Miami is lurking to challenge Florida State and Clemson for supremacy in the ACC.
The college football season is rapidly approaching, with the anticipation building with each day. As the hunger for the upcoming season gets stronger we’ve got something here at SQ that will whet your appetite. Over the next few weeks we’ll be rolling out previews of the teams in our top-25. Today we continue our countdown with #18, Miami.
Team Name: Miami Hurricanes
2016 Record: 9-4
Finish in AP Poll: 20
Coach: Mark Richt (9-4, second year)
Key Arrivals: QB N’Kosi Perry, George Brown (TRANSFER - LSU), CB Dee Delaney (TRANSFER - The Citadel), WR Jeff Thomas, DE D.J. Johnson, OG Navaughn Donaldson, OT Kai-Leon Herbert, RB Robert Burns, CB Jhavonte Dean (JUCO), ATH Deejay Dallas, CB Trajan Brandy
Previewing Miami’s Offense
If quarterback Brad Kaaya hadn’t decided to leave college early for the NFL, not only would he have likely improved his draft stock, but the Miami offense would also have been one of the best units in the country. Instead, the Hurricanes will have to settle for a really, really good offense.
Two quarterbacks, redshirt junior Malik Rosier and true freshman N’Kosi Perry, are currently vying to replace Kaaya, and both bring different elements to the table. Rosier has just one career start and 61 pass attempts under his belt, but he does have three years of experience in Miami’s system. Although his physical abilities are limited compared to Perry’s, he would bring some easy stability to the position.
Perry, on the other hand, has a ton of physical ability but, as a true freshman, zero experience. He therefore presents a gamble for Richt and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Considering Richt has been signaling early in camp that he wants to be patient with his young charge, it’s likely that Rosier is under center when the Hurricanes open against Bethune-Cookman, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Perry take over at some point mid-way through the year.
Whoever ends up the Miami quarterback will have plenty of help to make his job easier. The Hurricanes return four starting offensive linemen from a unit that allowed just 1.92 sacks per game last season (t-51st in the country). The fifth spot is likely to go to four-star recruit Navaughn Donaldson or LSU transfer George Brown. Either way, this is one of, if not the strongest offensive line in the ACC and will only improve as the season continues.
Miami also has plenty of skill players returning. Junior running back Mark Walton rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016, both good for fifth in the ACC, and for his efforts he was named to the All-ACC preseason team. Sophomore wide receiver Ahmmon Richards was also named to the All-ACC preseason team after a great rookie campaign during which he led Miami in receiving yards and yards per reception. He’ll receive an increased role as the new No. 1 option now that Stacy Coley has graduated, and junior Lawrence Cager and seniors Braxton Berrios and Christopher Herndon round out the most talented receiving corps in the conference.
The quarterback position is something of a question mark, but the rest of the offense is loaded with talent. This offense has a high floor and if either Rosier or Perry excels, an extremely lofty ceiling.
Previewing Miami’s Defense
Miami’s defense is arguably more exciting than its offense and is certainly just as promising. The Hurricanes return their entire front seven from 2016. That front seven led the way as Miami finished second in the ACC by allowing just 18.5 points per game. Sophomore Joe Jackson was eighth in the conference with 8.5 sacks last season and should be just as lethal off the edge this season if not more so.
The sophomore trio of Shaquille Quarterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinckney form one of the strongest linebacking corps in the country. After being unexpectedly thrust into starting roles immediately as true freshmen last season, all three vastly exceeded expectations. Quarterman led the way with 84 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, and was named to the All-ACC preseason team this year as he’s expected to become one of the best middle linebackers in the country. McCloud and Pinckney combined for 98 tackles and 11.0 tackles for loss of their own and should only add to those numbers in 2017.
The only minor question marks on defense for the Hurricanes come in the secondary. Leading cornerback Corn Elder and safety Rayshawn Jenkins are in the NFL, and safety Jamal Carter has graduated leaving three starting positions to be replaced. Both corner spots look to be filled by transfers. Former Citadel and first-team All-FCS cornerback Dee Delaney seems assured of one starting spot on the outside and JUCO transfer Jhavonte Dean is the frontrunner to nab the other starting spot. Last season for the Citadel, Delaney recorded six interceptions and eight pass breakups. His six interceptions would have been by far the most of any player on the Hurricanes last season and his passes defended would have ranked second behind only Elder. If he can bring that same spark to Miami this year, the secondary should fare just fine considering the strength of the front seven.
This defense is poised to improve upon a strong 2016, which should frighten the rest of the ACC. And if it lives up to its billing, expect Miami to waltz to a Coastal championship and a spot in the ACC title game.
Three Key Games
1. Sept. 16 at Florida State - We’ll all find out very quickly just how good this Miami team is during this Week 3 matchup against a true national championship contender. The Florida State-Miami rivalry is one of the most intense in all of college football and its renewal this season comes amid the Hurricanes’ hopeful resurgence among the elite and the Seminoles’ place as favorites in the ACC. A loss probably wouldn’t hurt Miami’s chances of winning the Coastal, but a competitive showing this early in the season against one of the best team’s in the country would go a long way toward proving the fact that Miami is ready to rejoin the ranks of the nation’s best programs.
2. Nov. 4 vs. Virginia Tech - This is the game that will most likely decide the ACC Coastal division. Virginia Tech’s defense looks to be one of the stoutest in the conference, but the Hokies lost a considerable amount of talent on offense and Miami, with a loaded defense of its own, should be able to capitalize. By this point, whoever ends up as the Hurricanes’ quarterback will have months of experience under his belt and, of course, Walton will be able to take some of the pressure off. Expect a low-scoring affair, but Miami has the better team and is playing at home so it has the advantage coming in and therefore the advantage for winning the Coastal.
3. Nov. 11 vs. Notre Dame - Although this game won’t impact Miami’s race for the ACC crown, it is the most difficult game remaining on their schedule post-Virginia Tech. If the Hurricanes still have national championship aspirations this deep into the season, it will be pivotal not to have a let down the week after playing the Hokies. The Fighting Irish were one of, if not the most disappointing team of 2016, but they come back this year with plenty of experience on both sides of the ball, except at quarterback. Regardless, they’re dangerous to play and Miami will need to show some fortitude to keep any momentum it may have accumulated going into the stretch run of the season.
This will be the year that Miami begins its ascent back to the mountaintop it once occupied almost two decades ago. Miami received 103 of 167 first place votes in the ACC preseason poll making them the early favorite to represent the Coastal division in the title game. The Hurricanes deserve that billing.
Miami has exceptional talent all across the board with only the quarterback position a true concern heading into the season. Of course quarterback is the most important position on either side of the ball, but at the college level, with a strong defense and enough weapons on offense, one can mitigate certain deficiencies at the position and excel. If, however, either Rosier or Perry emerges as a highly skilled passer, the Hurricanes will not only win the Coastal, they will win it easily.
Either way, Miami is good enough in 2017 to finish with double-digit wins during the regular season, compete in the title game against Florida State, and has a ceiling as high as representing the ACC in a New Year’s Six bowl. Get excited, folks. The U is back.
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