For most of this decade, Miami fans have heard the same thing every fall -- "This year, we're going to be better" -- only to find that Kirby Freeman was Ron Powlus and Mr. Potato Head and his rigid plastic arms could have caught as many balls as Lance Leggett (bless his heart).
They heard it again yesterday, as senior left tackle Jason Fox assured everyone Randy Shannon's rebuilding effort is turning the corner.
"No one respects us," said Fox, "but...this year, I think we're one game better, two games better, three games better. I think we're going to be a lot better...I know we have a good offense."
That's all well and good -- and expected -- but why might it actually be true this time?
After suffering years of declining quality in recruiting thanks to a shocking reliance on Internet ranking sites under Larry Coker (shudder!), Shannon's Hurricanes are enjoying the benefits of two consecutive top-20 classes. But, more importantly, the UM staff has been patching up holes left by haphazard restocking. Iron sharpens iron, depth pushes players, and there are now bodies to fill in in case of injury.
Return of LB Colin McCarthy and DT Eric Moncur
Thanks to an influx of talent from the 2008 class, Miami was much improved over its miserable 2007 campaign -- but took a big hit when veteran defensive leaders McCarthy and Moncur went down early with season-ending injuries. With few fellow upperclassmen capable of replacing them, incoming freshmen were game -- just not physically able to handle the load down the stretch, and without on-field leadership. Having the two back, along with safety Randy Phillips, instantly shores up each defensive unit.
Whipple > Nix
Miami's former offensive coordinator Patrick Nix continued the tradition of mediocrity he began at Georgia Tech, then claimed on departure he'd wanted to open up the offense. No evidence exists to suggest he knew how, and even a banana with headphones would have been an upgrade. Fortunately, Shannon went out and got Mark Whipple, an "offensive nut" who quickly reversed the fortunes of three Division II programs before heading to assistantships in the NFL (and who just looked like a banana at his introduction). Through spring, the praise was effusive; at worst, the play-calling can't get any more predictable.
Arguably the best receiving corps in the country
As freshman, they accounted for 13 of the Hurricanes' 22 touchdowns, and now rising sophomores Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, Travis Benjamin, Davon Johnson, and Laron Byrd each have a year of experience and a spring in the weight room under their belts. Half are big, tall targets, the others lightning-quick -- and this season, they'll be joined by redshirt freshmen Tommy Streeter and Kendall Thompkins, who were as highly touted as their classmates coming out of high school.
Will the tall, reedy Harris be the second coming of noodle-armed hero-god Ken Dorsey? It remains to be seen, but signs point to yes. "Jacory is a leader," Shannon said, noting how the team gravitates toward his sophomore quarterback. With the starting spot solidly secured for the first time since Brock Berlin was in Coral Gables, the Whipple/Harris combination has as much potential as any in the ACC.
With a veritable muderer's row for their first four games, Miami may or may not escape with a better record than last year's. But barring injury or disaster, they should be much improved -- and a lot easier to watch.