Miamifinally broke through with an ACC Coastal Division title last season, but the campaign ended on a disappointing note. The good news for the Hurricanes and their fans is that Mark Richt has his team well positioned to make another run at a conference crown, at minimum. The offense has plenty of weapons but the quarterback position and offensive line both need to be settled. The defense should once again create plenty of turnovers and big plays led by one of the nation's best linebacking corps. The pieces are in place for Miami to repeat last season's success, but unlike 2017, can this edition of the Hurricanes win the games that matter the most?
Previewing Miami Football's Offense for 2018
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Normally, a fan base would be overjoyed about a fifth-year senior quarterback coming off a 10-win season, but Miami's love affair with Malik Rosier soured during UM's three-game losing streak to end the season (his completion percentage in those games: 44.9). Coach Mark Richt has made it clear: If Rosier can't improve his throwing accuracy, one of three freshmen -; N'Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon or Jarren Williams (true freshman) - could take his job. The most likely candidate is Perry, a scrambler with a strong arm.
Whoever he is, the QB will have a bevy of weapons, including junior wideout Ahmmon Richards. He's coming off knee surgery but is expected to return to his Freshman All-America form of 2016 (he broke Michael Irvin's 31-year-old UM first-year record for receiving yards, with 934). The Canes have speed to burn with 5'10" sophomores Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley, and running backs Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas are sub-6-foot but shifty and skilled. Freshman Brevin Jordan could make an instant impact as a fleet-footed H-back.
The offensive line is a concern, with two seniors (left tackle Tyree St. Louis and center Tyler Gauthier) and one sophomore (6'6", 350-pound right guard Navaughn Donaldson) the only sure things.
Previewing Miami Football's Defense for 2018
The Hurricanes captured the nation's attention with their gaudy Turnover Chain but lost their luster down the stretch. During their 1-3 finish, they struggled in coverage, allowing a 70.1 completion percentage and intercepting one pass (they had 16 picks in the first nine outings).
Offseason losses included two starting defensive tackles who left early (RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton) and top cover corner Malek Young (career-ending neck injury). Still, Miami's defense is fast and physical, and features one of the ACC's best linebacker units (juniors Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud).
Defensive ends Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin have high-round NFL talent. All signs point to a breakout season for defensive tackle Gerald Willis, who sat out last year to address personal issues. He was a "terror" on scout team, Richt says.
If inexperienced defensive backs step up around safety Jaquan Johnson and cornerback Michael Jackson - both of whom had four interceptions as juniors - Miami's secondary should wear the chain plenty.
Previewing Miami Football's Specialists for 2018
The kicking game is a worry after the graduation of confident kicker Michael Bagley. His replacement is freshman Bubba Baxa, who has a big leg but made just 4-of-10 field goals as a high school senior. Punter Zach Feagles (the son of retired NFL veteran Jeff Feagles) struggled last year as a freshman, but UM believes he'll grow. Expect Thomas and DeeJay Dallas to fill Braxton Berrios' shoes in the return game.
Last year was a rude awakening for the Hurricanes, who elbowed their way into the College Football Playoff discussion in November only to get thrashed by Clemson in the ACC title game. No one in Coral Gables will forget that feeling, and confidence is high on campus that Miami is building the type of team that can compete with the top dogs in any conference. They're not playing at a championship level consistently, but they're showing flashes, and Richt's last two recruiting classes have been excellent. The former Miami quarterback has restored the shine to his alma mater.