Coach Randy Shannon doesn't care if his defense gets any attention. "Offense is going to sell the tickets," he recalls telling his defensive players in July. "They're going to score the points. The fans are going to love them. You guys are defensive players. They don't love you. All they want you to do is get off the field."
So while the Hurricanes' potentially potent offense, led by quarterback Jacory Harris, scores touchdowns and grabs headlines, the defense will try to work quickly and remain anonymous. Just how effective those defenders are will help determine whether Miami is just another top 15 team or a national title contender.
Last year the Hurricanes finished in the middle of the ACC in total defense (329.6 yards a game, good for fifth) and scoring defense (22.2 points a game, also fifth). This season Miami is much more experienced on that side of the ball, with seven starters who will be playing together for the third consecutive year.
The unit is anchored by 6' 4", 285-pound senior defensive end Allen Bailey. A native of Hog Hammock, a tiny Geechee settlement (pop. 76) on Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia, Bailey could have been the first person from the island to play in the NFL; personnel directors from the league projected him as a first- or second-round pick in April's draft. Bailey, however, decided he'd rather be the first person in his family to graduate from college.
That was bad news for ACC offensive tackles, who will now have to find a way to block this athletic marvel. Bailey, who had a team-high seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss during an All-ACC 2009 season, has 4.65 speed and can bench-press 420 pounds, squat 585 and power-clean 405. "He's just a freak of nature," linebacker Sean Spence says. "He's a diamond in the rough."
The same can be said for the Hurricanes as a whole. Since Shannon's first season in 2007 when the team went 5--7, Miami has improved by two wins each year. This season the Hurricanes have the offense and the opportunity (they play Ohio State the second week of the season) to take a major step forward and return to the nation's elite. As long as the defense follows Shannon's words and gets off the field, Bailey says, "The sky's the limit."