Record: 6-6, 3-5 ACC
Overview: Miami fans are lucky first-year coach Al Golden didn’t pack his bags and run in August. Golden thought he was hired to win, but as it turns out, he was hired to navigate the program through an embarrassing NCAA investigation, try to win a season opener with eight suspended players, and get the team to a bowl game it never intended to play in in the first place.
Bienvenido a Miami.
There was never a dull moment in Coral Gables this year. From the time Yahoo! Sports reported that booster Nevin Shapiro provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010, Golden has been trying to keep the focus on the field. There was the out-of-character arrest of Ramon Buchanan, who challenged a police officer. Receiver Aldarius Johnson was suspended, and the Canes’ summer quarterback competition was settled when Jacory Harris was suspended for the opener. Golden’s contract also became an off-field distraction when his former coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, was fired.
On the field, Golden encountered several of the same problems former coach Randy Shannon did, though, particularly with consistency. Miami only put together back-to-back wins one time this season, against North Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Canes lost three of their last five games, including a home loss in the regular-season finale to Boston College. Miami managed to gut out a 6-3 win over South Florida to become bowl eligible, but the following Sunday, athletic director Shawn Eichorst informed Golden the Canes would decline a bowl invitation.
And yet Golden reaffirmed his commitment to the program by signing a contract extension that would keep him with the program until Feb. 1, 2020. Whatever lies ahead couldn’t possibly be as challenging or as surprising as what Golden had to deal with in Year 1.
Offensive MVP: Harris. He moved into first place all-time in the Hurricanes record book in pass attempts for a career with 1,170, surpassing Ken Dorsey’s previous record-high of 1,153. He finished the season with a single-season school record for passing accuracy with a 65 percent success rate (195-for-300) and had the third-best passer efficiency rating in the conference at 158.2. He had 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions and 2,486 yards.
Defensive MVP: LB Sean Spence. He led the team and tied for fifth in the ACC with 106 tackles. He finished his career with 47 tackles for loss, which ranked second among active NCAA players, including 14.0 in 2011. He earned ACC Linebacker of the Week honors three times during the season, and was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He also recorded a season-high 14 tackles three times this season.
Turning point: The minute the Yahoo! investigation was printed. With eight players suspended for the opener against Maryland, the Canes were already off to an 0-1 start in Golden’s first season.
What’s next: Recruiting and praying. That’s what Miami and its fans should be doing this offseason. Recruiting for the future, and praying that the NCAA doesn’t impose an additional bowl ban and that any possible loss of scholarships is manageable.