Overview: Al Golden enters his third season as the Hurricanes head coach with lofty expectations. Miami has not won the ACC since joining the conference in 2004, although Golden's best squad yet was picked as the Coastal Division favorites at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff last week. The 2012 season ended without a bowl appearance due to a self-imposed bowl ban after a 7-5 (5-3 ACC) campaign.
The Hurricanes ranked 81st nationally in rushing (144 ypg), while the passing attack, led by quarterback Stephen Morris, was more imposing, ranking 25th in the country (295 ypg). Morris' return for his senior season is one of the primary reasons for Miami's preseason accolades. In 2012, Morris (245-of-421 passing, 3345 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT) delivered 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards and his receiving corps, led by Phillip Dorsett, promises to supply even more big plays this fall.
Duke Johnson will be relied on to increase the production on the ground for Golden's team. The Miami, Fla. native started five games as a true freshman in 2012, rushing for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ten offensive starters return for the Hurricanes.
Defensively, Miami struggled a season ago due to youth and inconsistency. The Hurricanes ranked 116th in total defense, allowing 486 yards per game. There wasn't much difference between defending the pass or the run in 2012 as the Hurricanes ranked last in the ACC in both statistical categories. The run defense gave up 217 yards per game while the passing defense allowed 268 yards per contest. Miami returns eight defensive starters in 2013 and will lean on both defensive ends Shayon Green (67 tackles) and Anthony Chickillo (45 tackles, 4 sacks) to improve the pass rush and turn the tide for the Hurricane defense.
Historic Context: North Carolina leads the overall series with Miami, 9-7. The Tar Heels won last season's matchup in a low-scoring 18-14 affair in Miami. The Hurricanes and Tar Heels have been streaky throughout their ACC tenure together. North Carolina won three straight under Butch Davis (2007-09) while Miami bounced back with wins in 2010-11.
"I hope the adversity we encountered and obviously endured the last two years with the NCAA has prepared us for this and we're not really thinking ahead. I hope we're internally focused and driven and not worried about what anybody says about us whether it is good or bad. I hope that's the kind of team we have." – Golden
"I think we got a taste of it last year because we were in the fight even though we were really young. I think we grew up a lot and matured a lot. We have a lot more experience coming back. We only lost two senior starters off that team a year ago. I think the guys are charged and excited." – Golden
Miami has a solid opportunity to compete for its first ACC title this fall, but will have to maneuver around a challenging schedule that includes Florida, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Gators will provide an early test to gage Miami's offseason improvements while the aforementioned ACC opponents span a four-week period from late October to early November. A potential upset game could be Virginia on Nov. 23 as the Cavaliers have won three straight in the series.
Player to Watch:
Duke Johnson stormed onto the scene as true freshman amassing yards with ease at running back as well as Miami's primary kick returner. He accumulated 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns, setting a Miami single-season record. In total, the top running back of the 2012 recruiting class gained 2,060 all-purpose yards, which ranked second-most in program history. Those results led to ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.