From Mark Richt at Miami to Dino Babers at Syracuse to Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia to Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, there are a lot of new faces in new places in the ACC. Of those four, Richt might be most ready to make an impact in his first season, despite the dismissal of linebacker Jermaine Grace and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad.
Both were reportedly dismissed for a violation of NCAA rules stemming from their use of cars provided by a luxury car-rental company.
Miami opens the season this Saturday at Florida A&M at 6 p.m. ET.
“Up until those two defensive dismissals by Mark Richt, I really thought they would be the surprise team of the Coastal,” ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “A lot of people are picking North Carolina again and Virginia Tech with Fuente. But Brad Kaaya, if there’s a dark horse candidate for the Heisman, it might be him.”
Kaaya threw for 3,238 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions for Miami last season. He returns one of his top targets in Stacy Coley, who had 47 receptions for 689 yards and four touchdowns, not to mention the team’s top two rushers in Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton. That duo combined for 2,000+ total yards and 18 touchdowns (15 rushing, three receiving) last season.
“They’ve got two really good running backs – Yearby and Walton – that have really competed neck-and-neck through the spring,” Bowden said. “A lot of people thought Yearby would run away from it.”
The Hurricanes should also benefit new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
“I think Miami last year might have been 100th in the nation in tackles for losses,” Bowden said. “This guy is a blitzer blitzing from all angles. He’s a no-nonsense guy. He’s not a read-and-react defensive-front guy. He (likes playing with a) penetrating defense that creates chaos in the backfield.”
Miami went 8-5 last season, ultimately losing to Washington State, 20-14, in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Former coach Al Golden was fired after a 58-0 home loss to Clemson last October, with Larry Scott assuming the interim tag for the rest of the season.
Richt’s job will be restoring glory to Miami, which hasn’t recorded double-digit wins since 2003, when the Hurricanes went 11-2 under Larry Coker.
“That combination of Richt, Kaaya, some offensive skill and Manny Diaz on defense – (Miami could surprise some people),” Bowden said. “If you look at where Miami has been way off the last (couple of) years, it’d be defensively. So (of) the ones that you mentioned, Miami would be the surprise team.”