Miami Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Hurricanes' Schedule

Four of the Hurricanes' final five games are on the road

The Miami Hurricanes football program will have its third head coach since 2015 as Manny Diaz took over after the sudden retirement of Mark Richt in late December. Although there's a new person in charge, Diaz is undoubtedly familiar with the Hurricanes having served as their defensive coordinator the last three years.

 

The good news is Diaz's defense returns a ton of talent on that side of the ball despite the losses of Gerald Willis, Joe Jackson and safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine. The biggest questions come on offense, starting with the quarterback competition between Ohio State transfer Tate Martell and redshirt sophomore N'Kosi Perry.

 

Miami's schedule is favorable although they have a tough opener against the Gators. Also, the Canes' last five games could be their toughest stretch as they're at home just once from Oct. 26 on.

 

12. Sept. 14 vs. Bethune-Cookman

A lot of teams begin their season against FCS opponents. The Hurricanes will host Bethune-Cookman in Week 3 of the season. Last season, the Wildcats finished 7-5 but lost all three of its games against FBS teams (North Texas, Florida Atlantic, Nebraska) by a total of 78 points. The Hurricanes should be able to make quick work of them at Hard Rock Stadium.

 

11. Sept. 21 vs. Central Michigan

In previous years, a game against the Chippewas would prove to be a competitive contest. However, this year's Chippewas team is coming off its worst season in recent memory.

 

Central Michigan finished 1-11 in 2018 as they fired head coach John Bonamego after the season. Former Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain was hired in December to help the Chippewas return to respectability. Miami's talent and depth should show against one of the bottom-feeders of the MAC.

 

10. Nov. 9 vs. Louisville

In just a year after former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson left to enter the NFL draft, the Cardinals hit rock bottom. The team lost 10 of its 12 games as head coach Bobby Petrino didn't even make it through the season.

 

Scott Satterfield, who had a ton of success at Appalachian State, was hired to turnaround the Cardinals program. It will likely take a little while to rebuild in Louisville, so the Hurricanes shouldn't have a lot of trouble in their last true home game.

 

9. Oct. 19 vs. Georgia Tech

Usually, a game against the Yellow Jackets would mean preparing for the triple option, but those days are gone. After Paul Johnson's retirement, the Yellow Jackets hired former Temple head coach Geoff Collins in what could be a multi-year rebuild down in Atlanta.

 

Collins will need to settle on a quarterback to run Georgia Tech's pro-style offense. No matter who is under center, expect a lot of growing pains as the roster is full of players that were recruited for the triple option. This is a game the Hurricanes should win pretty easily.

 

8. Nov. 23 at FIU

Although this is technically a road game, the Hurricanes will take on the FIU Panthers at Marlins Park, which is on the grounds of Miami's former stadium, the Orange Bowl. Last season, Miami beat FIU 31-17, but the Panthers return a lot of offensive firepower, including quarterback James Morgan, who threw for 26 touchdowns a year ago.

 

FIU head coach Butch Davis would love nothing more to upset his former program on their hollow grounds. With the talent returning in 2019, the Panthers are capable of hanging around, so the Canes definitely need to be on upset alert for this one.

 

7. Sept. 7 at North Carolina

The Tar Heels finished in last place in the ACC Coastal for the second consecutive season. Because of that, the administrators thought it was time for a change, as they hired Mack Brown to help rebuild the Tar Heels program for the second time. In his first stint, Brown had North Carolina on the brink of greatness as he finished 10-2 and 11-1 before leaving to coach at Texas.

 

Although many probably don't think the Tar Heels will be competitive in the Coastal this season, they certainly have more talent than their record indicates. North Carolina was 2-8 in games decided by seven points or less the last couple of seasons. Don't be surprised if the Tar Heels pull off the potential upset in Chapel Hill.

 

6. Nov. 30 at Duke

The Blue Devils won eight games last season. However, the team lost long-time signal-caller Daniel Jones to the NFL. But, Quentin Harris was 2-0 as a starter last season when Jones was injured, which should prove to be a significant benefit.

 

Duke will need to replace a number of skill players on the offensive side of the ball, including in their receiving corps. Defensively, the Blue Devils return nine starters, including defensive end Victor Dimukeje. Miami and Duke usually have competitive matchups, and this year shouldn't be any different.

 

5. Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh

There are several ways to view the 2018 season for the Panthers. Yes, they won the ACC Coastal Division, but not only did they get destroyed by the Hurricanes in the regular-season finale, but they proceeded to lose their next two games after that — vs. Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, Stanford in the Sun Bowl — to find their campaign.

 

On the road in late October won't be easy for the Hurricanes, especially with how challenged they are on offense. Expect the Panthers to want revenge after being embarrassed at Hard Rock Stadium a year ago.

 

4. Oct. 5 vs. Virginia Tech

Last season was a rough one for the Hokies as they finished under .500 for the first time since 1992. They were able to extend their bowl streak to 26 games though. After dealing with injuries and inexperience last year, the Hokies should be better this upcoming season.

 

Ryan Willis put up decent numbers under center after taking over at quarterback. Virginia Tech returns 11 starters on defense and Bud Foster's unit should be much improved compared to 2018. This early October game could be the difference in a Coastal Division that doesn't have a lot of separation talent-wise.

 

3. Oct. 11 vs. Virginia

Last year's 16-13 loss to the Cavaliers was the beginning of a downward spiral for the Hurricanes. Now, the Cavaliers are arguably the favorites to win the Coastal.

 

Not only does quarterback Bryce Perkins return but Virginia also brings back several key contributors on defense, including cornerback Bryce Hall, who surprisingly decided to return to school instead of entering the NFL draft. Under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Cavaliers have continued to get better each year and could be ready to take the next step, which is getting to Charlotte for the ACC title game. This figures to be a key game in deciding how the Coastal turns out.

 

2. Nov. 2 at Florida State

The rivalry between the Seminoles and the Hurricanes have had some wild finishes and last year's contest wasn't any different. Miami pulled off its biggest comeback ever against Florida State by rallying from 20 points down to win 28-27. While the Seminoles are definitely on hard times, don't expect them to finish with just five wins again.

 

Florida State should show improvement this season on both sides of the ball. The Seminoles will hope new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles can improve the team's scoring after finishing 113th nationally last season with 21.9 points per game. Expect another close contest between these two in-state rivals.

 

1. Aug. 24 vs. Florida (Orlando, Fla.)

Miami will begin the season against a team it hasn't played since 2013, the Gators. On a neutral site, the Aug. 24 contest will help one of these programs get off to a fast start.

 

Florida had its best season in years in 2018, going 10-3 in Dan Mullen's first season back in Gainesville, capping things off by demolishing Michigan in the Peach Bowl. The Gators could be even better this upcoming season as they will likely begin the year ranked in the top 10.

 

If Miami can pull off the upset, the Hurricanes could be headed for a special season, which could include contending for a national championship. Even if things don't go Miami's way, a respectable showing could show fans the Canes are ready to contend in the ACC once again.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

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