Spring Football in getting underway across the country, and Notre Dame's opening game is less than 180 days away. Blue & Gold Illustrated will be breaking down the 2012 schedule and ranking teams based on difficulty during the next two weeks to get you ready for spring practice.
Running back Lamar Miller is one of five Miami underclassmen that plan to enter the NFL Draft instead of returning in 2012.
No. 7: Miami
Oct. 6, 2012 — Chicago, Ill.
Last Meeting: The old Catholics vs. Convicts rivalry rekindled itself in cold and snowy El Paso to end Brian Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame. The coachless Hurricanes had no interest in playing in the cold weather and dug a 30-3 hole in the first three quarters. Notre Dame cruised to a 33-17 victory.
Spring Practice Dates: March 3 – April 14
Miami had 26 former players working out at its Pro Day last week. That’s all you need to know about the gaps they have to fill during this offseason. The Hurricanes went 6-6 under first-year head coach Al Golden in a season that was defined mostly by a major scandal involving uber-booster Nevin Shapiro.
The ‘Canes were inconsistent in 2011, winning big games against Ohio State and Georgia Tech while losing to Boston College and Maryland. Like the Irish, they have serious depth issues at wide receiver and cornerback heading into 2012. Injuries will sideline a couple key players (assumed starting quarterback Stephen Morris among them) during spring practice. Golden has the usual raw talent that comes from southern Florida on his roster, but he has a lot of molding to do before September comes.
Top Returners: WR Allen Hurns, S Ray-Ray Armstrong
Hurns is the lone returning starter in the wide receiver corps this season. He will have to play a major role in the offense with only five scholarship wide receivers on the roster heading into spring practice. Former standout Travis Benjamin and underclassmen Tommy Streeter are both NFL-bound, leaving Hurns as the No. 1 option. He was third on the team last season with 31 catches for 415 yards, but disappeared from the stat sheet for large chunks of time. Shoulder surgery will likely keep him out of action for most of the spring.
Armstrong returns for a final season after missing nearly half the year due to a pair of suspensions. In seven games, he made 34 tackles and one interception. Golden said Armstrong had the most productive offseason of anyone on the team and is developing into a leader. He has the speed and physical prowess to be a big-time player and will play a major part if the Hurricanes have success on defense this season.
Top Newcomer: RB Duke Johnson, CB Tracy Howard
Johnson ran for 70 touchdowns and 5,000-plus yards during his career at Miami’s Norland High School. He’s the No. 3 player in all of Florida, according to 247Sports, and could be an immediate boost of speed in the Miami backfield. He will arrive on campus in June and could be pushing juniors Mike James and Eduardo Clements for playing time as early as September.
Howard also has a chance to get on the field almost as soon as he steps foot in Coral Gables. The country’s second-best cornerback prospect is one of six incoming freshman who will fill out the Hurricanes defensive backfield this year. Howard was the Broward County Player of the Year at Miramar High School. He told [link url=” http://miami.247sports.com/Article/Howard-Has-High-Goals-as-a-Freshman-64683”] InsidetheU.com’s Christopher Stock[/link] that he wants to make the All-ACC and freshman All-American teams next season.
Biggest Losses: RB Lamar Miller, LB Sean Spence
Miller was Miami’s go-to playmaker last season out of the backfield. He racked up 1,519 all-purpose yards and scored 10 of the team’s 41 touchdowns. Miller would have been a redshirt junior in 2012 but was one of five players who opted to jump to the NFL early after leading the team in rushing TDs in each of his two seasons on the field. Miller had an ability to make something out of nothing that the Hurricanes will find hard to replace this season.
Spence was far and away the team’s leading tackler with 106 stops last season. The senior ended his long career as an All-ACC linebacker and a Butkus Award semifinalist. Spence was a reliable, four-year starter at middle linebacker. Junior James Gaines and sophomore Gionni Paul will battle with four-star early enrollee Raphael Kirby to take Spence’s place.
Spring Question? Can the ‘Canes do enough to get their young talent ready for action this spring after a winter exodus and some big injury blows? Morris will miss the entire spring with a back injury. His back-ups will have a serious shortage of receivers with which to work during the next month. The usual crew of speedy recruits is coming to town this summer, but getting them ready for the field will be a big challenge for Al Golden and his coaching staff.
Why They’re Here: The scandal surrounding Miami’s program that broke last season was a major blow to the Hurricanes that has already started to show negative effects. Morris looked shaky in his limited work last season and he won’t have the normal level of help from playmakers around him when he takes over the starting job. Playing this game in Soldier Field will be an emotional boost for the Irish in the very Notre Dame-friendly city of Chicago. All that combines to make this a much more winnable game than it would have been in past years.