Top 50 Countdown: No. 20 Miami

Coach: Randy Shannon | Staff
In 2006: 7-6, 3-5 ACC; Beat Nevada 21-20 in MPC Computers Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 9. Defense: 8.
Key losses: TE Greg Olsen, OG Anthony Wollschlager, DE Baraka Atkins, DT Bryan Pata, S Brandon Meriweather.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: This is not the Miami offense of old, but the coaching staff has legitimate reason to believe this unit is at least heading in the right direction. Miami averaged only 15.9 points per game in ACC play last season. The Hurricanes had only one player on the All-ACC first or second teams (first-team tight end Greg Olsen). Olsen is now gone, leaving Javarris James - a Rivals.com second-team freshman All-American - as the Hurricanes best offensive playmaker. Patrick Nix joins the staff from Georgia Tech, where he called plays for only one year before heading to Coral Gables. Chief on his list of concerns is the quarterback situation. Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman continue to vie for the starting job.

MIAMI TOP 10
Calais Campbell had 10.5 sacks in his first season as a starter.

1. DE Calais Campbell
2. S Kenny Phillips
3. RB Javarris James
4. RB Graig Cooper
5. CB Glenn Sharpe
6. DE Eric Moncur
7. S Lovon Ponder
8. CB Randy Phillips
9. WR Sam Shields
10. OT Jason Fox
Best player: RB Javarris James. By the third game of the 2006 season, James emerged as one of the best freshman running backs in the country. He was a second-team Rivals.com freshman All-American after rushing for 802 yards, the second-highest total for a Miami freshman.

Most overrated: James. It comes with the territory. James will always be compared to his cousin Edgerrin, who starred at Miami before heading to the NFL. In his sophomore season, Javarris James will likely split carries with true freshman Graig Cooper, who is a potential superstar.

Most underrated: WR Lance Leggett. A five-star receiver, Leggett was much maligned for his 32 combined catches in his first two seasons. His overall improvement last season was lost in a dismal year for the offense as a whole. Leggett finished with 38 receptions and 584 yards last season.

Must step up: OT Reggie Youngblood. Youngblood started seven games at left tackle last season, but will likely move to the right side to make room for Rivals.com second-team freshman All-American Jason Fox. Youngblood, a five-star prospect in 2005, has yet to reach is potential. He was a highly touted signee, but he has struggled with injuries. Miami needs him to be a major factor on the line as a junior.

Shoes to fill: Tight end. From Jeremy Shockey to Kellen Winslow II to Greg Olsen, Miami has cranked out elite tight ends in the last few years. The string could be coming to an end this season. Junior DajLeon Farr, who has four career catches, will take over in Olsen's old spot. Farr takes the job with far less fanfare than Winslow and Olsen when they became starters. Converted defensive end Richard Gordon brings plenty of athletic ability to the position, but he needs to learn the offense.

Impact newcomer: RB Graig Cooper. Cooper signed with Miami in 2006 but did not qualify. A year later, he left prep school as a five-star running back. The true freshman should push James for carries and could surpass him as a game-breaking back.

Battle to watch: Quarterback. Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman enter the fall competing for the starting job. Neither was consistent last season. Wright made nine starts and Freeman four after Wright's season-ending thumb injury. Wright has more experience, but Freeman offers more mobility. The decision between the two might wait until the opener.

New in 2007: Randy Shannon retained only two members of last year's offensive coaching staff wide receivers coach Marquis Mosely and tight ends coach Joe Pannunzio. New offensive coordinator Patrick Nix is the team's third coordinator in three seasons, but he promises to use personnel a little more creatively at Miami.

Grade the units:
QB: C. Quarterback U is struggling. The competition between Wright and Freeman could last to the end of fall.
RB: B-plus. The run game is showing signs of returning to Miami standards with the true freshman Cooper joining James.
WR/TE: B. There's not a lot of depth, but Shields performed well as a freshman and we're counting on the improvement of Leggett.
OL: B-minus. The line returns four starters, including Rivals.com second-team freshman All-American Jason Fox, who started 12 games last year.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: Miami hasn't been as dominant as in years past, but it isn't the defense's fault. This side of the ball was championship-worthy last year, finishing in the top 10 nationally in yards per game and rushing defense. Now that former coordinator Randy Shannon has been elevated to head coach, the leadership will fall on Tim Walton - who spent the last three seasons as defensive backs coach. The secondary has been the strength of the defense in recent years, and this season All-America candidate Kenny Phillips returns at safety. The defensive backfield must deal with losing Brandon Meriweather to the NFL and Anthony Reddick to a season-ending knee injury. Along with Meriweather, linebacker Jon Beason was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. That marks seven consecutive years in which a Miami defensive player was taken in the first round.

Best player: DE Calais Campbell. As a sophomore, Campbell finished with 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in his first full season as a starter. At 6-foot-8, 282 pounds, has tremdendous size is continuing to improve.

