NCAA Hands Out Miami Player Suspensions, Possibly Impacting Atlantic Division Title Race

Jacory Harris #12 of the Miami Hurricanes warms up prior to the game against the Florida State Seminoles on October 9, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the NCAA handed down its punishment of eight Miami players for accepting improper benefits from booster Nevin Shapiro, but only slapped three 'Canes with multi-game suspensions. Only starting defensive end Olivier Vernon (6 games), starting strong safety Ray Ray Armstrong (4 games) and Dyron Rye (4 games) will miss more than one game this season.

The full NCAA press release is here:

"Eight University of Miami football student-athletes must miss competition and repay benefits as a condition of becoming eligible to play again, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The student-athletes received varying levels of recruiting inducements and extra benefits from university booster Nevin Shapiro and athletics personnel, according to the facts of the case."

Unfortunately for the rest of the Atlantic Division, the one game that all eight 'Canes (and seven starters) will miss is the season opener at Maryland on Monday night. Your welcome, Edsall.

All of the biggest names on the list of eight players suspended -- QB Jacory Harris, WR Travis Benjamin, DT Marcus Forston and WLB Sean Spence -- will sit out the Maryland game, regroup during the rather odd second week bye week, and be ready to go for the Canes September 17 showdown against Ohio State. And all of the suspended players will be back in time for the second half ACC stretch run, including road games at North Carolina and Florida State and home games vs. Georgia Tech, Virginia, Duke and Boston College.

This isn't to say that the school and the program are out of the woods. Hardly. The NCAA will still slap the program with sanctions at the end of its ongoing investigation into the program. But it does appear that the NCAA will go after the school and the program much harder than the current players involved.

The player suspensions will likely have an impact on this year's ACC Atlantic Division race. That is, if preseason ACC favorite Florida State doesn't run away with this year's division title.

The implications here are clear: Miami will be without seven starters in its Labor Day opening weekend game against the Terps, while the U, barring injury or the NCAA handing down further player suspensions, will be at full strength for its games against the remaining two Atlantic Division teams on the schedule -- November 12 at inter-division rival Florida State and November 25 vs. BC. If a less-than-full-strength Canes team rolls over in the opener against Maryland, but knocks off either FSU, BC or both at full strength, that's a one-game swing in the Atlantic Division standings. And while that is really just a half-game swing given the importance of the head-to-head matchup, it's still significant in a division race that has never been decided by more than one game and has come down to the head-to-head tiebreaker twice.

Of course, this all assumes that you consider either Maryland or Boston College a legitimate threat to win this year's Atlantic Division title. However, the possibility remains that the NCAA player suspensions handed down on Tuesday may impact the Atlantic Division's representative in the conference Championship Game. 

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