College football is back! The Miami Hurricanes open the 2012 season at Boston College Saturday, looking to kick off year two of the Al Golden era on a high note.
Boston College won the last meeting 24-17 in the 2011 season finale for both teams. Miami is a slight favorite to win the rematch, but the question remains whether the Canes can replace the key players who departed after a disappointing 6-6 season.
On offense, QB Jacory Harris graduated, giving way to junior Stephen Morris. RB Lamar Miller and WR Tommy Streeter (who accounted for 48% of UM's yards from scrimmage in 2011) left early for the NFL Draft, leaving understudies RB Mike James and WR Allen Hurns a chance to step up.
"We're not using excuses," sophomore defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo said of the young Canes. "We have a lot of young guys and a lot of talent. Guys won their jobs in camp, guys are hungry, guys are talented. So no excuses."
When Miami has the ball: UM has to replace their offensive playmakers, but BC must find a way to stop opponents without LB Luke Kuechly, who's playing on Sundays this year. The coaches have been effusive in their praise of Morris, who showed flashes of brilliance when he started for an injured Harris in 2010 as a true freshman.
But the Canes are undoubtedly young. Five sophomores and a true freshman (RT Ereck Flowers) are listed on the first team offense, and true freshman RB Duke Johnson could make his debut on Saturday.
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis looks to fill the void left by Kuechly. He had 74 tackles in 2011, while fellow LB Steele Divitto had 72, leaving the Eagles stout at that position. BC is less stout against the pass, having the 81st-ranked pass defense in 2011 (giving up 243 yards a game).
When Boston College has the ball: Miami lost leading tackler Sean Spence to graduation, but many key players return from a defense that was ranked 17th in scoring defense last season. Chickillo, another starting underclassman, led the Canes with five sacks last season, and he will be expected to make a jump from an impressive freshman season.
Senior S Vaughn Telemaque leads a seasoned secondary that did not manage many turnovers last year, but held opponents under 200 yards passing a game. Boston College QB Chase Rettig had an up-and-down 2011, but did throw for 2 touchdowns in the win over Miami last season.
Star RB Montel Harris was dismissed from the team over the offseason for violating team rules (he was set to return after receiving a medical redshirt for his 2011 season). For that reason, BC will lean on the passing game to supplement a rushing attack of Rolandan Finch and Andre Williams.
Who has the edge? The Canes averaged 378 yards and 27 points a game. That kind of output should be enough to top Boston College, who will struggle on offense as they did in 2011.
The pick: Miami 24-Boston College 17
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC.