Barry Jackson

Here’s what happened with UM receivers that has left everyone excited. And UM’s Vegas odds

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday:

Some encouraging news on the receiver front: From all indications, Mark Pope has improved after a disappointing freshman season. Jeff Thomas has comported himself well and worked diligently since Manny Diaz reinstated him to the program.

KJ Osborn has been the reliable player UM expected on the field and a leader off of it. And Jeremiah Payton might be the most impressive of the freshmen newcomers.

Receiver Mike Harley Jr. said Thomas, who was reinstated in January after being jettisoned in November and nearly transferring to Illinois, is showing “more explosiveness, maturity, speaking up more. Being a leader outside of football. It’s a good thing when everybody on the outside sees it too.”

Is there a difference in how opponents cover UM when Thomas is on the field?

“Yes, I can say that,” Harley said. “Some defenses respect him. Some don’t respect him and they will pay for it. You see he blows the top off. If you blow the top off, everyone wants to play back, and that’s when we run the counter game. Jeff is that secret weapon.”

Harley said Pope — who looked good this spring — is a different player “so far. He’s gaining confidence and I’m there for him. I’m being that big brother, patting him on the shoulder, telling him what to do, how to do it. Sticking out like a sore thumb right now is Mark Pope. I see the maturity level in him.”

Pope appeared in only two games last season, catching one pass for 11 yards. He said this spring that he was frustrated last season but never seriously considered transferring. And on Wednesday, he confirmed my report last season that he didn’t know the playbook well enough. Pope said that has now changed.

“Mark got caught up in a young room a year ago that sort of got off track,” coach Manny Diaz said. “I’ve told him, you’ll certainly look back 20 years from now and be happy you persevered through this year.”

We will know in three months if UM’s hopes about this group are justified. But with the aforementioned four players, plus Harley, Brian Hightower, Dee Wiggins and perhaps Evidence Njoku, this group looks very, very solid.

According to, UM has the 16th-shortest odds to win the national title at 90 to 1. Miami falls behind Utah and Nebraska on the odds list. Florida is eighth at 33 to 1 and UCF 20th at 200 to 1.

Miami’s odds to make the four-team college football playoff are 16th best, at 11 to 1.

Meanwhile, UM’s odds to win the ACC are 12 to 1, second best behind Clemson, which is an overwhelming favorite at 2 to 4. FSU is third at 19 to 1.

And there’s this: Tate Martell hasn’t even won the UM quarterback job yet but he has the 20th-best odds to win the Heisman at 65 to 1. The top three to win the Heisman: Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) and Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma).

Quick stuff part 1: UM hasn’t snagged the top recruit from Broward County since 2012, when Tracy Howard committed to UM out of Miramar High. That trend continued Thursday when St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Marcus Rosemy (Rivals’ top Broward player and 53rd-best 2020 prospect) committed to Georgia. UM gave him an offer him, but the Canes lost ground after parting ways with Ron Dugans, who had been his primary recruiter. Former UM offensive coordinator James Coley led Georgia’s recruiting charge....

The Canes have assembled an All-Star cast of former players for their Paradise Camp for recruits this weekend. Among those announced by UM: Michael Irvin, Randal Hill, Brian Blades, Duke Johnson, Bryant McKinnie, DJ Williams, Bernie Kosar, Gino Torretta, Jacory Harris and many others. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are expected but haven’t been announced.

Quick stuff part 2: UM hasn’t decided if D.J. Scaife will play tackle or guard. A football staffer said he will continue to get work at both. It would be surprising if he isn’t a starter for the opener, but where he plays will depends on who wins other jobs on the line... Running back Cam’Ron Harris is rooming with Australian freshman punter Louis Hedley and said the colorful, tattooed Hedley “will give it to somebody on that punting team” as far as physicality with his tackling. “I didn’t believe he was a punter until he told me,” Harris said. “He brings excitement to the team. He’s got a different mind-set. He’s still learning the Miami way.”

One sign of renewed enthusiasm about the program: Donations to the Hurricane Club, in the fiscal year ending May 31, were up $900,000 from the previous year, to more than $6.2 million. What’s more, more than 3,600 people donated to the Hurricane Club during the past year, compared with a bit more than 2,000 the previous year.

Jesse Marks, UM’s senior associate athletic director/development, cited various factors. Among them: additional perks for Hurricane Club members (including more access than ever) and excitement over “Manny coming in with The New Miami.”

UM raised $250,000 for its spring tour — more than past years — and every event was sold out in part because of the enthusiasm Diaz generates during those speeches. “Manny is an excellent orator for the vision of our program,” Marks said.

UM has sold 37,000 season tickets for football, not yet having surpassed last year’s total.

Basketball notes: Jim Larranaga believes Rodney Miller, who redshirted last year to work on his game and his body, will be in the “Tonye Jekiri role,” he told WQAM-560. “Big, physical low-post presence. Jekiri averaged 8.9 points a game and was on the ACC’s All Defense team. Rodney is a better offensive threat than Tonye was. We need Rodney to step it up defensively and rebounding wise if he’s really going to make a major contribution. He’s going to get a chance to play a lot of minutes and we need him to produce.”…

UM will play three or four games in Italy in August. The NCAA allows teams to go abroad once every four years… Dewan Hernandez ended up working out for 15 of the NBA’s 30 teams — but not the Heat — in advance of Thursday’s draft. He should get offers for summer league if he goes undrafted.

Related stories from Miami Herald