Here’s why Miami Hurricanes football will be better as fall camp prepares to open

Mario Cristobal is one month away from his second season as University of Miami football coach, but so much surrounding him feels different.
And because of that, the 12-game regular season that begins at home Sept. 1 against Miami of Ohio is trending toward a more positive outcome than in 2022, when the Hurricanes finished 5-7 — their worst season since 2007.
Some elite additions (freshmen and transfers), a revamped coaching staff, the return of now-healthy quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and an offensive line that could be a national standout are among the reasons UM fans should expect a brighter 2023, starting with the opening of fall practice Tuesday.
Hope is often contagious at this time of year, but here are some reasons the Hurricanes have a real chance to break in among top Atlantic Coast Conference programs such as Clemson (defeated UM 40-10 last season and will be at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 21); Florida State (defeated UM 45-3 and will host UM on Nov. 11); and North Carolina (defeated UM 27-24 and will host UM on Oct. 14).
The Canes are thankful to have some young and veteran additions to the roster, including two sets of brothers. Three of four of those brothers were at Miami for spring practice and two of them set themselves apart:
Francis Mauigoa: The freshman offensive lineman, who arrived in the spring, now checks in at 6-foot-6 and 342 pounds, Cristobal said, and has 20 percent body fat to set the UM record for “muscle density.” Mauigoa was a five-star recruit and began playing first-team right tackle on the third day of spring. His ceiling is off the charts.
Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa: The 6-3, 230-pound linebacker is the older brother of Francis. He is a third-year junior who transferred to Miami from Washington State, where last season he started 11 games and had 60 tackles (51/2 for loss), 31/2 sacks, three forced fumbles (tied for first in the Pac-12) and one interception after playing on special teams as a true freshman. He also returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown Sept. 6 against Oregon.
During the UM spring game, Kiko had four tackles, including one for a loss, and was constantly around the ball. He is smart, has gotten great reviews from teammates and coaches and is expected to start and anchor the linebacker corps.
Davonte Brown: A spring transfer out of UCF, Brown is the 6-2, 185-pound son of former UM star and two-time Hurricanes national champion Selwyn Brown. Davonte and younger brother Damari, a four-star summer enrollee who chose UM over finalist Alabama, are out of Plantation American Heritage High. Both are cornerbacks, and UM lost its starting corners (Tyrique Stevenson and DJ Ivey) to the draft. Davonte had a very nice pass breakup early in the spring game, preventing a touchdown when he hit the ball off of Colbie Young’s hands in the end zone.
Another top newcomer is former UCF center Matt Lee, an NFL draft prospect whom Van Dyke raves about. Lee, a graduate transfer from Oviedo, is listed as 6-4, 295 pounds. He was Pro Football Focus’ third-highest-graded center nationally in 2022.
Other top additions who have proven themselves, if even in a short amount of time, include freshman defensive lineman Rueben Bain (three sacks in the spring game) from Miami Central, freshman receiver Nathaniel “Ray-Ray” Joseph (touchdown in spring, fast and elusive); freshman quarterback Emory Williams (4 of 4 for 42 yards and the 79-yard touchdown to Joseph in the spring game); and Alabama transfer and former starter Javion Cohen, who played left guard during spring camp but tweaked his knee on the field in warmups for the spring game.
Samson Okunlola is the other five-star freshman offensive tackle who arrived as an early enrollee; he played at Thayer Academy in Brockton, Mass.
Other talented transfers and freshmen weren’t here for the spring, so they will need time to adjust. They include former Louisville/Alabama outside receiver Tyler Harrell — “blazing fast,” starter Xavier Restrepo told the Miami Herald.
Cristobal, an offensive lineman for two UM national championship teams, knows that as the O-line goes, so goes the quarterback. And the line he has put together through recruiting and transfers should be significantly improved. The returning projected starters include fourth-year veteran and NFL draft prospect Jalen Rivers, who had seven starts at left guard in his nine games played last season, but played first-team left tackle during the spring; and 6-6, 350-pound Anez Cooper, who started four of the last five games as a true freshman at right guard.
The other three projected starters give UM good reason to be optimistic: true freshman Mauigoa at right tackle and transfers Lee (center) and Cohen (left tackle or guard).
In 2022, the Canes ranked 108th out of 130 teams nationally in sacks allowed, with 36 total; and 95th in rushing offense, with 128.1 ground yards a game.
Miami sustained several injuries on the offensive line last season, so staying healthy obviously will affect this unit’s productivity. Zion Nelson, a former highly rated pro prospect entering his fifth year, played in only one game last season after rehabilitating from knee surgery (not reconstructive) and then having “a setback,’’ according to Cristobal last season. The coach recently said Nelson was not expected to participate at the start of fall camp, but should be back during it.
Miami has seven new assistant coaches since last season, including offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson (previously at Houston); defensive coordinator Lance Guidry (at Marshall last season before taking a job for a few weeks at Tulane); wide receivers coach and former 2001 UM national championship receiver Kevin Beard (last at Toledo); running backs coach and former UM track star Tim Harris Jr. (last at UCF as co-offensive coordinator/assistant head coach); linebackers coach Derek Nicholson (last at Louisville); tight ends coach Cody Woodiel (last year at UM as a senior quality control analyst who worked with tight ends); and defensive line coach Jason Taylor, a former Dolphins great and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who was a UM defensive analyst last season.
Dawson should be especially instrumental in Van Dyke’s potential reemergence as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Fourth-year junior Van Dyke, the 2021 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, said he’s back in top shape, his right shoulder fully healed from a third-degree sprain of the AC joint.
“It doesn’t affect me at all anymore,’’ Van Dyke told the Herald two weeks ago. “It’s good.”
Van Dyke missed most of the second half of the season with the injury, which he sustained Oct. 22 at home against Duke. Before that, he struggled in losses at Texas A&M and against Middle Tennessee before throwing for 496 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to North Carolina and 342 yards and two TDs in a win at Virginia Tech.
It’s clear that an improved line is a must for Van Dyke to have a shot at picking up where he left off in 2021.
For the first time this year, the 14-team ACC has eliminated the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, instead switching to a format that rewards the top two teams, based on conference winning percentage, at the end of the regular season. Those two teams will meet in the ACC Football Championship Game on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, N.C.
Until proven otherwise, which includes avoiding the substantial injuries that beset them last season, these Hurricanes will be considered contenders, even if not favorites, for the ACC title.

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