University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman wasn’t expecting much sleep Thursday night.
That’s what “Christmas” can do to a guy.
“I’ll probably pop up in the middle of the night and just start watching film,” Perryman said in anticipation of the Hurricanes’ home opener against FAU at 8 p.m. Friday. “It’s just like Christmas. I’m going to wake up, I know I’m going to eat, and then … game time.”
Finally, after denying themselves an opportunity to represent the Coastal Division in what would have been their first Atlantic Coast Conference title game; after self-imposing their second consecutive bowl ban; after going more than nine months without the game that fuels them, the Hurricanes can exult in the antidote for all ills: football.
The Hurricanes will meet the 32-point underdog Owls for the first time, in an opener that will celebrate Howard Schnellenberger — the man who brought glory to UM and a football program to FAU — and the 30th anniversary of Schnellenberger’s 1983 UM national championship team.
But more pressing for Hurricanes fans and the program itself is that Friday will mark the start of what most expect to be Miami’s best season in years. With senior quarterback Stephen Morris, tailback Duke Johnson and an offensive line considered among the elite in college football, this is the campaign in which coach Al Golden is expected to take the Canes back to relevancy.
The five-time national champion Hurricanes have not won more than seven games in six of the past seven seasons. And with the NCAA — what Golden calls the “four-letter-word” — hovering on the horizon with pending sanctions, the Canes (7-5 in 2012) badly need the momentum that a successful season could bring.
“They look at Friday night as an opportunity to prove to themselves what they are developing and what they want to become,” Golden said. “There’s a lot of urgency right now.
“The expectations are the reasons the kids choose Miami and certainly why I came to Miami. I want to chase the bar. We want to chase … the greatest teams that have ever been though here.”
To do that, the Hurricanes must show that their defense has improved exponentially. Last season, they ranked near the bottom in nearly every category. This season, the Baby Canes thrust into the fire consider themselves veterans.
Sixteen true freshmen (of 21 in all) played last season, eight of them starting at least one game. Many of them, such as cornerback Tracy Howard, were on defense and went through growing pains.
“Just do what the coach wants you to do,” Howard said, when asked to give advice for the freshmen who might play Friday. “Don’t try to go out there and make plays on your own. Let the game come to you. Play your role.”
The Owls, based in relatively nearby Boca Raton and coached by Carl Pelini, haven’t even named a starting quarterback. Coming off a 3-9 season, they employ a read-option offense, and plan to use up to three quarterbacks, Pelini said.
“I’m sure there will be some jitters,” Pelini said. “But the sooner those jitters go away and they take a deep breath and just starting playing football, the better off they will be.
“… We have to be able to respond to the depth of their football team by being able to match their depth for four quarters. That’s our challenge first and foremost.”
Expected to be strong offensively, the Hurricanes bring their “same, pro-style, up-tempo offense,” but with “a different guy calling it, different guy coaching receivers, different guy coaching running backs and different guy coaching tight ends,” noted new coordinator James Coley. “The last staff did a great job, but they did it their way, obviously.
“We’re going to do it our way, because it’s going to work also.”
This will be a rare Friday-night game, and it has yet to be seen how many fans will fill the stands — given so many high schools will be playing their openers at the same time. Sun Life Stadium appeared nearly empty much of the time last season.
The 10th-ranked Gators, who come to Sun Life on Sept. 7, are expected to bring a capacity crowd.
“We’re going to get a lot of walkups in terms of both universities,” Golden said. “We’re celebrating Howard Schnellenberger in addition to the ’83 national championship team. Obviously, Howard is somebody who means a lot to South Florida, not just FAU and [UM], but the Miami Dolphins.
“I think we will get a good crowd, and to be honest with you, I think our kids deserve a big crowd. They’ve worked hard, they fought through a lot and we’ve got some guys that we believe are worth seeing.”