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College Football Preview 2023: 22. Miami Hurricanes

Tyler Van Dyke, Miami

22. Miami Hurricanes

Even after the disaster that was 2022, Miami is far too talented to be down for long

2022 Review
Mario Cristobal was one of the splashiest hires of the 2021-22 coaching carousel, returning home to take the reigns at his alma mater. Things got even more interesting when Cristobal rounded out his staff with Josh Gattis, the 2021 Broyles Award winner, and Kevin Steele, an accomplished defensive coordinator who was most recently at Auburn. Everything on paper indicated the Hurricanes were going to be a real threat in the ACC from the get-go. The thing is, college football is not played on paper. In real life, the 'Canes offense lacked explosiveness, missed QB Tyler Van Dyke when he went with injury, and had no hope against the best the ACC could offer. The result was an ugly 5-7 debut for Cristobal and company, which included a 42-point throttling at the hands of rival Florida State. It was about as horrendous of an opener for Cristobal as could be imagined, but the former offensive linemen doesn't appear to be shying away from the pressure. After an active offseason that included shuffling the coaching staff and landing some big names from the portal, Miami hopes to be back with a vengeance in 2023.

2023 Outlook
Offense: Josh Gattis may have had the credentials worthy of the offensive coordinator job, but he always seemed like a strange fit in Coral Gables. He was unable to adjust the offense to Miami's personnel and following injury to Tyler Van Dyke, there was little hope for a successful campaign. Cristobal quickly cut ties with him and will turn instead to Shannon Dawson, who spent the last three seasons at Houston.

It will be a sea change in philosophy with Dawson running the show, one that will predicated on an aggressive downfield passing attack. It seems to be a better fit with what the Hurricanes currently have on the roster, particularly with Van Dyke back and healthy. 

Van Dyke took advantage of an injury to D'Eriq King to seize the starting quarterback job in 2021 and looked like a star in the making. He earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors after throwing for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns, but the 2022 encore fell short. He never seemed fully healthy and even when he was on the field, the results were underwhelming. Assuming he's back to 100 percent and in an offense that should better cater to his strengths, a huge 2023 feels likely.

Former Ole Miss transfer Henry Parrish Jr. took advantage of injuries and poor play in front of him to lead the 'Canes in rushing, with 616 yards on the year. He's back to be the feature guy, but sophomore Don Chaney Jr. is healthy and should be ready to compete with snaps. Injuries have been an unfortunate theme of Chaney's time with Miami but when he has been healthy, he's displayed ample potential. 

There's plenty of experience at receiver, but none of the returning candidates have proven they can take on a leading role. Will that change in Dawson's system? Former Clemson transfer Frank Ladson Jr. and junior Breshard Smith were two of their top pass-catchers a season ago and offer plenty of playmaking ability. Ladson has always had talent, but putting it together over the course of an entire season has been the challenge. There's also junior Xavier Restrepo, another guy who missed time in 2022 with injury, but has proven to be a reliable weapon on the perimeter. None of the trio may be All-ACC wide outs, but all offer plenty of upside, particularly in an offense that should tailor to their strengths.

Miami has been a factory for producing high quality tight ends, and they sent another one off to the NFL this past spring in Will Mallory. Mallory wasn't the most athletic or physically imposing tight end the 'Canes have sent to the league, but he was the type of steady, rock-solid contributor that every offense covets. With his departure, Miami is hopeful one of the pair of Elijah Arroyo or Jaleel Skinner can step up and play a key role in this offense. Both were highly sought after recruits, but my bet would be on Skinner, who flashed significant upside a season ago and has the athleticism to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Any hopes of a successful season for the Hurricanes hinges on an improved offensive line. Cristobal's speciality, this one was one of the most disappointing units in the entire country in 2022, and has to be better.

