The 2021 season certainly didn't go the way the Miami Hurricanes had envisioned it.
Miami finished 7-5 and prior to the bowl game, the Hurricanes fired head coach Manny Diaz after three seasons. The Hurricanes brought back one of their former alumni to hopefully restore the program back to greatness.
After four seasons at Oregon, Mario Cristobal left to return home to Miami, where he was a former player and a former assistant coach for the Hurricanes.
Before looking forward, let's take a look back at the 2021 season with some awards for this year's Hurricanes.
Offensive MVP: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
After taking over the starting duties when D'Eriq King was lost to a season-ending injury, Van Dyke completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions in 10 games.
Van Dyke reenergized the Hurricanes offense as well as the team as a whole after losing three of its first five games. With King back at the helm, expectations were high for Miami's offense, but the pieces never came together and he never was able to rediscover the form that made him so successful last season.
Van Dyke took over and after some early growing pains, he progressed and took control of the offense. His confidence and excellent play rubbed off on the rest of the team and Van Dyke's emergence is one of the reasons to be encouraged about the team's outlook for 2022.
Defensive MVP: Corey Flagg Jr., LB
There haven't been many bright spots on the Hurricanes' defense this season, but Flagg has been consistent throughout. He enters the bowl game with 60 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
Just a freshman, Flagg has established himself as a building block for Cristobal and the new coaching staff. There's plenty of room for improvement on defense as Miami is just 77th nationally in total defense (389.6 ypg) entering the bowl season.
Best Freshman: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
This is an easy call as Van Dyke was named the ACC's Offensive Rookie and overall Rookie of the Year. He enters the bowl game with a streak of six straight 300-yard passing games with three or more touchdown passes in each contest as well. He was named ACC Rookie of the Week five times during this stretch and not surprisingly, the Hurricanes went 5-1 in those games.
Best Play of the Season: Miami's game-winning interception vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh might have won the ACC this season, but Miami defeated the Panthers on Oct. 30. Up 38-34 late in the fourth quarter, Hurricanes safety James Williams intercepted eventual ACC Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett to secure the victory.
Best Performance (Player): Van Dyke backs up his words vs. NC State
Leading into the Oct. 23 game against then-No. 18 NC State, Van Dyke said he was confident that Miami would come out with the victory. He backed up that talk by throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns in the 31-30 win at Hard Rock Stadium. The upset helped the Hurricanes turn around their season as it started a run of five wins in six games to become bowl eligible.
Best Performance (Team): Road rout of Duke
Miami saved its best performance for the season finale as the Hurricanes rolled past the Blue Devils 47-10 in Durham. Van Dyke threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Miami had already secured bowl eligibility but needed a big win over a Duke team that had struggled all season and the Canes delivered.
Defining Moment: Victory against NC State
Miami snapped a six-game losing streak against Power 5 opponents against an NC State team that was among the best teams in the ACC, was ranked and 5-1 entering this game. Van Dyke was flawless (4 TDs, 0 INTs) in getting his first as the starter and Jaylan Knighton contributed 166 yards from scrimmage in leading the offensive charge against a Wolfpack defense that finished the regular season ranked second in the conference in points allowed per game and third in yards.
Biggest Surprise: Upset of Pittsburgh
Miami followed up the huge victory against NC State with an even bigger win against the Panthers on the road. Pittsburgh had already established itself as one of the ACC's best teams and entered this game at 6-1 and off of a convincing victory over conference juggernaut Clemson. But the Hurricanes went toe-for-toe with Kenny Pickett and the Panthers' high-powered offense and got the critical stops needed to come away with a 38-34 upset win at Heinz Field. That would be Pitt's only ACC loss of the season.
Biggest Disappointment: Loss against Florida State
Jordan Travis completed a fourth-and-14 pass to Andrew Parchment, and two plays later ran it in from one yard with 26 seconds left as Florida State defeated Miami on Nov. 14. This is likely the game that got Diaz canned as head coach. The school fired athletic director Blake James days after the loss and eventually parted ways with Diaz to hire Cristobal.
Player That Will Be Missed the Most: Zach McCloud, LB
McCloud has been with the program for six seasons and enters the bowl with 64 games played. McCloud's career has been unique. He came to Miami in 2016 and started three years as a linebacker before a defensive scheme change made him a reserve in 2019. He played in four games as a senior and was still able to redshirt because of a then-new rule letting players redshirt so long as they don't play more than four games in a season and then gained another year of eligibility from the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. While his role may have diminished, McCloud's leadership and experience will be missed.
Player to Watch in 2022: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
Similar to King prior to this season, Van Dyke will likely find himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation in the lead up to the 2022 campaign. He's as hot as any player in the country at this point of the season and Miami's late turnaround can largely be attributed to his emergence as the leader of the offense. While much of the attention related to the Hurricanes will surround Cristobal's arrival, Van Dyke's continued development and performance will play just as large a role in the team's success.
Offseason Storyline: Mario Cristobal era
Some might have been surprised by Cristobal's departure from Oregon. Now he will look to duplicate the same success in Coral Gables. Cristobal won back-to-back Pac-12 championships with the Ducks and appeared in three straight conference games. Miami has played in just one ACC Championship Game since joining the conference in 2005. Can Miami fans be patient enough for Cristobal to build his program? Only time will tell.
— 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, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.