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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 17. Miami Hurricanes

17. Miami Hurricanes

There will be growing pains, but the program is clearly on the rise

  • Location: Coral Gables, FL.
  • Conference: ACC (Coastal)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Mark Richt (second year)
  • Last Years Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
  • Bowl Result: Win in Russell Athletic Bowl


After firing former head coach Al Golden late in the 2015 season, it wasn't clear what direction Miami football was heading in. Since losing a National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl in 2002, Miami had been mired in mediocrity. Past head coaches like Randy Shannon and Golden had been able to have some moments of success but the program's direction was still stagnant. Enter Mark Richt, fresh off a 15-year stint at Georgia. Richt immediately hit the recruiting trail hard and injected the Hurricanes with a different dose of energy. The 'Canes were able to jump out to a 4-0 start in 2016 before some of the youth and inexperience on their roster caught up to them. However, they were able to finish the season on a very high note, winning their final five games and beating West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The late-season success seemed to be clear evidence that while the team still had issues, something special was brewing in Coral Gables. Richt will have to replace his starting quarterback and plenty of other difference-makers as he looks ahead towards 2017, but the talent level on the roster is still impressive. If all goes as planned, Miami should be able to take the next step and win their first division title since they joined the ACC in 2004.
Mark Walton

Offense: The first order of business for Richt in 2017 is to identify who his next starting quarterback will be. Three-year starter Brad Kaaya made the jump to the NFL despite having an uneven 2016, leaving the Hurricanes with a major void at the position. Richt has indicated that he will be patient with the decision on who will start, but he has an interesting decision. Junior Malik Rosier is the only QB on the roster that has thrown an FBS pass and has been in the system for a year. Rosier's arm strength and ability to create with his legs are both impressive, but the signal-caller is still incredibly raw and wasn't overly impressive throughout the spring. That may leave incoming freshman N'Kosi Perry as the favorite to start. The four-star recruit out of Ocala, Florida, is a proven dual threat with good size and a great feel for the game. It is almost certain he will need some time to adjust to the speed of the collegiate level but his ceiling seems to be higher than Rosier's. No matter who starts, they will have the luxury of having a proven running back to help them. Junior Mark Walton is back after rushing for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and he could end up being on the conference's top backs in '17. Walton isn't exceptionally quick or speedy but he's a workhorse who Richt and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown should feed often, especially early in the year as they figure out the QB spot. Receiver should be another strength for the offense, as sophomore Ahmmon Richards appears ready to become a star on the national stage. Richards led all freshman nationally with 934 receiving yards and wowed on-lookers with his fabulous hands and playmaking ability. With even more snaps, the sophomore could have an absolutely monster 2017. Senior Braxton Berrios also returns after hauling in 12 passes for 178 yards last season. Berrios isn't quite the reliable threat Richards proves to be, but finds a way to make an impact. Younger guys like sophomore Lawrence Cager and newcomer Jeff Thomas will also likely find a way to make an impact, particularly the explosive Thomas. The tight end position will undergo a change after David Njoku left for the NFL. While Njoku's impressive red zone presence (eight touchdowns) will be missed, senior Chris Herndon IV is a breakout candidate, and sophomore Michael Irvin II certainly has the bloodline to be a star. The offensive line was pretty solid throughout much of 2016 and will have to be again in '17, as Miami faces a number of aggressive, attacking defenses. Nearly every key contributor to the unit returns, including three seniors to anchor the group. Guard Kc McDermott is an All-ACC candidate who should continue to attract the attention of NFL scouts, while fellow veterans Nick Linder and Trevor Darling should help guide the line.

Zach McCloud
Defense: Last season saw an incredible turnaround by Miami's defense, as the Hurricanes went from an undisciplined, inconsistent group to a Top 20 total defense under the guidance of new D-coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz should once again have a dangerous cast of playmakers to work with, including a wonderful front seven. The defensive line has a ton back, namely Chad Thomas and R.J. McIntosh. Thomas is probably the best pass rusher on the team, using an explosive first step and a powerful frame to record 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Meanwhile, McIntosh will join Kendrick Norton in the interior of the unit to help stop the rush, which Miami did a great job of a season ago (131.8 yards per game, 26th in the country). Depth also won't be a concern as the Hurricanes have a depth chart stocked to the brim of players ready to contribute on the line. There's also reason to be very excited about the linebacker corps, which has some truly impressive talent returning. The trio of sophomores Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney was impressive last year, but could get even better. Quarterman himself may end up being one of the country's best impact defenders. Despite his youth, the versatile middle linebacker had 84 tackles (10 of them going for a loss) and displayed wonderful instincts and poise. The big question for the defense has to be in the back-end, where Richt and Diaz must work together to rebuild a decimated secondary. Four starters graduated, which included such guys like Corn Elder (76 tackles, 12 pass deflections in '16) and safety Rayshawn Jenkins (76 tackles, two interceptions). With those losses, the Hurricanes will have to lean heavily on a cast of newcomers and fresh faces. Senior Dee Delaney has never played a snap at the FBS level but may be considered the star of the unit for what he did at FCS The Citadel, where he was an All-American. Jumping from the FCS to FBS is significantly tougher, but Delaney's toughness and physical style of play should all translate well. Along with Delaney, newcomers such as Trajan Bandy and Jhavonte Dean will see significant usage. Bandy is a true freshman with immense potential slated to help out at corner, while the junior college transfer Dean has a decent chance to start opposite of Delaney at cornerback. There is some experience back, namely at safety where junior Jaquan Johnson and Robert Knowles return. Johnson had 38 tackles in a reserve role last year and looks like a leader, while Knowles and fellow sophomore Romeo Finley have to be ready to step into larger roles.

Special Teams: Special teams should be a strength for Richt and the 'Canes as senior kicker Michael Badgley returns, after knocking down 21 of 26 field goal attempts last season. Punter Justin Vogel departs but is expected to be replaced by highly-touted newcomer Zach Feagles, who is the son of former NFL punter Jeff Feagles.

It seems like nearly every off-season we wonder when Miami is going to return to their dominant days, and so often, the Hurricanes haven't come through. This, however, seems different. Mark Richt was let go at Georgia because of his inability to get them over the top, but that shouldn't overshadow how great of a recruiter he is or how well he is able to develop talent. His second season in Coral Gables won't exactly be perfect; there will almost certainly be some severe growing pains as this team figures out its quarterback situation and rebuilds their entire secondary. Yet, the offense is still ripe with playmakers and Diaz will engineer another impressive defensive performance. With North Carolina and Virginia Tech both in significant rebuilding states, the top of the ACC Coastal appears wide open, the perfect time for the Hurricanes to finally take over the division.

Player to Watch
Dee Delaney, DB
While Mark Richt had a fine 2017 recruiting class, no get was bigger than securing the graduate transfer of Dee Delaney from The Citadel. Delaney was considering the NFL, but figured a year at a bigger school would likely help out his chances at the next level. The speedy cornerback recorded six interceptions and had 35 tackles en route to All-American honors this past season with the Bulldogs. With the losses Miami is dealing with in the back, he will have to bring that playmaking ability and experience to the table right away.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)*
2013: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)*
2014: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)*
2015: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)*
2016: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)*

*= Bowl appearance

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