According to Jeff Sargin's football ratings, the Atlantic Coast Conference was the third best conference in football last season. This isn't surprising considering the conference placed 10 teams in bowl games last season. In 2005, the University of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all joined the ACC. The expectation of a Miami against Florida State was high but it has not come to pass. The Miami Hurricanes have never played in an ACC championship game. This year might be their best chance to achieve that goal and rekindle the days of old.
The 2009 Hurricanes should be vastly improved over the 2008 team. They return 15 starters and many of their young freshman who didn't start saw significant playing time in 2008. Jacory Harris is the clear starter at quarterback this season and he will have a host of receivers at his disposal. However, someone from the group needs to step up in order for the Hurricanes passing game to improve.
Aldarius Johnson could be that player to step up. He showed signs of greatness at points last season and he has a history with Harris. They played together on the mythical high school national champion Miami Northwestern team in 2007. Leonard Hankerson has also showed great improvement in the spring as well.
The running game is the strength of the offense. Graig Cooper was the leading rushing in 2008 and a healthy Javarris James makes the Hurricane running game great. Add to that two freshmen, Mike James and Lamar Miller, who will push Cooper and James for playing time and the rushing attack appears to be set for years to come.
Mark Whipple is the new offensive coordinator at Miami and he brings a pro style offense to South Florida. Whipple was probably smiling from ear to ear after seeing the potential this Hurricane offense has to offer. The only weakness is the offense line where graduation has hurt them. If the line can stay healthy and if Harris can learn the system quickly, Miami fans might be in for a treat in the 2009 season.
Miami's defense has a new defensive coordinator in John Lovett. The defense should be better this year using Lovett's simplified system. Sean Spence has been the jewel of the 2008 recruiting class and with a year of experience he might be unstoppable. Eric Moncur, Randy Phillips and Colin McCarthy will be returning from injuries to add more experience to this unit. Look for the Hurricane defense to be vastly improved and do a much better job of stopping the run in 2009.
Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina will be the challenges for the Hurricanes in trying to get into the ACC championship game this season. A blessing in disguise for the Hurricanes might be that they play Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech early in the season. Last year, in the second game of the season, the Hurricanes played the eventual national champions Gators tough in a loss. Neither of these ACC Coastal division challengers are at the level of the Gators so Miami can control its own destiny early on in the season if they can win these games. The November 14, 2009 game against North Carolina could be for the right to play in the ACC championship game.
In summary, Randy Shannon has done an outstanding job recruiting and the talent is certainly in place to win the ACC this year. With the arrival of such outstanding coordinators as Whipple and Lovett, the Hurricanes offense and defense will continue to be in great hands. Hurricanes supporters would like to see the team win 8 or more games this season. True Hurricane fans want to see more. The question is can these Hurricanes continue to grow up fast enough to challenge and win the ACC? Only time will tell.