Once again the University of Miami football team is back in the national spotlight.
It also had the opportunity to return as a perennial powerhouse this past year.
No team in the nation had a harder four-game schedule to start the season than the Hurricanes as they faced top-25 teams.
Many predicted the Canes wouldn’t survive the harsh schedule.
Few expected a 3-1 record, but that’s exactly what Miami did.
With a thrilling win over Oklahoma on Oct. 3 at Sun Life Stadium, the Hurricanes beat a top-10 team for the first time since November 2005 and climbed as high as No. 8 in the polls.
Conference losses against Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina placed Miami third in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division behind the Hokies and ACC Champion Georgia Tech.
Looking for their first 10-win season since 2003-04, the Hurricanes (9-5, 5-3 ACC) lost 20-14 to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.
“Last year was last year,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “We started off strong and how we wanted to play. We won some key games, but we lost some games.
“Things like injuries happen in the season. You see Jacory [Harris] get nicked up. You see a lot of the defensive players nicked up. Now is time to take the next step since everyone will be returning.”
Players are still holding a grudge on how the season unfolded last year with some difficult losses.
“Last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” said rising senior defensive lineman Allen Bailey, who recorded seven sacks last year and is projected to be a top NFL prospect in the 2011 draft. “We lost too many games. We just have to work hard throughout every game next season to make up for that.”
In his first full season as a starter and under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, rising junior quarterback Jacory Harris compiled 3,352 yards with 24 touchdowns.
He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes.
Harris’s only knock was forcing the ball, which translated into 17 interceptions.
Harris was a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award, given to the nation’s top passer, and was the first Hurricane quarterback since 2002 (Ken Dorsey) to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.
The offense is getting ready to take its game to another level in the upcoming year.
“We’re more prepared,” said rising junior wide receiver LaRon Byrd, who was second on the team with 33 catches and 460 receiving yards. “Last year it was a new offensive coordinator and we adjusted. Now we have a year of experience under our belt. Look out for us, we are on the raise again.”
As Shannon’s first recruiting class becomes seniors and his top-ranked recruiting class enters as upperclassmen, expectations will be set high for the Canes.
In May, Shannon signed a new four-year contract extension.
“I think we can be everything we were expected to be last year but even better,” rising junior defensive end Marcus Robinson said. “We want to better as whole.”
Miami will face another brutal schedule this season as the Canes travel to Ohio State for the first meeting since the 2002 National Championship game.
That year the Buckeyes won on a controversial pass-interference call that cost the Hurricanes back-to-back titles.
The following week Miami visits Big East foe Pittsburgh.
In consecutive games UM will try to avenge last year’s loss against the Clemson Tigers and will look to defeat rival Florida State without legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
To end the season, the orange and green faces the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Virginia Tech Hokies and South Florida Bulls.
UM looks forward to the challenging competition in the fall once again.
“We’re definitely ready for the next step,” rising junior All-American cornerback Brandon Harris said. “We have seen the schedule and we know we got to take it to another level. Hard work is going to get us there.”
Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org