Head coach Al Golden enters his fourth year at the helm of the University of Miami football program with a record of 22-15 but 11-4 in the past 15 games. After opening last season 7-0, the Hurricanes went 2-4 and missed out on their first Atlantic Coast Conference title game. Miami was recently voted the preseason favorite to win the Coastal Division. How will junior running back Duke Johnson bounce back after a season-ending ankle injury? Can senior linebacker Denzel Perryman get enough hard hits to whet fans' appetites? These 10 players will be leading the Hurricanes in their quest for the elusive ACC championship, Christina De Nicola writes.
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10. QB Jake Heaps, redshirt Sr.
When redshirt senior Ryan Williams tore his ACL in early April, it left the Hurricanes with no experienced quarterbacks on the roster. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and true freshmen Brad Kaaya and Mailk Rosier have not seen the field in a collegiate game. Gray Crow has since moved to tight end. Heaps transferred less than two months later after stops in BYU and Kansas. He was once the top-rated pro-style quarterback recruit in the nation. Miami doesn't need Heaps to be a game-changer but a distributor. With Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley surrounding him, he need only make smart decisions and protect the ball. In his previous 33 games (25 starts), he went 491-of-896 (54.8 percent) with 5,182 yards, 32 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. His performance will help determine how far the offense can take this UM team.
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9. OT Ereck Flowers, Jr.
Duke Johnson naturally garners the most hype among Miami Norland High School's recent alumni. Flowers, one of his teammates then and now, will play a significant role this season. Why? Because the 6-foot-6, 322-pounder will be blocking quarterback Jake Heaps' blind side. He is also one of three returning players on the offensive line, named to both the Outland and Lombardi/Rotary watch lists. In 2013, Flowers started all 13 games at left tackle as the offense averaged 425.8 yards and 33.8 points per game. As a freshman, he appeared in all 12 games -- starting his first four -- at right tackle. His ability to protect Heaps from oncoming pressure will play a crucial role in the offense's success through the air.
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8. S Dallas Crawford, redshirt Jr.
Not too often does a team convert its second-best scorer into a defensive player, but that's exactly what the Hurricanes did after the 2013 season. Crawford, who started six games after Duke Johnson went down with an ankle injury, ran for 558 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns. He will now help the secondary, which gave up 330.8 yards through the air per loss, as a safety. His redshirt year, Crawford was named Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. While on special teams as a freshman, he intercepted a pass on a fake punt. In high school, Crawford was a two-way player who set a school record with 23 career interceptions. As a senior, he recorded 76 tackles (53 solo), nine picks and three forced fumbles.
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7. RB Joseph Yearby, Fr.
It's hard to tell how a newcomer will fare on the collegiate stage, but Yearby isn't the typical recruit. Named an All-American and Offensive Player of the Year his senior year, he rushed for 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns despite fracturing his left fibula in the regional final. As a junior, Yearby ran for 1,448 yards and 20 scores and another 2,160 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore. He was a two-time state champion with Miami Central. His immediate impact should help out Duke Johnson when he needs a quick break. Plus, it can only help the rushing attack that improved by 16 yards per game and produced six additional touchdowns.
Once a five-star prospect, Chickillo has since played in 37 games (34 starts) with 129 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, one forced fumble and three fumbles recovered. Just like teammate Denzel Perryman, he elected to return for his senior season. Though his numbers haven't popped out as much as UM likely originally hoped, he has had to deal with inexperienced defensive lines lacking depth and protection for his pass-rushing ways. His 1,967 reps since joining the program are the most of any player, including Perryman. Chickillo was named to the CFPA Defensive Line Trophy preseason watch list.
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5. DB Tracy Howard, Jr.
A five-star recruit, Howard broke through this past season as a sophomore. He played in all 13 games and started 12 of them, recording 35 tackles (one for a loss) with a pass breakup and a team-high four interceptions. Howard was part of a secondary that collected 18 picks -- seven more than 2012 -- good for 13th nationally and third in the ACC. He and four others -- senior Ladarius Gunter (17) as well as juniors Rayshawn Jenkins (14), Deon Bush (9) and Antonio Crawford (2) have combined for 55 starts. Despite its late-season troubles, the defense produced 27 takeaways, 12 more than the previous year. Howard, who was named to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list, has 984 snaps -- fifth among returners for the unit.
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4. WR Phillip Dorsett, Sr.
Two weeks before Duke Johnson got hurt, Dorsett left the North Carolina game with a knee injury after just 13 receptions and two scores in eight contests (six starts). Prior to the setback, he saw his yards per reception increase from 14.5 to 20.9. He missed five games before returning for the bowl game in limited action, but didn't look like the speedster and playmaker he had been in the past. As a sophomore, Dorsett led the team with 842 yards with four touchdowns on 58 catches. His average 4.21 40-yard dash this summer and clean bill of health would complement Stacy Coley at the wideout position and return game.
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3. WR Stacy Coley, So.
Things didn't start off so well for Coley when he dropped two touchdowns passes in his first collegiate game. That quickly changed as he would go on to become the only FBS player last year to score a touchdown four different ways: rushing, receiving, on a punt return and a kick return. Coley led the Hurricanes with 1,461 all-purpose yards -- the 10th-highest single-season total in program history. He finished with 33 receptions for 591 yards and 10 total scores, receiving All-American and All-ACC accolades. His dynamic playmaking ability makes him a threat every time he touches the ball whether it be on returns or offense.
2. LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.
Craving a highlight reel full of hard hits? Look no further than helmet cam footage of Perryman from his linebacker position, which has been viewed more than 260,000 times. Rather than foregoing his senior year for the NFL Draft, he returns with preseason mentions on the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy watch lists. Perryman was named to the All-ACC team and an All-American after recording 108 tackles (69 solo), five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks as a junior. In six games, he notched double-digit tackles. Perryman is 86 tackles shy of Ten Hendricks for 10th all-time in UM history. Imagine the defense's struggles without Perryman tracking down the ball.
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1. RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
It's no coincidence the Hurricanes were undefeated and averaging 39.6 points per game with Johnson in the backfield. Prior to his season-ending ankle injury, he had rushed for 97 yards on 23 carries as Miami kept within one score of Florida State. Despite missing the final four games, Johnson still earned All-ACC honors by running for 920 yards and six touchdowns and was among the nation's leaders with 174.1 all-purpose yards per game. This preseason, Johnson has been named to various lists, including third team All-America by Phil Steele. He is just 133 yards shy of becoming the ninth 2,000-yard rusher in program history. His playmaking ability sets the tone for the pass game and offense. Will this be his last season as a Hurricane? Johnson would be an early pick in next year's NFL Draft.