As another off season of College Football material kicks off, this year marks the third year I’ll throw my hat in the ring and look at a number of topics and categories. In the process I’ll look to do everything from predicting next year’s 25 best teams, identify the games of the year, narrow down the Heisman field, identify those replacing 2012′s stars and ultimately make predictions for each league, culminating in a national championship pick. They’ll be many things I’ll be ridiculed for. There will be a number of things that will surprise some people. Ultimately you’ll come away from the next 6 months of material as ready for the college football season as I can possibly make you. While I’ll be sure to miss on things I would like to remind the skeptics I did correctly predict the same number of bowl teams preseason as Phil Steele a year ago as well as top him in BCS Bowl participants predicted before the year. Nonetheless I’m not putting out any magazines soon so keep buying his for the top preseason coverage available.
The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us continue the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the off season coverage here at The Sports Headquarters.
*Returning Starters Figures from Phil Steele’s Blog
Teams already ranked:
#25. Fresno State Bulldogs
#24 Vanderbilt Commodores
#23 USC Trojans
Coming in at #22..
Miami, FL Hurricanes
2012 Record: 7-5
Conference Finish: Tied for 1st in ACC Coastal (Lost tiebreaker to UNC)
Bowl: Self-imposed postseason ban
Returning Starters: 10 offense, 9 defense
The last two years I’ve had teams ranked 25th that I liked as sleepers of sorts entering the year. Tennessee last year flopped, going 5-7 and despite four losses to top ten teams, may have been better than its record but clearly wasn’t top 25 caliber. Tulsa the year prior was closer but still not worthy. This year the Miami Hurricanes enter the polls as perhaps a team a little off the radar. The Hurricanes had a solid but not spectacular season a year ago and could have gone to the ACC Championship Game if it hadn’t chosen to administer another postseason ban in response to the NCAA investigation surrounding the program at the time. Still the Canes will bring back as many starters as any team in college football and have an offense coming back that has the potential to take that next step and become a force in the ACC. The onus falls on Stephen Morris to follow up a respectable 2012 campaign with an even stronger season in 2013. The talent around him will be there and after a year where he finished with a 3:1 TD:Int ratio (21 TDs, 7 INTs), the Canes will rely on him plenty to make throws down field.
Duke Johnson came in as a freshman and essentially gave notice to the rest of the ACC he’ll be a handful for the next two years at least. At just under seven yards per carry, Johnson ran for 947 yards despite splitting carries with Mike James and scored 11 touchdowns total. With the departure of Andre Ellington and Giovani Bernard, Johnson becomes the premier back in the ACC (yes Noles fans, better than JWJ) and should be good for a 1,200 yard season if he stays healthy. With Johnson in the backfield the Canes have as strong a collection of weapons as perhaps anyone in the ACC in 2013. In the receiving ranks essentially everyone is back. A passing unit that ranked 25th last year loses only RB Mike James from its top eight receivers last year with many entering their sophomore or junior seasons. Miami was stymied by some of the tougher defenses they faced last year but another off season should make them more dangerous. Phillip Dorsett returns as a first-team all-ACC candidate at wideout.
The entire offensive line comes back in 2013 featuring two seniors and three juniors and fared pretty well a year ago protecting Morris, as the team tied for 41st in sacks allowed. Improving that total and being a little better in run blocking will go a long way for this group. All in all the Hurricanes have a ton of upside on offense and could be a very potent group.
Frankly it’s almost amazing the 2012 team won seven games when you consider the absolute atrocity that was the defense. As the 118th overall unit in the county only six FBS teams were worse in terms of yardage last year and it wasn’t the case of one unit being much worse than the other. The Canes laid claim to the 99th ranked pass defense and 104th ranked run defense. The team gave up 30+ points eight times, 40+ points four times and a 52 spot to Kansas State. Offenses belonging to Virginia and Notre Dame each topped the 40-point mark on Miami, neither offense all that prolific in 2012. With nine starters back, very little leaves this defense and while inexperience wasn’t the sole issue last season, the defense was starting six players who were freshman or sophomores. The expectation is that the seniors and juniors this year will step up and at the very least give the offense some support, as oppose to relying on 40 points a game to win. Of the top eight tacklers on the team last season, only one isn’t returning in 2013.
When evaluating a defense this bad, cherry picking statistics isn’t a problem because this team gives you all the toppings you could want. But, for the simplicity of keying in on a few areas the Hurricanes must improve in 2013, lets look at three. First and foremost the Canes didn’t rush the passer in 2012, accumulating only 13 sacks…all season. That’s about one a game and while the ACC is not the Big 12, you can’t win many games or expect to cover well in the secondary when the quarterback has an eternity to throw. Red Zone defense also must hold the opposition to more field goals. Offenses had an 85% scoring rate once inside the 20 and of those 52 successful scoring drives, 37 of them were touchdowns. With the offense the Canes possess, it can overcome three-four field goals a game, but three-four touchdowns limits its margin of error. Lastly this group was 82nd in third-down defense, allowing over a 42% conversion rate. That is likely a bi-product of the non-existent pass rush as anything else.
The Canes have a moderately challenging schedule in 2013 but if the defense improves enough I think the potential for nine wins is on the table. The Canes get Florida and South Florida in the non-conference portion of the schedule and while the Gators game is at home, the Canes will likely have to play one of its best games of the year to get a win there. In the ACC portion of the schedule the Canes caught a break when it was announced that the second Atlantic Division opponent for them would be Wake Forest, one of the weaker teams in the league. While the ACC hasn’t formally announced the dates and order of the league games, we do know the Canes get Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and and Virginia at home on top of Wake Forest. For road games the Canes head to Duke, UNC, Pitt and Florida State. If the Canes can come away 2-2 in ACC road games and hold serve at home in league play, 9-3 really looks there for the taking. With that said, this team has the potential to disappoint and make its preseason ranking here look like a massive mistake.
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