The Miami Hurricanes have a special sophomore running back—one who could be in contention for college football's prestigious Heisman Trophy, too.
Duke Johnson was a hometown kid and the definition of what a Miami recruit should be. Duke committed exactly 500 days before his signing day and recruited fellow players to the 'Canes.
After winning a state championship at Norland High School, Duke arrived in Coral Gables a highly-touted recruit, but his freshman season surpassed all expectations.
Senior running back Mike James was going to get plenty of carries, but Duke found himself in the middle of the rotation's pair following two 50-plus-yard touchdown runs in his collegiate debut.
Duke gained 2,060 all-purpose yards as a freshman, which was second only to Willis McGahee's school record of 2,108 yards in 2002. Johnson accounted for 14 touchdowns in his first season with the 'Canes.
With James lost to graduation, Duke becomes the feature back for new offensive coordinator James Coley's offense.
In 2012, Johnson carried the ball 139 times (approximately 12 carries per game), but he nearly reached 1,000 yards for the season with his 6.8-per carry average. James had 147 carries on the season, so the Hurricanes utilized a very balanced backfield.
This season, however, it will be Duke's time to shine.
Dallas Crawford, Eduardo Clements and Danny Dillard are each suitable backups, but not one of them will take nearly 40 percent of the carries behind Duke.
Johnson will be much closer to 200-plus carries this coming season, but he may not need to take the bulk of the carries until November.
The Hurricanes also play the easier part of their schedule through the month of October.
Now, Florida fans, before you jump to the comments, keep reading.
Miami plays Florida Atlantic, Savannah State, South Florida, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in four of the first seven games of 2013.
FAU (102nd in total rush defense), Savannah State (FCS), USF (50th), Wake Forest (68th) are not exactly premier defenses, and the Hurricanes will likely be one of the more prolific offenses in the nation this fall.
Georgia Tech (41st, eight returning starters) and North Carolina (40th, nine starters) are certainly not pushovers, but Duke ran for 4.4 yards per attempt against the teams combined.
Florida, of course, ranked fourth in the nation in rush defense last season, but while Will Muschamp's Gators lost five defensive players to the NFL, Muschamp is Muschamp. The Gators' defense will be solid as usual when the 'Canes face UF at Sun Life Stadium in the second game of 2013.
Heading into November, Miami will have played seven games, and Johnson having 800 yards and nine touchdowns at that point is certainly reasonable.
For comparison's sake, Mark Ingram, the last running back to win the Heisman, had 905 yards and eight touchdowns through seven games. Ingram even had a 246-yard game for Alabama during that stretch.
But this next reason might be the biggest part of why Duke will be a contender.
The Hurricanes' entire offensive line returns in 2013 after helping post the eighth-highest yards per carry in school history last season.
Right tackle Seantrel Henderson is an early Top 50 prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft according to NFLDraftScout.com via CBSSports.com.
Brandon Linder, Shane McDermott, Jon Feliciano, Malcolm Bunche and Ereck Flowers each have experience starting on the line as well.
The depth and talent of the 'Canes offensive line will prove to be a force while protecting Stephen Morris, but their collective dominance will show as they clear the way for Johnson to run.
What Johnson does against Florida State (third in rush defense in 2012), Virginia Tech (29th) and Pittsburgh (31st), will decide if Duke is a legitimate candidate in December, but a great start to the season will put him in good position to contend for the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, a hot start from Duke should help the 'Canes' overall record, too.
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