Fortunately, there are reinforcements set to arrive in the form of Alabama transfer Javion Cohen and UCF transfer Matt Lee. Cohen was a multiyear starter in Tuscaloosa who should bring an immediate edge to the interior of the unit, slated to fill in at one of the guard spots. Lee is set to join him, a physical center who started three seasons for the Knights and shouldn't have any issues acclimating to Power Five ball. However, the most important name to watch on the 'Canes O-Line is none other than tackle Zion Nelson, an All-American talent who dealt with injuries last fall. Nelson suffered a knee injury before the season and never seemed right, appearing in just two games, but has NFL talent and should anchor the left side of the rotation. Add in Francis Mauigoa, a five-star newcomer who could start right away, it's hard to imagine this offensive line not taking a huge step forward in 2023.

Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong for Miami's offense a season ago, but there's reason to believe in this group for 2023. For one, Dawson seems like a much more sensible hire than Gattis, even if the move wasn't as flashy. He seems like the type of coordinator that should elevate this group, especially with a healthy Van Dyke under center. Add in a healthy Chaney and an improved O-Line, this could be one of the best in the ACC this fall.

Defense: There are changes on the defensive side of the ball, as Cristobal also shuffled the board here. Gone is Kevin Steele, who has since taken up the DC post at Alabama, and replaced by Lance Guidry, who comes over from Marshall. It's another hire that may not be as flashy, but seems to better fit what Miami wants to do on this side of the ball.

The defensive line could be among the best in the ACC, loaded with star power. Defensive ends Jahfari Harvey and Akheem Mesidor combined for 12.5 sacks in 2022 and will be pests in opposing backfields once again. Mesidor is one of my favorite defenders in the country, a relentless edge rusher who has gotten better each year in the collegiate ranks and could be in store for a huge junior season.

While Harvey and Mesidor create chaos off the edge, look for sophomore Leonard Taylor III to be a potential breakout candidate. Taylor is a former high-profile recruit who came on strong at the end of 2022 and could be one of the most talented interior linemen anywhere in the country. Opposing blockers simply can't keep up with the lightning quick Taylor, who is a bit of a unique defensive tackle at 6'3", 305 pounds. It's unclear who will handle the other starting tackle duties alongside Taylor, but USC transfer Jacob Lichtenstein could be a good bet. The sixth-year senior returns to his native state and has proven to be a solid contributor at the P5 level.

Expect Guidry to reprise the 4-2-5 look the Hurricanes ran last fall, and it appears as though both starting linebackers are locked in. Junior Corey Flagg Jr. finished third on the team in tackles, with 56, and also notched 10.5 tackles for loss. He's proven to be an impact player, but has to develop more consistency if the 'Canes defense is going to take the next step. Wesley Bissainthe, who recorded 30 tackles himself, is the most likely starter next to him. 

One of the more interesting names to watch on defense is Washington State transfer Francisco Mauigoa, who comes over after two seasons in Pullman. The hard-hitting defender brings much-needed physicality to a rush defense that was pushed around far too often in 2022, and it will be interesting to see if he can overtake either Flagg or Bissainthe for more playing time. Keep your eye on him through fall camp and into the regular season.

For the first time since 2006, Miami has an All-American defender returning, in the form of safety Kamren Kinchens. The junior possesses traits that are reminiscent of some of the Hurricane greats who have passed through Coral Gables. His ball-hawking ability is Ed Reed-esque, while his ability to get downhill and make an impact in the rushing game reminds me of Sean Taylor. Kinchens is the unquestioned leader of this defense once again and a legit Jim Thorpe Award candidate.

The rest of the secondary surrounding Kinchens is in a good spot, although corner could be a position to watch. Safety James Williams is not to be overshadowed; the junior has caught the eye of NFL folks, thanks in large part to his 6'5", 210-pound build. He's not going to make as many big-time plays as Kinchens, but should be a reliable contributor once again. The same can be said about senior nickelback Te'Cory Couch, a multiyear starter who is taking advantage of his extra COVID year.

Based on pure talent, this may be one of the most impressive defenses in the nation. However, most of this talent was on the roster a season ago and the results were uneven. The pressure is on Guidry to bring everything together into a cohesive, disciplined unit. If he does, Miami's ceiling as a team is significantly raised.

