|While the NCAA investigation looms, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett have Miami trending upward on the field. (US Presswire)|
The nearly two-year NCAA investigation into the Miami athletic department, stemming from the allegations of former booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, is likely in the final stages. The Associated Press reported Saturday that the NCAA is scheduling meetings to discuss specific allegations, and if that is the case the Notice of Allegations could follow in the near future.
But while the off-field turmoil is reaching a point of closure, the Hurricanes are looking pretty good on the field heading into 2013.
On Monday the school announced that offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, guard Brandon Linder, and defensive lineman Curtis Porter will all return to Miami for their senior seasons. With all three linemen back in the fold, the Hurricanes will have 20 of the 22 starters back from a team that tied for the best record in the ACC Coastal Division.
Not included in that group of starters: freshman All-American and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson, who will take over Mike James' role as the starting running back.
Sophomore wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott -- who was suspended for the final games of 2012, but reinstated following the season -- totaled 93 combined catches for 1,354 yards and seven touchdowns. Six-foot-3 junior Allen Hurns emerged as a red-zone target for Morris with three touchdowns in the final four games. Clive Walford (25 catches, 451 yards, four touchdowns) was arguably Miami's most productive tight end since Jimmy Graham, and he too was just a sophomore.
Defense was not Miami's strong point in 2012, ranking dead last in the ACC with 486.4 yards allowed per game. But the unit was nagged by injuries throughout the season, and it never seemed like standout linebackers Denzel Perryman and Eddie Johnson were able to play their best football at the same time. Improvement along the defensive line and in the secondary -- where Miami fans are anxiously awaiting consistent play from the talented duo of Deon Bush and Tracy Howard -- could result in a drastic improvement on that side of the ball.
So things appear to be set on the field, placing even more responsibility on Al Golden and his staff to deliver results in 2013.
Golden was preparing for his first season as the Hurricanes' head coach when the damning Yahoo! Sports report alleged repeated violations throughout the Miami football and basketball program. Throughout each of his two seasons at Miami, Golden has faced questions regarding to his commitment to a program under fire by the NCAA. His name has been attached to major college football coaching vacancies across the country, and each time Golden reaffirms his intentions to rebuild Miami football. He has put the pieces in place for a memorable 2013 season, but there is still one major obstacle: the NCAA.
The school has self-imposed a postseason ban each of the last two seasons as a result of the ongoing investigation. The notice is just the beginning of the enforcement process, and the actual sanctions are not likely to be handed down until there has been a response from the institution and individuals (90-day window following the notice) and the Committee on Infractions has an opportunity to review the responses. If the process begins this week, it is possible the final ruling will not be made until May or June.
USC received a two-year postseason ban for impermissible benefits, while Ohio State and North Carolina received one-year postseason bans in each of their NCAA cases. There is a penalty matrix that goes into effect on July 1, but it will not apply to Miami's case. Until we see the notice of allegations and hear the response from the school, it is impossible to guess possible punishments.
Ohio State and North Carolina chose not to impose postseason bans in 2011. Fans from both schools would gladly trade in their respective Gator Bowl and Independence Bowl appearances for a shot at conference title -- or in Ohio State's case, possibly a BCS title.
The ACC Coastal Division is wide open, and with the talent back in place the Hurricanes could be competing for their first conference title since making the move from the Big East. In addition to bringing back most of the talent, Golden named former FIU coach Mario Cristobal as Miami's new associate head coach -- a move that could also help Miami's local recruiting in this final push before signing day.
If the efforts of Miami's administration have properly prepared the football program to weather the storm, there could be clear skies in 2013 for the Hurricanes.
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