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Shifting conferences last year did not change expectations for the Miami Hurricanes, who figured to go from the Beasts of the Big East to the Toast of the Atlantic Coast.
But jumping leagues turned out to be far more problematic than expected. After winning four consecutive Big East titles, the Hurricanes finished third in their maiden ACC season and did not play in a BCS bowl for the first time this century.
Was it a one-year blip? No one knows for sure. The 'Canes welcome back 14 starters, but enough questions surround the team to make an ACC championship, much less a national title, anything but certain.
"I think we've got a chance to have a good team," said head coach Larry Coker. "But as far as a national championship? I don't know."
It took a bit longer than some thought, but Kyle Wright is finally the starting quarterback at Miami. The lanky Californian was awarded the No. 1 job after battling redshirt freshman Kirby Freeman during spring practice. Wright was considered a better prospect than Florida's Chris Leak coming out of high school three years ago. But while Leak has spent much of the last two seasons as a starter, Wright has mostly watched from the sideline. Physically, Wright has all the tools. He's tall, possesses a powerful right arm and has surprised coaches with his ability to get out of trouble when the pocket collapses.
Tyrone Moss returns from a disappointing 2004 season to take over as the starting tailback. Moss lacks great speed despite dropping 20 pounds since the end of last season. The receiving corps is well-stocked. Ryan Moore, Lance Leggett, Sinorice Moss and Darnell Jenkins are all talented and, with the right quarterback, potentially dangerous. Greg Olsen is a star in the making at tight end.
Left tackle Eric Winston's return to health is key to an offensive line that struggled after he blew out his knee last season.
There is plenty of talent, although the team seems to lack the dominating individual force that can wreck an opponent's offense.
Seven of Miami's top eight defensive linemen return, among them tackle Orien Harris and end Javon Nanton, both coming off disappointing junior seasons. After serving as a two-year starter at defensive end, Baraka Atkins has been switched full-time to tackle to help plug a leaky run defense.
Miami is deep at linebacker, although there doesn't appear to be a Ray Lewis- or Dan Morgan-type player in the mix. A possible exception is Willie Williams, the controversial '04 recruit who could provide the mean streak Miami's defense lacked last year.
The secondary shouldn't miss a beat despite Antrel Rolle's departure. Cornerback Kelly Jennings is a reliable three-year starter, while safety Anthony Reddick is a future star.
Jon Peattie's accuracy on field goals was down from his breakout freshman season, but the coaching staff retains complete confidence in his strong right leg. Punter Brian Monroe made drastic improvements in '04, increasing his net average by 3.7 yards per kick and landing twice as many punts inside the 20 as he did in '03.
Devin Hester is a game-breaker as a punt or kickoff returner.
Miami has slipped back a step every season since winning the national championship in '01. That perfect 12-0 season has been followed by records of 12-1, 11-2 and 9-3. With 14 starters returning, the Hurricanes are in position to reverse that trend. But there are plenty of questions remaining to be answered.
That's especially true on offense where a new quarterback and tailback are being broken in. The pressure will be on Wright, whose career as a starting quarterback will open with a pair of road games at Florida State and Clemson.
While Wright gets comfortable, Miami will have to rely on a defense that returns nine players who started at least six games last season. If the Hurricanes can survive their opening two games, a run at a national title is a possibility.