After a 6-7 2019 campaign, the Miami Hurricanes had a bit of a bounce-back 2020 season.
But the Hurricanes will have to replace a few key members of their team, especially on defense, where Miami could have two first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Miami will have its starting quarterback returning in D'Eriq King, but his status to start the season remains a huge question mark after tearing his ACL in the bowl game in late December. Let's take a look at the reasons for optimism in regards to the Hurricanes.
1. Blake Baker's departure
In late January, Baker left the Hurricanes to become the LSU linebackers coach. While an assistant leaving usually means attrition, this move should help out the Canes.
Miami's defense regressed under Baker's leadership, as the Hurricanes finished 67th in total defense, 76th in rushing defense, and 65th in passing yards allowed. In the Hurricanes' 62-26 loss to North Carolina, Miami's defense allowed 778 yards, including 554 on the ground.
Head coach Manny Diaz made a few changes to his staff after the season, including taking control of the defensive play-calling for 2021. Some of the coaching changes include hiring former Falcons defensive line coach Jess Simpson as assistant head coach and defensive line coach and promoting former Miami assistant recruiting director DeMarcus Van Dyke to cornerbacks coach.
2. Hurricanes return a lot offensively
Miami will return 88.1 percent of its passing yards, 99.7 percent of its rushing yards, and 76.6 percent of its receiving yards — among the most of any team in the nation. The only significant departure on Miami's offense is tight end Brevin Jordan, who caught 38 passes for 576 yards and seven touchdowns.
Among those key returnees outside of quarterback D'Eriq King include wide receivers Mike Harley (57 rec., 799 yds.), Mark Pope (33, 403), and Dee Wiggins (31, 358).
Miami also will return the bulk of its offensive line rotation as well, which should only help King and the rest of its offense. Losing 2020 Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales will hurt, but there should be plenty of firepower to make up for that.
3. The return of the King
Let's be honest, the Hurricanes wouldn't have won eight games if King wasn't behind center.
After transferring from Houston, King was productive in Rhett Lashlee's offense as he passed for 2,686 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only five interceptions on a 64.1 percent completion rate.
However, King tore his ACL in Miami's Cheez-It Bowl loss to Oklahoma State on Dec. 29. Still, the university said in the days following the injury that King is expected to return for the start of fall camp in August.
Miami will only go as far as King takes them. And considering that the Hurricanes will open up the season against Alabama, King certainly needs to be under center for them to have any shot in that game. Even if Miami doesn't upset the Crimson Tide, the Hurricanes should still be one of the favorites in the Coastal because of King.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @CanesFootball)