Mark Richt has the Hurricanes positioned to claim their first ACC Coastal Division title if they can clear a few remaining obstacles
It has been an interesting first six weeks of the season for the Miami Hurricanes. Hurricane Irma forced the Hurricanes to cancel their road game against Arkansas State and reschedule two more games (at Florida State, vs. Georgia Tech).
Then on Oct. 7, the Hurricanes finally ended their seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles on a last-second touchdown pass.
While it is only mid-October, at 5-0 (3-0 ACC), Miami is not only in contention for its first ACC Championship Game appearance, the ‘Canes also are in the mix to be one of the four teams chosen for the College Football Playoff.
Before Hurricanes fans can punch their tickets for Charlotte, the team has some key games left in the season. Miami still has to play Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Syracuse over its last six games.
Offensive MVP: QB Malik Rosier
There were questions about Rosier before the season began. In five short games, Rosier (above, right) has answered his critics. He has already thrown for 1,371 yards with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also gives the Hurricanes a running dynamic from the quarterback position, something that prior starter Brad Kaaya could not. Rosier has 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns. While Rosier needs to improve his accuracy (59.1 percent), he has certainly been the team’s MVP the first half of the season.
Defensive MVP: Hurricanes’ defensive line
It is hard to single out any one particular player on Miami’s defense. But the defensive line has been the heart and soul of this unit The Hurricanes rank third nationally in tackles for a loss per game (8.6) and fifth in sacks per game (3.4). Nine different linemen have recorded a stop behind the line of scrimmage. Chad Thomas leads the way with six tackles for a loss while Trent Harris is leading the team in sacks with three.
Best Moment of First Half: Game-winning TD vs. Florida State
With less than 90 seconds remaining, Malik Rosier drove the Hurricanes 75 yards in nine plays, throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Langham to defeat the Seminoles 24-20 on Saturday to end a seven-game losing streak to their Sunshine State archrivals.
Best Newcomer: CB Dee Delaney
After transferring from The Citadel, Delaney has been one of the best players in the Hurricanes’ secondary this season. In five games, Delaney has recorded 21 tackles and an interception. He has been a welcome addition to a defensive backfield that lost cornerbacks Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert as well as safeties Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins after last season.
Biggest surprise: Coming from behind to finally beat Florida State
When the Seminoles scored to take a 20-17 lead with 1:24 remaining, it appeared that FSU’s winning streak against Miami would stay intact. But Malik Rosier had other thoughts, leading a 75-yard drive capped off by a touchdown pass to Darrell Langham for the improbable victory. As exhilarating a win as it was, the late rally also showed that this Hurricanes team is different from recent seasons in terms of mental toughness and resolve.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. The play of Travis Homer
With top running back Mark Walton out for the season, Homer had an impressive first start against Georgia Tech last week. He rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries. With the lack of depth at running back, it is important Homer plays well the rest of this season.
2. Can the Hurricanes defeat Virginia Tech?
In last year’s matchup, Miami was dominated by the Hokies in Blacksburg, losing 37-16 in a game that was never close. With the possibility that this year’s meeting could decide which team wins the ACC Coastal Division, this is the Hurricanes’ chance to show the rest of the college football world that they are for real.
Virginia Tech’s only loss thus far came at home to Clemson. The Hokies are once again among the national leaders in defense, holding teams to 320.2 yards per game (23rd). The offense also has gotten the job done (467.0 ypg, 25th) more often than not. Even at home, Miami will have its hands full against the defending division champions.
3. Is 2017 Miami’s year in the ACC?
Since joining the conference in 2004, the Hurricanes have yet to win a division title, let alone a conference championship. With the ACC seemingly so wide open, this could be Miami’s best opportunity yet to end both droughts.
If the Hurricanes were to win the Coastal and play in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte in December, their likely opponent would be either NC State or Clemson. Neither the Wolfpack nor the Tigers are undefeated, so Miami’s got as good shot as either of those teams of winning the ACC title.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 4 Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech ranks in the top 25 in the FBS in both total offense and defense. The Hokies are led by quarterback Josh Jackson and wide receiver Cam Phillips. Jackson has done a fine job replacing Jerod Evans, as the redshirt freshman has thrown for 1,700 yards, 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Phillips is by far Jackson’s favorite target with 42 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns.
2. Nov. 11 Notre Dame
While this game is not a conference matchup, it still could determine if either team ends up in the College Football Playoff discussion. The Fighting Irish are off to an impressive 5-1 start thanks to a running game that is averaging 308 rushing yards per contest. Josh Adams has led the way on the ground with 776 yards and five touchdowns while averaging nine yards per carry.
3. Nov. 18 Virginia
The Cavaliers are 5-1 and are 2-0 in the ACC after going a miserable 2-10 in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season. Virginia has not only climbed out of the basement in the Coastal division, it also is very much in the hunt for a spot in the ACC Championship Game. The Cavaliers are doing it with defense, which ranks 18th in the country (312.8 ypg). Quarterback Kurt Benkert also has been solid with 1,680 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
4. Nov. 4 Syracuse
The Orange already claim the biggest upset of the season, knocking off defending ACC and national champion Clemson last Friday at home. The Orange stunned the second-ranked Tigers 27-24 behind quarterback Eric Dungey’s 278 passing yards and three touchdowns. The defense also did its part against a Clemson offense that only Auburn had really held in check to that point, so this is an opponent the Hurricanes should not take lightly.
5. Nov. 24 at 18 Pitt
The Panthers are just 2-5 and haven’t won a game since Sept. 30. While this game will be played in Pittsburgh, Miami should be able to handle the Panthers without too much difficulty.
6. Oct. 28 at North Carolina
Miami has had problems winning in Chapel Hill in recent seasons, as the Hurricanes are 2-4 in Chapel Hill since joining the ACC in 2004. However, this is not a typical Tar Heels team as injuries and a lack of experience have taken their toll and UNC has won just one game thus far.
— 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.