Is this the year Miamifinally wins the Coastal Division? Second-year coach Mark Richt must replace quarterback Brad Kaaya, but the Hurricanes return one of the ACC’s top running backs in Mark Walton, along with a defense slated to rank among the best in the conference. A tight battle for the top of the Coastal is expected this season, but Miami’s home date against Virginia Tech on Nov. 4 could decide the winner of the division.
Previewing Miami Football’s Offense for 2017
If only Brad Kaaya had stayed. Miami’s three-year starting quarterback opted to leave for the NFL, throwing a wrench into the Hurricanes’ plans to contend for the ACC Championship. There’s no reason they can’t get there still, but finding a QB1 has been question 1A on Mark Richt’s mind for months. He says he won’t settle on a starter until fall practice winds down. His options include redshirt junior Malik Rosier, a dual threat who owns the only start (2015 against Duke) on the roster, and incoming four-star recruit N’Kosi Perry, who is raw but is considered an elite talent. Perry may not start the opener, but don’t be surprised to see him play this fall. Jack Allison, UM’s only QB recruit in the 2016 class, left the team in the spring.
Whoever wins the job can lean on tailback Mark Walton, who rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and star receiver Ahmmon Richards, who broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old program record for receiving yards by a freshman — and led all freshman nationally — with 934 yards. To open the field for Richards, it’s critical for Miami to find ways to offset the loss of standout tight end David Njoku and veteran receiver Stacy Coley. Senior tight end Chris Herndon could be a breakout star, and a recruiting class led by All-America wideouts Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley will help stretch the field.
Previewing Miami Football’s Defense for 2017
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Last year represented a total turnaround in Miami’s defense, and there’s no reason it can’t once again be among the ACC’s best. Every major contributor from a fast, physical front seven returns. At end, senior Chad Thomas and sophomore Joe Jackson combined for 22.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks last year. Tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh brought a combined 19.5 and 4.5, respectively, to the party. UM brought waves of depth off the bench behind them.
The Hurricanes expect greater things from the starting linebacker trio of Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud, who last year were the only trio of true freshmen in the nation to start at linebacker (and first in UM history). With those newcomers (and true freshman Jackson) logging heavy time, the Canes rose from 106th in tackles for a loss to fifth, 115th in yards per rush allowed to 17th, 86th in yards per play allowed to ninth and 77th in points allowed to 12th.
If they are to climb higher, it will be because a rebuilding secondary finds its way. Replacing four senior starters will be tough, but Miami has high hopes for cornerback Dee Delaney, an FCS All-American at The Citadel who transferred in the summer, along with junior safety Jaquan Johnson and a talented recruiting class that will get its feet wet early.
Previewing Miami Football’s Specialists for 2017
Kicker Michael Badgley, who made 21-of-26 field goals and has hit from 57 yards, returns for his senior year. Though the Canes will be breaking in a punter, they shouldn’t be too worried. Freshman Zach Feagles was one of the country’s top recruits and comes from good stock: His father, Jeff, is in the school’s Sports Hall of Fame and had a 22-year NFL career. There is a wealth of return-game options.
If Miami finds a quarterback and the secondary settles down, this could be a special year. The Hurricanes have a favorable schedule that includes a tough test early — Florida State in Week 3 — and home/road balance the rest of the way. With the rest of the ACC Coastal rebuilding, the Hurricanes should be able to compete for the division title with an outstanding defense and an offense that does just enough. If Perry arrives early — some inside the program compare him to Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson — expectations in South Florida will skyrocket.
NATIONAL RANKING: 23
ACC COASTAL PREDICTION: 1ST
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