Miami Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 8 at Oklahoma
Sept. 15 Florida International
Sept. 20 Texas A&M
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Georgia Tech
Oct. 20 at Florida State
Nov. 3 N.C. State
Nov. 10 Virginia
Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at Boston College
Most overrated: LB Tavares Gooden. Gooden was among Miami's leading tacklers as a sophomore in 2004 with 83 stops, but his career has hit a stumbling block after a shoulder injury kept him out of the 2005 season. In his first season back, he had 41 tackles and was left on the sideline when Miami went to its nickel package. Miami could use a healthy Gooden and his experience in its linebacking corps.

Most underrated: DE Eric Moncur. At 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, Moncur doesn't have the size of fellow end Campbell. However, Moncur should be an excellent complement on the other side of the line. He started twice as a redshirt freshman and three times last season. As a junior, he will be a full-time starter.

Must step up: Linebackers. You won't find Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan or Jonathan Vilma in this year's defense. Gooden, Glenn Cook and Darryl Sharpton have been solid contributors the last few years, but the star-in-waiting in this group is sophomore Colin McCarthy.

Shoes to fill: Secondary. Miami's secondary should be a strength, but it is not without its issues. The Hurricanes lost star safety Brandon Meriweather to the NFL and Anthony Reddick to injury. This should still be a formidable group with juniors Kenny Phillips and Randy Phillips leading the way.

Position battle: Linebacker. Miami has a mix of young up-and-comers (McCarthy, Sharpton) and veteran part-time starters (Gooden, Cook, Romeo Davis) who are vying for playing time.

New in 2007: Shannon was elevated to head coach in part for the work he has done on the defense in recent years. He was Rivals.com's Defensive Coordinator of the Year in 2005 and turned in another top defense in '06. Look for him to keep his hands in the defense, but Walton will add his own wrinkles. Former Miami star Michael Barrow will coach the linebackers in his first full-time coaching job, while Wesley McGriff will take over Walton's spot as DB coach after four seasons at Baylor.

Grade the units:
DL: A. Campbell and Moncur could be the best defensive end duo in the ACC, if not the country. Tackle Antonio Dixon should be a playmaker as well.
LB: B-minus. McCarthy is Miami's next star linebacker. Miami needs each linebacker to step up this season.
DB: A. Kenny Phillips and Randy Phillips aren't the only standouts. This is a unit rich in experience with Glenn Sharpe and Lovon Ponder contributing.

Breaking down the special teams

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Since Carl Selmer in 1976, every coach left Miami of his own accord until the firing of Coker. Each first-year Miami coach since Jimmy Johnson has had a winning record, and two (Dennis Erickson and Coker) have won the national title in their first seasons. A national title will be far-fetched in year one for Shannon, but a winning record should be an easy task. Miami's schedule includes tough road trips to Oklahoma, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes are a long shot BCS team, but a Gator or Champs Sports bowl is more likely.
Overview: Miami special teams are undergoing an upheaval of sorts. Longtime kicker Jon Peattie and veteran punter Brian Monroe are gone. Redshirt freshman Matt Bosher should take over the punting duties. Daren Daly, who handled four kickoffs last year, will be the place-kicker. Without star returner Devin Hester last season, the punt return team was second to last in the ACC (7.2 yards per return); the kickoff return team was 10th (19.9 yards). The Hurricanes spent much of the spring looking for players to bring some life to the return game.

Best player: LS Ross Abramson. It doesn't say much about Miami special teams when a long snapper checks in as the best returning special teams player. Still, Miami says its senior snapper didn't have a bad snap all year.

Grade the units:
K: C. Former Florida State walk-on Daly came out of spring with the edge over Bosher and earned a scholarship.
P: C. Bosher was the No. 6 kicker in the class of 2006 but will enter the fall as Miami's punter.
KR: C. Bruce Johnson returns as the leader on a kick return unit that didn't have a return longer than 34 yards last year.
PR: C-minus. After last year's struggles, Miami tried Shields, Cooper, Doug Wiggins, Ryan Hill and Chavez Grant at the position.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Miami received its share of criticism for firing Larry Coker, who went 60-15 in his first head coaching job. But Coker's final season was a tumultuous one for the Hurricanes. Amid going 7-6, there was the murder of Bryan Pata and an ugly on-field brawl with Florida International (which followed a brawl with LSU in the Peach Bowl the previous season). Shannon may not have been the first choice, but he could be the perfect choice. Along with his credentials as Miami's defensive coordinator, Shannon brings a no-nonsense approach and plenty of credibility. He grew up in the area and has been a part of three UM national titles as a player or coach. The biggest loss on the coaching staff could be line coach Mario Cristobal, who will be coaching across town at Florida International.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: B. Shannon is untested as a head coach, but since the Howard Schnellenberger era Miami has benefited early from each of its head coaching changes.
Offense: B. No current offensive coach has been at Miami for more than two seasons. Coordinator Patrick Nix is a name on the rise, but has only been a play-caller for one season at Georgia Tech.
Defense: A. Tim Walton will look to continue the success Shannon had as coordinator.

Special teams: B-minus. Joe Pannunzio will have to replace both kickers and both returners in his second year on the staff.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 19.


 

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