In Mark Richt's first year at Miami, the team finished 9-4 on the strength of winning the last five games of the season. That strong finish is one of the reasons why many not only expect the Hurricanes to win the ACC Coastal Division, but they also think they have a shot to win the conference.
To accomplish these goals, Miami first needs to find a quarterback to replace three-year starter Brad Kaaya. Seven other starters return on that side of the ball including running back Mark Walton and wide receiver Ahmmon Richards.
The defense could be among the best in the ACC, if not the country, with seven starters returning. The secondary is being rebuilt, but graduate transfer Dee Delaney is expected to be an immediate contributor at one of the cornerback spots.
So is this the year the Hurricanes finally break through and win the ACC for the first time since joining the conference in 2004? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Miami’s realistic 2017 win/loss projection.
Miami Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
With their defense, there's no reason to believe the Hurricanes can't contend for an ACC title in 2017. Miami has a favorable schedule which includes home games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. There is that Sept. 16 date in Tallahassee with Florida State, the team many expect to dethrone Clemson in both the Atlantic Division and as conference champ.
Assuming the Hurricanes find themselves a legit starting quarterback, there's no reason the team can't finish 11-2 on the season. Miami has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball and the team has their best opportunity to make it to Charlotte to play in their first-ever ACC Championship Game. Miami has been within an eyelash of defeating Florida State the last three seasons, but 2017 could finally be the year the Hurricanes end the losing streak.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
A 10-2 record wouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m going with 9-3 for the Hurricanes in 2017. The Coastal Division always seems to be unpredictable, so an upset loss at North Carolina or Pitt or against Notre Dame on Nov. 11 isn’t unrealistic for Miami. However, this should be the year the Hurricanes get over the hump and finally win the Coastal. The offense features a promising group of options at receiver, and running back Mark Walton is back after a 1,117-yard season. A proven and talented supporting cast is crucial considering the uncertainty at quarterback. Coach Mark Richt has a good track record of developing and finding standouts at the position, but it’s never easy breaking in a true freshman. Malik Rosier is the team’s most experienced option, but true freshman N’Kosi Perry is likely to emerge as the starter. The defense – especially the front seven – is the strength of this team.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The ACC Coastal has been a jumble for what seems like forever but it might finally be time to declare there's a clear favorite in Miami this season. While there were expected growing pains in Mark Richt's first year in Coral Gables, most of those issues should be ironed out in 2017. Even with the loss of the team's starting quarterback to the NFL, there's a lot of experienced talent still left on the roster and the schedule is extremely favorable outside of that trip to Tallahassee. Yes, “the U” could officially be back come November.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Strides were certainly made in the first year for Miami under head coach Mark Richt. Miami won its final five games to finish 9-4, which included its first bowl victory in a decade and led to its first top-25 finish since 2009.
The Hurricanes had more players drafted than any team in the ACC this spring, but Miami still looks to be very good at the skill positions on offense and in the front seven on the other side of the football. Where Miami does have concerns is at quarterback and in the secondary. Fortunately for Miami, the ACC Coastal Division loses a lot of big-time quarterbacks including Mitchell Trubisky, Jerod Evans and Nathan Peterman.
Winning its ACC opener against Florida State in Tallahassee in prime time and potentially with a freshman quarterback won't be easy, but if the Hurricanes can avoid the annual swoon that tends to follow a loss to FSU, this should be the year that they finally win the Coastal.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
I’m bullish on the Canes this season. They closed 2016 in a very strong fashion and the momentum has built through the offseason. There are questions in the secondary and at quarterback, but the rest of Miami’s positional units are strong. The defensive front seven is among the nation’s best and the offense boasts stars in running back Mark Walton and receiver Ahmmon Richards.
Plus, the schedule sets up very nicely. The Hurricanes do go to Tallahassee, but Notre Dame at home is the toughest non-conference game and perhaps their two biggest challengers in the Coastal (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech) come to Coral Gables. If the Hurricanes solidify the quarterback position – and true freshman N’Kosi Perry is an intriguing option – this could be a breakthrough season for head coach Mark Richt and the U.