Five burning questions heading into 2009 season

Heading into head coach Randy Shannon’s third year at the helm, there are still several questions to ask regardingHurricanes, who have yet to win a bowl game and have been under .500 the past two seasons. They ended the program’s streak of producing at least one NFL first-round pick in 14 consecutive years as the only Cane drafted last year was sixth-round selection Spencer Adkins. UM has never won the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Hurricanes played in the Big East Conference until 2004.

With all that being said, let’s delve into the five biggest questions that make every Canes fan foam at the mouth.

5) How will the Canes adjust to two new coordinators?

Mark Whipple and John Lovett will run the offense and defense respectively. Former offensive coordinator Patrick Nix’s embarrassing two-minute drill in the Emerald Bowl still has fans scratching their heads. Now, Miami has a new quarterback and a new system. Whipple has a pro-style offense and likes to utilize tight ends and move the chains with a short passing game. Shannon will still have his hands on the defense, but one has to wonder: is it good for a program to have three different defensive coordinators in three years?

4) Is there a playmaker on defense?

Returning after missing last year with injuries are redshirt senior Randy Phillips and redshirt junior Colin McCarthy, and they should provide stability. The Hurricanes must find a way to create turnovers. They had an ACC-low four interceptions last year while the young cornerbacks experienced growing pains. The Canes need to learn how to secure the ball when it hits them in the numbers. Turnovers can make the difference and provide a spark. Who is going to step up? Look for sophomore Brandon Harris and junior DeMarcus Van Dyke to have strong years.

3) How porous is the right side of the offensive line?

Preseason All-ACC Jason Fox and junior Orlando Franklin are studs on the left side, but the other 60 percent of the line has its concerns. Senior A.J. Trump must make the transition from guard to center. Sophomore Harland Gunn has dominated on the scout team the past two seasons, but playing when it counts is totally different. Senior Matt Pipho has zero career starts and will be responsible for blocking the right side. It’s imperative the line keeps starting quarterback Jacory Harris healthy as true freshman A.J. Highsmith and senior Matt Perrelli have no collegiate experience. The Hurricanes must sustain long drives to keep the defense fresh and off the field.

2) How will the Canes fair the first four games?

Without question UM has the toughest first four games in college football as the team plays four top-25 teams. If I said the Canes go 2-2, every fan’s response should be “where is the pen and where do I sign?” Since the embarrassing brawl against FIU in 2006, the Canes have put their glory days in the rear view mirror. They can erase three years of ineptitude by demonstrating to the college football world great play in the first month. The Hurricanes must seize this opportunity to recapture its swagger and identity.

1) What is the status of Shannon?

Shannon is in the third year of a four-year deal he signed following Larry Coker’s firing. Shannon has been terse with the media and has gone 12-13 in two seasons without a bowl victory. He brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in 2008 and recruited another premiere group of prospects this season as well. But five stars and four stars are just numbers; they do not automatically translate to victories on the football field. Shannon proved he can win in February by signing recruits, but can he win in January when BCS bowl games are at stake? Shannon must be able to maximize talent to cement his legacy with all the other great Canes coaches. Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt refused to address Shannon’s contract situation this past summer, but still gave Shannon verbal support. Miami cannot be complacent. Otherwise, Shannon could be three and out.