The Safety position is stacked with Deon Bush, Jamal Carter, Dallas Crawford, and Rayshawn Jenkins all capable of leading the way at that position. Jenkins returns after missing 2014 with a back injury, and Carter is arguably the best athlete on the team. Bush is an NFL talent who has battled injuries through his first 3 years at Miami.
STL: Which newcomers are you most excited about?
SOTU: With 9 Freshmen being listed on the 2-deep, there is plenty to like as far as newcomers are concerned.
First, RB Mark Walton is already listed as a co-starter with Joseph Yearby. Walton is the best talent Miami has at Running Back, and many believe he will emerge as the full-time starter before season's end.
WR Lawrence Cager is a big target at 6'5" 215lbs. The U.S. Army All-American has come in and displayed his talents many times through fall camp, beating defenders on jump balls, and making myriad one-handed catches. He might not be on track to be THE GUY like Walton appears to be, but Cager will have an impact on this season.
NT Kendrick Norton and DE RJ McIntosh have shown great talent through camp. Both are listed ahead of several upperclassmen at their respective positions. They should get the chance to prove their worth this season.
CB Sheldrick Redwine and S Jaquan Johnson were HS teammates at Miami Killian, and both figure to be in the rotation in the secondary this year. Johnson, a highly touted recruit, will push the upper classmen for playing time, and Redwine's combination of size and strength will be an asset at corner.
STL: What are the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the 2015 Hurricanes?
SOTU: Strengths: Quarterback, Skill position depth, Secondary, overall team talent (one of the most talented teams in the ACC, definitely the most talented team in the Coastal Division).
Weaknesses: Offensive Line returns only 1 starter, Defensive Line has been a non-factor in recent years, depth at Linebacker, Special Teams (return coverage in particular), Coaching
STL: What does this team need to do to count this season as a success?
SOTU: Win the Coastal Division Championship. That has been the rallying cry and stated objective by players and coaches alike. Anything short of that would have to feel like a disappointment, even with a talented and veteran Georgia Tech team in the division as reigning champions.
This is the University of Miami. Winning has to be the goal. Winning has to be the mindset. Winning has to be what we do. And if not, it will be another disappointing season that could very likely see Al Golden's tenure as Miami Hurricanes coach come to an end.