CORAL GABLES (AP) - When he took over at Miami, Randy Shannon had a list of things he knew had to happen before the Hurricanes could return to prominence.
Recruiting needed to be more effective. Academics had to be a top priority. Players were asked to get bigger, stronger, faster.
"It's been a challenge," Shannon said.
True, yet all those things seem to have been scratched off that initial to-do list.
Miami's roster is loaded with depth again. Size and speed have been added to just about every position. The Hurricanes are one of the best-performing major college football teams in the classroom, something that Shannon thinks shows a level of discipline that could easily translate into better showings on the field as well.
So all those baby steps have been taken.
The way the Hurricanes see it, all that's left to do now is win.
Still eyeing its first Atlantic Coast Conference title, Miami expects to take a giant leap forward in 2010, with a returning 24-touchdown quarterback in Jacory Harris, quite possibly the deepest corps of wide receivers in the country, along with plenty of talent at defensive line, running back and in the secondary. The Hurricanes were 9-4 last season, the second one in a row where they won two more games than the year before, and if that trend continues Shannon doesn't see any reason why Miami won't be in the hunt for an ACC crown.
"What we've done, where we've been, where we're going as far as this football program, it's in the right direction," he said.
The schedule won't make things any easier for Miami.
After opening at home against Florida A&M on Sept. 2, Miami plays its next three on the road - at Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Clemson, a daunting lineup by any measure. And when the Hurricanes finally get home again, it'll be to meet none other than Florida State, the popular pick to win the ACC title and represent the conference in the Orange Bowl.
Plus, the games that may be Miami's biggest in the Coastal Division, against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, come in mid-November.
"We're not trying to look at any of that now," wide receiver LaRon Byrd said. "I think that's what hurt us last year. Last year, we looked at the first four games as our hardest games, and when we went 3-1, it was like, 'Oh, we're going to go to the national championship.' And that kind of hurt us down the road."
A year ago, Miami opened with Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, with some national pundits expecting the Hurricanes to go 0-4. They went 3-1, soaring in the national polls, only to stumble against both Clemson and North Carolina to miss out on playing for the ACC title and berth in the Orange Bowl.
They learned their lesson. So talk of Ohio State, and a matchup of the two programs who played one of the most memorable national championship games of the past decade, is taboo. These Hurricanes have the requisite swagger, yet insist their approach when it comes to the schedule will be businesslike, even downright boring.
"The feeling that we have is a genuine feeling that at every position, there's no flaw," safety Vaughn Telemaque said. "At every position, somebody's ready to make a play. At every position, somebody's going to make a play."
If there are concerns heading into 2010, it likely revolves around the offensive line - which, literally and figuratively, got a huge boost with the arrival of 6-foot-8, 350-pound Seantrel Henderson, who originally signed with Southern California as the most coveted recruit in the nation, then was released when the Trojans were hit by NCAA sanctions. Henderson could play from Game 1 at Miami.
Another issue of some concern is linebacker, although returning standouts Sean Spence and Colin McCarthy appear to be as healthy as they've been in some time. Special teams should be a strength, anchored by kicker-punter Matt Bosher, one of the nation's best at both jobs.
"We've come a long way as a football team at the University of Miami," Shannon said.
He knows this was supposed to be a process, although it tested his patience. Shannon has seen all the ebbs and flows of Miami football over the last three decades around his alma mater. Shannon was recruited by Howard Schnellenberger, played for Jimmy Johnson, then coached alongside Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and Larry Coker. In short, he's seen just about everything at Miami.
A new chapter, he expects, will be written this year. The work's been done. Shannon truly thinks this is the year with a payoff.
"That's a part of being at the University of Miami," Harris said. "Every year, you've got to go 12-0. It may not happen like that, but at the beginning of the season, no matter what your preseason ranking is, no matter what goes down, you're still supposed to go 12-0. It's something you've got to deal with. And if you're not prepared for it, you shouldn't have came to this place."