Breaking Down the Buzz: Miami

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer
Al Golden welcomes a spring practice without off-field distractions. (USATSI)
Al Golden welcomes a spring practice without off-field distractions. (USATSI)

Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the Miami Hurricanes.

What they're talking about ... spring practice. Miami has been flying under the radar; which is strange for a program that dominated offseason, and NCAA-related, headlines since the 2011. But for head coach Al Golden, the lack of distractions is a welcome. Golden told ESPN.com that the it has been "so much fun just coaching football," and being able to work on the fundamental development that every coach would like to see in spring practice.

Miami finally returned to the postseason in 2013 after two years of self-imposed bowl bans from the Nevin Shapiro scandal. The Hurricanes players finally enjoyed the benefits of a 9-win season, but it felt like a consolation prize after starting the season 7-0. Golden, in his fourth spring practice at Miami, believes the foundation for the program has been laid; now it's time to see what the 2014 Hurricanes have in store.

What they're buzzing about ... the QB battle and the defense. Miami fans are consuming and reacting to every practice report and video of spring drills. Two topics that have stood out this spring are the quarterback competition and defensive improvements.

On the defensive side of the ball, fans at 247Sports' Inside The U are excited to hear some confidence from Tracy Howard regarding the unit's potential for 2014. He also voiced support for Coach Mark D'Onofrio, the defensive coordinator and longtime Golden assistant that has received much of the blame for the defensive woes. Entering his third season with the Hurricanes, Howard is now one of the more experienced players in the defensive backfield and will be expected to help lead the turnaround.

"Guys are just growing up, guys are playing with an attitude," Howard told Inside The U. "We got guys like Denzel Perryman, (Alex) Figueroa, and Jamal Carter, those guys are like dogs and guys are just feeding off those guys in terms of being physical. I feel like we're just getting better as a whole."

Over at SB Nation's Miami site, State of the U, one fan stirred up some chatter by offering his thoughts on the quarterback battle between Ryan Williams and Kevin Olsen. Since Williams, a transfer from Memphis, was not highly recruited like Olsen, a four-star prospect from the Class of 2013, some fans are rooting for the redshirt freshman in Miami's quarterback competition. However, that sentiment is not shared by all -- and you can see the debate continue in the comment section -- but most quarterback competitions can be divisive for fan bases, especially during spring practice.

What we're saying is … Find a quarterback who can take care of the ball, clean up defensive mistakes and the Hurricanes should be competing for a division title. The ACC Coastal is winnable, even for a team with as many uncertainties as Miami. The good news for Miami fans is that whoever wins the quarterback competition will step into a cushy situation. Running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Stacy Coley are two of the most explosive players in the ACC and the offensive line will be anchored by Jon Feliciano and Ereck Flowers. Not to mention versatile tight end Clive Walford, the 6-4, 263 pound senior who turned down the NFL Draft, could be the quarterback's best friend in tough situations. Whoever wins the competition -- and right now Golden says Ryan Williams is ahead -- can help the team best by limiting turnovers.

Defensively, Howard's confidence in the unit's improvement will be put to the test early in the season opener against Bobby Petrino's Louisville squad. The schedule helped mask some defensive issues during the Hurricanes' 7-0 start in 2013, but after giving up 40+ points in three straight losses -- at Florida State, Virginia Tech at home, at Duke -- Miami fans started piling on the criticism.

"Don't talk to me about Al Golden and whatever that D-coordinator's name is," NFL Hall of Famer and former Hurricane Warren Sapp said in January. "Let me tell you what I've learned in the 19 years of being around the NFL ... don't hire someone you can't fire. That's the golden rule. The D-coordinator is killing my school. That looks like no Miami defense in the history of our school; even when Schnellenberger was getting it started!"

The Hurricanes' defense allowed 5.75 yards per play on average in 2013, ranking No. 12 in the ACC and No. 80 nationally. Players like Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley can provide instant offense, but if Miami is going to capture that elusive ACC Coastal title the Hurricanes will need to avoid the defensive breakdowns that derailed an otherwise memorable season.

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