Special Teams: There's good and bad news on special teams for the 'Canes. On one hand, kicker Andres Borregales is back after knocking down 17 of 20 field goals in 2022. The legacy could be a Lou Groza Award candidate this fall. However, the punter position is in for a changing of the guard, as Lou Hedley moves on, leaving newcomer Dylan Joyce as the likely starter.

Bottom Line
It feels like the same old story for Miami: there is a bunch of talent dotting the roster and some real star power, but will it equate to wins? Cristobal seems to have a much better understanding of the personnel he has and both coordinator hires seem like sensible, smart directions to go in. But, there are no easy paths to success in modern college football, and the ACC's new format actually hurts Miami. In the old Coastal Division, they would be my clear favorite, with only North Carolina and potentially Pittsburgh being able to earn the same consideration. With the elimination of divisions, a path to the ACC Championship Game becomes tougher and even if things go right, the 'Canes feel like a step below the true elites of this league. Instead, Miami should be hoping for a much better product on the field and solid gains in the wins column, which should indicate real progress for Cristobal and set the stage for even greater things in 2024.

Program Profile
Coaching Staff
Mario Cristobal played offensive tackle at Miami from 1989-1992 and has returned to his alma mater as head football coach. It's the third FBS program Cristobal has led and he's earned a reputation as one of the game's elite recruiters, but the on-field results haven't always matched up: he's 67-67 all-time. The new coordinators will be Shannon Dawson and Lance Guidry, both arriving from Group of Five schools. Dawson is a Dana Holgorsen disciple who should bring plenty of fireworks to Hard Rock Stadium, while Guidry comes over from Marshall. Guidry has previous head coaching experience, leading his alma mater McNeese State from 2016-18, but the Miami DC job is unquestionably his biggest break in coaching up to this point. 

Recruiting Breakdown
Cristobal's recruiting acumen was a major reason why he earned the Miami job in the first place and he didn't disappoint with his first full class, landing the nation's seventh best group. It's a class headlined by the two five-stars, tackles Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola. Mauigoa has a chance to slide in and start right away at right tackle, while Okunlola is likely to back up Zion Nelson on the left side. Another potential impact freshman to watch is wide out Nathaniel Joseph, a four-star who stayed in his hometown of Miami. Although undersized, Joseph is a dynamic, elusive threat in the open field who could come in and see snaps right away in the slot. On the defensive side of the ball, edge rushers Rueben Bain and Jayden Wayne are future stars who Cristobal and staff managed to keep inside the state. Bain is the higher-rated one and more likely to play right away. He's a powerful rusher with impressive technique who should learn from the multiple premier rushers already on the Hurricanes roster.

2023 Schedule Analysis
We'll have a good understanding of just what type of Miami season it will be within the season's first two weeks, as the 'Canes welcome Texas A&M to Hard Rock Stadium. Both programs enter 2023 under pressure, with the Aggies coming out on top last fall. ACC play will kick off a month later, with a home game against Georgia Tech and concludes with a road trip to Boston College. That game against BC may be their easiest road tilt of the fall in the conference, as they also travel to North Carolina, NC State, and  Florida State. That game against Florida State will be a big one; the 'Noles are looking for their third straight victory in the rivalry series after a run of four straight from Miami.

2023 X-Factor: Xavier Restrepo, WR
In order for the new offense to click, Miami will need more from their group of receivers. It's an experienced group and one with talent, but there's a lack of a true alpha in the room. That could change if Xavier Restrepo is able to recover from the foot injury that cost him a huge chunk of the 2022 campaign. The fourth-year junior was one of Van Dyke's top targets in 2021 and his absence last fall was a major reason why the passing game looked so anemic all season. He has the physical tools to be an All-ACC performer and in this offense, we could be in store for a special season.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Offensive MVP: QB Tyler Van Dyke
Defensive MVP: S Kamren Kinchens
Impact Freshman: OT Francis Mauigoa
Impact Transfer: OG Javion Cohen
Breakout Player of the Year: DT Leonard Taylor III

Five-Year Trend

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