After Miami had lost a total of two games in the previous three years, the Hurricanes' 11-2 finish and No. 5 national ranking last season were viewed by many as a disappointment. Such is the cost of success.
Expectations remain high in Coral Gables despite personnel losses that would cripple most teams. The biggest hit is on a defense that loses seven starters and four All-Americans from a group that ranked second in the nation. The offense wasn't as severely affected by departures, but lingering questions, particularly at quarterback, make it an even bigger uncertainty.
Miami must also deal with a shakeup on Larry Coker's staff. Secondary coach Mark Stoops left for the University of Arizona to become its defensive coordinator, while offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski bolted to join Butch Davis' staff with the Cleveland Browns. It could have been worse if defensive coordinator Randy Shannon had not turned down an offer from N.C. State and stayed at Miami.
Amidst the internal upheaval, Miami will also be playing in its first season as an ACC member after 13 highly successful seasons in the Big East.
"To say we have a lot of work to do is an understatement," Coker said. "We have holes to fill and players that need to step up. [But] we're not going to take a step back."
OffenseCoker named Brock Berlin his starting quarterback before spring practice started, but the senior will have to play much better than he did last season if he expects to keep his job. It's unlikely that Coker will be as patient with Berlin, especially with the presence of redshirt freshman Kyle Wright. Wright has superior physical skills, but no experience. To keep his job, Berlin will have to exhibit much better decision-making than he did last season when his interceptions (17) far exceeded his touchdown passes (12).
Tyrone Moss and Quad Hill enter fall practice battling for the starting tailback job. Frank Gore could enter the fray if he proves fit following his second season-ending knee injury in as many seasons. Gore might find himself further down the depth chart if any one of three freshman running backs proves worthy.
The receiving corps is back nearly in its entirety. The starters figure to be Ryan Moore and Roscoe Parrish, a potentially lethal combination if the injury-plagued Parrish can stay healthy. The tight end position, manned by starter Kevin Everett, remains strong and deep despite the departure of Kellen Winslow Jr.
Three starters return on the offensive line, including left tackle Eric Winston, who was a first-team all-conference selection even though he had never played the position prior to last season.
DefenseShannon's unit must replace seven starters, including the entire linebacking corps, which was comprised of only five scholarship players during spring practice. Best of the group should be former strong-side starter Roger McIntosh, although middle linebacker Leon Williams has amazing physical tools and could be the next great player at the position for Miami.
There's also some uncertainty in the secondary, but not with cornerback Antrel Rolle, who may be the best player in the nation at his position. Big, fast and physical, Rolle hasn't allowed a touchdown pass since the opener of the 2002 season. Kelly Jennings will be at the corner position opposite Rolle, with Greg Threat getting the first shot to replace All-American Sean Taylor at free safety.
The strength of the defense will be along the line with tackles Orien Harris and Santonio Thomas and pass-rushing ends Thomas Carroll, Baraka Atkins and Javon Nanton.
SpecialistsThe kicking job is secure with Jon Peattie, who proved his mettle several times as a freshman. Less definitive is the situation at punter, where Brian Monroe's inconsistency proved costly. Peattie may be Miami's best punter as well, but he won't handle both jobs.
The return men -- Devin Hester on kickoffs and Parrish on punts -- are among the nation's best.
Final AnalysisMiami is going to be good. The only question is, how good? While the key departures on defense can be replaced, the losses do create a depth problem. But it's the offense that is the bigger cause for concern. Establishing confidence in a quarterback early will be critical.
If Coker finds a quarterback to steady the offense, and the young defense comes together quickly, the rest of the ACC will find itself looking up the standings at Miami.