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Ranking the Toughest Games on Miami's College Football Schedule in 2017

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Mark Richt’s first season with the Miami Hurricanes was a tale of streaks. Miami won its first four games of the 2016 season, only to lose the next four to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt

But the streaking didn’t stop there, as the Hurricanes finished the campaign with five straight wins, including a 31-14 convincing victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Now, Richt and his players look to capitalize on the momentum coming off of a 2016’s 9-4 showing.

Miami hopes this is the season where it finally breaks through and wins the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. While the Hurricanes will be replacing quarterback Brad Kaaya, the other pieces are in place, especially on defense, to compete for a spot in the conference championship game in Charlotte.

First, Miami has to navigate its schedule, which appears to be a little easier than a season ago. Also, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, Coastal champs in 2016 and ’15 respectively, are tasked with replacing several key players.

Here are Miami’s 12 regular season game ranked from easiest to most difficult.

12. Sept. 2 vs. Bethune-Cookman

Miami has its common cupcake opponent to begin the season, hosting a Bethune-Cookman team that went just 4-6 in 2016. With tough road games at Arkansas State and Florida State to follow, this should be a great tune-up to get the Hurricanes’ season going.

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11. Nov. 18 vs. Virginia

The Cavaliers went 2-10 last season and could be in store for another tough campaign. Virginia does feature a wide-open offense with Kurt Benkert at the helm, which could make it a little interesting for Miami. In the end, this is a game the Hurricanes should win easily.

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10. Sept. 23 vs. Toledo

The Rockets finished 9-4 in Jason Candle’s first full season as head coach. Toledo has one of the MAC’s best quarterbacks in Logan Woodside and a deep receiving corps led by Corey Thompson. While many Hurricanes fans will dismiss the talent of the Rockets, this isn’t an easy game on paper for Miami.

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9. Oct. 21 vs. Syracuse

In Dino Babers first season at Syracuse, the Orange made a ton of strides offensively. Ultimately, it was their defense that had a big say in their 4-8 record. Miami’s defense will get tested by dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey. But considering this game will be at Hard Rock Stadium, and the issues on defense are still there, expect the Hurricanes to be a comfortable favorite at home.

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8. Nov. 11 vs Notre Dame

Among Miami’s four losses last season, this could be considered the one that got away. After trailing 20-0, the Hurricanes scored 27 unanswered points only to see the Fighting Irish come back and kick a field goal with 30 seconds remaining for a 30-27 win.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Notre Dame

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Notre Dame should bounce back after finishing just 4-8, as the Irish enter the season in Athlon Sports’ Top 25. Talent shouldn’t be an issue, so don’t be surprised if this leads to another tightly contested matchup.

7. Sept. 9 at Arkansas State

In Week 2, the Hurricanes will travel to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State, defending co-champions of the Sun Belt.

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Yes, Miami did destroy the last Sun Belt opponent it faced (Appalachian State) last season (45-10), but this Red Wolves team is loaded with talent, including quarterback Justice Hansen. It won’t be easy, but the Hurricanes’ defense should help Miami pick up a quality road win.

6. Sept. 29 at Duke

While David Cutcliffe has done a great job in his tenure at Duke, his team was 4-8 and 1-7 in the ACC last season. With Daniel Jones having a year as the starter under his belt, the Blue Devils’ offense should be improved in 2017. This could be a trap game for the Hurricanes depending on how the first four games go.

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5. Oct. 28 at North Carolina

North Carolina lost a ton of personnel from a team that went 8-5 and played in the Sun Bowl a year ago. It appears LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris will be the Tar Heels’ starter at quarterback, and there are holes to fill elsewhere on offense and on a defense that struggled to stop the run.

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Miami has had trouble winning in Chapel Hill, going just 2-4 at Kenan Memorial Stadium since joining the ACC in 2004. So, despite the Hurricanes’ clear-cut advantage on paper, this likely will not be a layup for them.

4. Oct. 12 vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is the team that’s sneaking under the radar this offseason in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 last season and even though they will be replacing three-year starting quarterback Justin Thomas, there are playmakers returning. Chief among those is running back Dedrick Mills, who is poised for bigger things after rushing for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 152 carries in 2016.

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3. Nov. 11 vs. Virginia Tech

Last season, Virginia Tech exceeded expectations as the Hokies won 10 games and the ACC Coastal Division. They gave Clemson all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game before coming back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

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Justin Fuente’s team was hit hard by NFL draft departures, as quarterback Jerod Evans, wide receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges all left school early. However, Virginia Tech is still a talented, well-coached team and this game could be the one that decides the ACC Coastal race.

2. Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh will have a new quarterback in graduate transfer Max Browne following Nathan Peterman’s graduation. The Panthers have talent at receiver in Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah. Remember, Pittsburgh beat national champion Clemson and Big Ten champ Penn State last season, so this is a talented team that can win the ACC Coastal. There could plenty on the line for both teams by the time they meet at Heinz Field in late November.

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1. Sept. 16 at Florida State

It’s no secret the Seminoles have been the benchmark for the state of Florida for the last five seasons. Miami hasn't defeated Florida State since 2009 and that streak could extend another season.

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The Seminoles will likely enter the season ranked in the top five of the polls and many expect them to dethrone Clemson in the ACC. One thing going for the Hurricanes is that the last three games in this series have been decided by five points or fewer.

— 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.