A season after going 10-3 and winning the ACC Coastal Division, expectations were high for the Miami Hurricanes entering the 2018 season. But after starting the season ranked in the top 10, a four-game losing streak in the middle of October resulted in a 7-5 showing with a Dec. 27 date in the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin remaining.
Although the season may not have gone how Miami players, coaches and fans expected, there are still several outstanding performances and highlights that need to be acknowledged headed into the bowl game.
Offensive MVP: Travis Homer, RB
It is hard to pick an MVP for an offense that ranks 91st in the nation in yards per game, but Homer is the player who has stood out the most on this side of the ball. He needs just 31 rushing yards against Wisconsin to reach 1,000 for the season, production that was good enough to rank sixth in the ACC.
Defensive MVP: Gerald Willis III, DT
Willis didn't receive first-team All-ACC recognition, but his stats rank among the best not just in the conference, but the entire country. The mammoth (6-4, 300) defensive tackle has been credited with 50 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, four sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Willis' presence is a big reason why the Hurricanes currently rank second in the nation in total defense.
Best Freshman: N'Kosi Perry, QB
Miami's offense fared better when Perry was given the opportunity to start. After backing up Malik Rosier, head coach Mark Richt finally gave his redshirt freshman the nod and his play improved as he became more comfortable. On the season, Perry has 1,089 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His development will be one of the key storylines to follow this offseason as it's no guarantee he'll be the starter for the 2019 opener.
Best Play of the Season: N'Kosi Perry's TD Pass to Brevin Jordan to Beat Florida State
After trailing Florida State 27-7 in the third quarter, Miami put together a furious rally, capped by Perry connecting with Jordan for a 41-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes held on for the 28-27 victory over their Sunshine State rivals.
Best Performance: Second-Half Defensive Performance vs. Florida State
As a unit, Miami's defense stepped up, especially in the third and fourth quarters against the Seminoles. FSU jumped out to a 27-7 lead but a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with 11:52 left in the third quarter were the final points scored by the Noles. For the game, the Hurricanes recorded six sacks, forced two takeaways (both coming in the third quarter), and held Florida State scoreless on its final seven possessions of the game as the Miami offense mounted a comeback.
Best Game (Team Performance): Home Blowout of North Carolina
In late September, Miami put on a show on national television on Thursday night as the Hurricanes tied a school record with three defensive touchdowns in a 47-10 rout of the Tar Heels. Romeo Finley and Joe Jackson ran back interceptions for scores and Jonathan Garvin added a scoop-and-score as the Hurricanes produced six takeaways on the night.
Defining Moment: Historic Rally to Beat Florida State
It appeared the Seminoles were on their way to a big win over Miami when a punt return for a touchdown made the score 27-7 in the third quarter. But the Hurricanes clamped down on defense and finally got their offense going to score the final 21 points of the game and escape with a 28-27 victory at home. Miami did lose its next four games to fall out of contention in the ACC Coastal, which only adds to the significance of this win, which marked the biggest comeback in the series' history.
Biggest Surprise: DeeJay Dallas, RB
While Travis Homer was the key cog in the Hurricanes' offense, Dallas provided a nice complement. The sophomore has 609 rushing yards and six touchdowns thus far as the Hurricanes average close 200 yards on the ground per game. Considering the struggles of the passing game, it's hard to imagine how the season would have turned out without Homer and Dallas getting the job done out of the backfield.
Biggest Disappointment: Hurricanes' Offense
The quarterback carousel didn't help, but Miami's issue on offense go beyond that position. Malik Rosier and N'Kosi Perry had their struggles, which impacted the overall chemistry on offense. The result is an offensive attack that ranks 11th in the ACC and 91st in FBS in yards per game and not that much better in points (7th, 51st) in points. It will be interesting to see if Mark Richt makes any changes to his offensive coaching staff following the bowl game.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most: Jaquan Johnson, S
Gerald Willis III has been terrific this season, but Johnson has been the anchor of the secondary for multiple seasons. His leadership will be missed just as much as his production.
Player to Watch in 2019: Jarren Williams, QB
Williams preserved his redshirt this year by playing in just one game. Even if he makes an appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin he'll remain that year of eligibility. This could become even more important if he makes a push in the spring for the starting quarterback job.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Recruiting
A little more than a week before the early signing period and the Hurricanes have had several players decommit following a disappointing regular season. The result has the 2019 class currently ranked in the same tier as ACC conference mates Wake Forest and North Carolina. That's a tough pill to swallow considering Miami's reputation. This could be a dangerous trend, especially with in-state rival Florida winning nine games and appearing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Dan Mullen's first season as head coach.
— 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.