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College Football Preview 2019: 24. Miami Hurricanes

24. Miami Hurricanes

A suffocating defense and improved QB play will usher in a new day in Coral Gables

N'Kosi Perry, Miami
Offense: Dan Enos arrives as offensive coordinator after a stint guiding Tua Tagovailoa as Alabama's quarterbacks coach. He'll be tasked with improving an offense that was 13th in the conference in total yardage.

Now-departed Mark Richt could not find a quarterback to lead his offense in 2018. Veteran Malik Rosier really struggled and redshirt freshman N'Kosi Perry wasn't ready, forcing the offense to sputter. The Hurricanes are hopeful the QB situation has finally been solved in the form of Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Martell was a prolific high-school recruit out of Las Vegas but was forced out when Justin Fields opted to head to Columbus. He has serious dual threat potential and will add a much needed playmaker at the position. Martell will still have to fend off the returning Perry and youngster Jarren Williams, who has serious upside.

The expectation around the program is junior DeeJay Dallas will take over feature back duties full-time. Dallas used a punishing role of rushing to gain 617 yards and six touchdowns, despite being second on the depth chart. However, don't be surprised if sophomore Lorenzo Lingard is the one making the big jump in 2019. Lingard came into Miami with plenty of fanfare and showed flashes despite being buried on the depth chart. He has a lot more speed in the open field than Dallas and could be the team of versatile running back Enos covets. 

Ahmmon Richards was well on his way to being special returning from injury prior to 2018 but suffered a career-ending neck injury within the first month. Richards is a huge loss for this Miami offense, as a guy who earned Freshman All-American honors in 2016. The Hurricanes were never able to find a No. 1 to consistently replace Richards' production.

The hope is that Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn can fulfill the role of top target. Osborn caught 53 balls for 892 yards a year ago and has the size and catch radius to make all types of plays. He'll benefit from the return of Jeff Thomas, as the downfield threat should open up things for Osborn. Thomas contemplated a transfer following the departure of Richt, but instead will play a pivotal role in the Hurricane 2019 offense. Talented freshman Jeremiah Payton was the gem of the 2019 recruiting class and comes from Neptune Beach, FL with big-time potential. Junior Mike Harley is another player to watch in the receiving corps.

Tight end Brevin Jordan was an impressive freshman in 2018, adding 287 yards and four touchdowns. He was used extensively in all types of situations and the new coaching staff is hopeful he can get even better his sophomore year. He has legitimate All-American talent.

The O-Line is probably the biggest question mark on the offense, even more than quarterback. The 'Canes lose three starters, including their two most experienced, Tyree St. Louis & Tyler Gauthier. Junior guard Navaughn Donaldson is going to have to be a leader of the group, although neither tackle spot is a strength right now. 

It was a pretty disastrous season for this group last fall, but a new makeover will be very beneficial. The Hurricanes have crucial new additions at nearly every level and the QB situation couldn't get much worse. Enos will ensure the group improves, but the line will determine just how much.

Defense: For the last two seasons Miami's defense has carried them, playing at a hectic, chaotic pace under coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz is now the head coach, and the continuity he kept on the defensive side of the ball will ensure the unit is just as strong in '19.

The defensive front is going to require a little bit of a retooling with Gerald Willis III absent at the heart of it. Willis logged 18 tackles for loss over the course of the year and was constantly in opposing backfields. Senior Pat Bethel is a nice returnee at one D-tackle spot but he isn't the pass rusher Willis was.

Jonathan Garvin will have to play an even larger role after he had 17 TFL and a fumble return score. Playing off the edge, Garvin is a naturally more fluid athlete than Willis, although teams will be able to focus on him more this fall. Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill has the chance to play big snaps at either end or tackle. He played well for the Hokies, but a change of scenery could help him out even more.

It's rare we see any position group last together for multiple seasons, particularly in modern college football. However, Miami's core of linebackers has been playing together since they were freshmen and they were a major reason Miami had the fourth best defense in the country in 2018. Shaquille Quarterman is probably the most recognized of the trio, placing second on the team in tackles with 82 last year. He is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker at the ultra-important middle linebacker for this team. Fellow seniors Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud are also returning for their final years. McCloud will play the ever-important striker linebacker position, a hybrid nickel-linebacker. 

Miami got big news in late February when they added Jaelen Phillips, yet another transfer from a Power Five school. Phillips was the No. 1 recruit in the country by some scouting services a few years ago but decided to leave from UCLA. He is pending an appeal to play right away in 2019, but it is unclear whether he'll be able to suit up. If he does, the Hurricanes add yet another formidable pass rusher who will be a huge help.

The secondary was also a strength for the 'Canes last fall, rated as the top pass defense in the country and finishing 16th in interceptions. They'll see three impact defenders leave the unit, forcing a scramble for youngsters to step up. Luckily, junior cornerback Trajan Bandy remains to lock in the No. 1 CB slot. Bandy was tied for the team lead in INTs and remains a suffocating, playmaking defensive back. Both safety spots look to be breaking in new starters, but the Hurricanes are hopeful they can learn quickly. Yet another transfer, Bubba Bolden, looks like a favorite to start as a former blue-chip prospect you could never see the field while at USC.

One of the major reasons for Miami's success the last few years has been a defense that is aggressive and able to force and create turnovers. They ranked tops in the country in havoc rate (combined tackles for loss, pass deflections and forced fumbles, divided by total plays) and their rangy secondary had the top pass defense in the entire country. Despite some losses, this group of linebackers and the potential of the secondary is extremely reassuring. This once again has the looks of a Top 10 unit nationally.

Special Teams: Sophomore Bubba Baxa is back to handle placekicking duties after a solid 2018 campaign. Baxa notched 9 of 12 on field goals, but must become more consistent, particularly for an offense breaking in many new faces. The return game has serious potential, with Jeff Thomas back to handle kick return duties.

Bottom Line: A hectic end to 2018 and a weird off-season should give way to a more calming fall in 2019 for the Hurricanes. New head man Manny Diaz provides some continuity after being promoted from defensive coordinator, and a number of veteran leaders remain. Diaz took an interesting approach to filling the holes on this roster, relying heavily on the transfer portal to add a new top signal-caller, top wide out, a number of pass rushers and a number of defensive backs. It is an interesting and bold strategy, but one that could pay huge dividends if it works. Either way, Miami will benefit from a defense that should once again be top-notch and some more stability offensively. Considering they'll once again square off against the ACC Coastal, the weaker division in the conference, the opportunity is there for Miami to return to just their second ACC Championship Game.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)
Offensive MVP: WR K.J. Osborn
Defensive MVP: LB Shaquille Quarterman
Breakout Player of the Year: RB Lorenzo Lingard
Impact Freshman: WR Jeremiah Payton

Five-Year Trend
2014: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
2015: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
2016: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
2017: 10-3 (7-1 ACC)
2018: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

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