Hurricanes must navigate a tough four-game stretch starting in late October if they want a shot at an ACC title
Miami Hurricanes fans appear to have a lot of optimism and enthusiasm entering the 2020 season. Not only will the Hurricanes have a new offensive coordinator in Rhett Lashlee, but the team also will have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country under center. D'Eriq King transferred from Houston after having a prolific 2018 season in which he threw for 2,982 yards and 36 touchdowns with just six interceptions. With Lashlee and King leading the offense and Gregory Rousseau Jr. leading the defense, the Hurricanes have a chance to make it to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. But before that, they will have to navigate through their 2020 schedule.
Miami is currently slated to begin the season with three consecutive games at Hard Rock Stadium before hitting the road for the first time. In conference play, the Hurricanes will travel to Winston-Salem, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and Atlanta. They also have to host the likely ACC Coastal Division favorite in late October. Here's a breakdown of Miami's 2020 slate ranked from easiest to the toughest.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Wagner
After beginning the season against Temple at home, Miami will face a Wagner team that finished 1-11 in 2019. This is a cupcake FCS team that the Hurricanes should defeat by at least 40 points.
10. Sept. 17 vs. UAB
Fans might see UAB on Miami's schedule and think it is an easy win, but that certainly isn't the case. Last season, the Blazers finished 9-5, which included a loss in the Conference USA title game to Florida Atlantic. The Hurricanes will have to find a way to contain quarterback Tyler Johnston III and running back Spencer Brown.
9. Sept. 5 vs. Temple
Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz and the Temple Owls will be linked forever. Before becoming Miami's head coach in January 2019, Diaz accepted the same job at Temple, only to spurn the school after Mark Richt's sudden retirement. Now the two teams will kick off the 2020 season against each other. Despite Diaz's sudden change of heart, Temple finished with an 8-5 record under new head coach Rod Carey last season, concluding their season with an appearance in the Military Bowl.
8. Nov. 28 vs. Duke
Miami leads the all-time series over Duke (13-4), but the Blue Devils have won the last two meetings. This year's edition will take place at Hard Rock Stadium. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is known for his work with quarterbacks and he could potentially have another exciting one in Chase Brice, a transfer from Clemson. The Blue Devils also have several talented skill position players such as receiver Jalon Calhoun and running back Deon Jackson.
7. Oct. 3 vs. Pittsburgh
The Panthers finished 8-5 a season ago and should figure to be in the midst of the ACC Coastal race when they visit Miami in early October. Last season, the Hurricanes defeated Pitt 16-12 at Heinz Field. Quarterback Kenny Pickett could be better in 2020 now that he has had an entire season with offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Pittsburgh also appears to have a talented defense returning. This is a game Miami shouldn't take lightly.
6. Nov. 21 at Georgia Tech
In Geoff Collins' first season as the Yellow Jackets head coach, the team finished 3-9. However, one of their three victories was against Miami on the road. After a year of transition from the option to a pro-style offense, Georgia Tech should be even better in 2020. With the offense still finding its footing, the Jackets' defense will need to find a way to help them in games.
5. Oct. 9 at Wake Forest
In a shortened week, the Hurricanes will travel to Winston-Salem to take on a Wake Forest team that has continued to improve during the last few seasons. Head coach Dave Clawson will turn to quarterback Sam Hartman following Jamie Newman's transfer to Georgia. The Deacs will need to answer questions in the backfield along their offensive line, but Hartman does have the luxury of throwing to one of the ACC's top playmakers, wide receiver Sage Surratt.
4. Oct. 31 at Virginia
On Halloween, the Hurricanes will play the defending ACC Coastal Champions in Charlottesville. But this will be a different Virginia team in 2020 without Bryce Perkins under center. However, the Cavaliers will still return a lot of talent from their Orange Bowl team, especially on defense. On the road, the Hurricanes could have their hands full with a well-coached Bronco Mendenhall team.
3. Nov. 7 vs. Florida State
After losing seven straight to the Seminoles from 2010-16, the Hurricanes have won the last three in the rivalry. That includes the 27-19 victory in Tallahassee last season. Florida State has a new head coach in Mike Norvell, who came over from Memphis, so there will be some growing pains for the Seminoles. However, in rivalry games, all bets are off, especially when many of the players on the two teams know each other and are from the same area.
2. Oct. 24 vs. North Carolina
If Miami wants to play in the ACC Championship Game, one of their first obstacles will be North Carolina. Although the Tar Heels finished last season 7-6, the team is arguably the favorite to win the Coastal. That has a lot to do with how head coach Mack Brown has recruited in such a short time and quarterback Sam Howell. Miami players are familiar with Howell after he led the Tar Heels to a 28-25 victory over the Hurricanes last season thanks to a touchdown pass to Dazz Newsome with 1:01 left.
1. Nov. 14 at Virginia Tech
Assuming Miami gets past North Carolina at home, the ACC Coastal Divison could be decided in Blacksburg in their game against Virginia Tech. Hurricanes fans might notice something different with the Hokies' defense this fall. Bud Foster is no longer the defensive coordinator as Justin Hamilton will be in charge of the unit. The Hokies return 10 starters on that side of the ball, including the top linebacking corps in the conference. After finishing 8-5 in 2019, don't just expect the Hokies to improve, but they should remain at the forefront of the Coastal race.
Note: Schedule subject to change. Prior to the Big Ten's decision to go with a conference-only schedule, Miami's road game against Michigan State (Sept. 26) would have ranked ninth on this list.
— 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.