No. 20 Miami (FL)
Miami has a ton of high-level talent. So, basically the same line from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012…?
Though the Hurricanes will never be "back" until they're actually back (i.e. winning 10 games in a season and ACC championships — plural), Mark Richt has enough pieces to get them back soon. His biggest priority is finding a quarterback.
2016 Record: 9-4 (5-3, ACC)
It's not easy to have both a four-game winning streak and four-game losing streak in the same season, let alone over a course of eight total games.
After opening the season with four mostly uneventful and unimpressive wins, the Hurricanes lost to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in succession. Though three of the losses came by a total of 11 points, it still crushed their Coastal title hopes.
Still, it was just their second nine-win season since 2009 and a solid start under first-year coach Mark Richt.
Head Coach: Mark Richt (2nd year, 9-4 overall)
Mark Richt's return to his alma mater started on a mostly good note. He injected much-needed excitement and optimism into a program starving for national relevance after more than a decade of mediocrity.
Now it's all about taking the next step to ACC title contention and playoff flirtation.
“The [players], they really do want to be great," he said of raising expectations. "They didn’t come here to be good. They’re tired of getting beat in certain moments, and so I think we’re in a good place right now.’’
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Malik Rosier, RB Mark Walton, WR Ahmmon Richards, TE Chris Herndon IV, G Kc McDermott
The overwhelming question of the offseason has carried into fall camp: Who will be starting quarterback Week 1?
Not only is Mark Richt saying he won't make a decision between redshirt junior Malik Rosier or true freshman N'Kosi Perry until late in camp, he's not even tipping his hand.
“Well, what I’m happy with,’’ Richt said when asked about where the competition stands, “is I think I got guys that either know what they’re doing or are catching on fast. I see plenty of arm strength. I see plenty of leadership, moxie, whatever you want a quarterback to have."
There are no questions about who will join the winner in the backfield. Running back Mark Walton (below) is back after a sensational sophomore season. The Booker T. Washington product ran for 1,117 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, third among ACC players with at least 1,000 yards.
It didn't take long for Ahmmon Richards to prove he's better than his No. 31 receiver ranking in the 2016 class. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder had 934 yards on just 49 catches. His 19.1 yards-per-catch average ranked fourth in the FBS among players with at least 45 receptions. Senior tight end Chris Herndon is primed for a career year.
The offensive line needs better consistency and depth after an up-and-down year, especially with an inexperienced quarterback. Guard Kc McDermott is the best player on a unit that ranked 93rd nationally in rushing average and allowed 25 sacks.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Kendrick Norton, DT R.J. McIntosh, DE Chad Thomas, DE Joe Jackson, LB Shaq Quarterman, LB Zach McCloud, LB Michael Pinckney
Excuse the massive list of front-seven names. Miami has A LOT of returning talent on the front end of their defense. They'll be tasked with taking a solid pass rush (22nd in the FBS with 2.85 sacks per game) to the next level to generate more turnover opportunities for defensive backs.
Middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman — one of three true freshman starting linebackers — has received non-stop praise from the coaching staff and the team's veterans, with many pointing to his improved mobility and conditioning.
“I think that was a self evaluation," coordinator Manny Diaz said of Quarterman, who lost 15 pounds over the offseason. "When he watched himself last year, I think he felt at times he was sluggish.”
"I knew a lot of the things coach Diaz wanted me to do,” said Quarterman, “but you know, fatigue is a real cancer when you’re trying got play this game, play a lot of snaps. The fact I lost a lot of weight, and I’m still building that football endurance, I’m really, really, excited about that. Trying to see how this 235 moves around now, as opposed to 250 last season.”
Up front, ends Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson return after combining for 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. All-ACC tackle Kendrick Norton, a 6-foot-3, 312-pound disruptive force, is also back. All three players could be used — or removed — in unconventional manners, as Diaz has said he's trying to get as many playmakers on the field at one time.
"[B]est third-down pass defenders," Diaz said, for example. "That could be four defensive ends, that could be six cornerbacks, that could be three outside linebackers.’’
Notable Player Losses
QB Brad Kaaya, FB Marquez Williams, WR Stacy Coley, TE David Njoku, G Danny Isidora, DT Gerald Willis, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, CB Corn Elder, CB Adrian Colbert, S Rayshawn Jenkins, P Justin Vogel
Miami had nine players drafted, their most since 2006. Quarterback Brad Kaaya and David Njoku (their lone pick in the first three rounds) were the offensive headliners but Marquez Williams, Stacy Coley and Danny Isidora will be badly missed. Kaaya had three-straight 3,000-yard seasons.
Defensively, corner Corn Elder is gone after recording 12 passes defended last year, as is big, hard-hitting safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who left with nine career interceptions. Defensive tackle Gerald Willis is still on the roster but took a leave of absence before fall camp. It's unclear when — or if — he'll return.
And don't forget about All-ACC punter Justin Vogel. While they have highly regarded freshman Zach Feagles, Vogel was a reliable field-flipping weapon.
Notable Player Additions
QB N'Kosi Perry, OT Navaughn Donaldson, WR Mike Harley, WR Jeff Thomas, CB Trajan Brady, CB Dee Delaney, CB Jhavonte Dean
True freshman N'Kosi Perry is commanding a lot of preseason attention. The four-star dual-threat quarterback from Ocala, Fla., has been neck and neck with Malik Rosier and appears to have a legitimate shot of starting immediately.
“He’s got very good passing fundamentals,” Richt said. “Which is what I thought . . . Not a lot of wasted motion, got nice zip on the ball. He does understand touch. He’s a passer. He’s not just a thrower, like some guys are.
Another four-star true freshman, tackle Navaughn Donaldson, is projected to start at right tackle. At 6-foot-6, 350 pounds, is a mountain of a man and potential future top-10 NFL Draft pick.
Defensively, Manny Diaz has three new corners in transfers Dee Delaney (The Citadel) and Jhavonte Dean (JUCO) and true freshman Trajan Brady. Delaney is a former unknown recruit who dazzled in Charleston and is now playing for his NFL future on a bigger stage.
With Florida State looming on Sept. 16, everyone will overlook Miami's trip to Arkansas State on Sept. 9. The Red Wolves are back-to-back Sun Belt champions and return serious offensive talent. They also host a dangerous Toledo team on Sept. 23.
They play five of their final seven games at home, including Virginia Tech (Nov. 4) and Notre Dame (Nov. 11).
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Bethune-Cookman|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Arkansas State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Florida State|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Toledo|
|Friday, Sept. 29||at Duke|
|Thursday, Oct. 12||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Syracuse|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at North Carolina|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Virginia Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Notre Dame|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Virginia|
|Friday, Nov. 24||at Pittsburgh|