The 2017 version of the Hurricanes were to many a paper tiger. The Canes started out 10-0 and reached #2 in the polls, but to most who watched their games or played against them, they certainly did not look like the #2 team in the country. After exorcising their FSU demons and breaking their 7-year losing streak to the Noles, they would barely squeak by a mediocre-at-best Georgia Tech team the next week by 1 point on a miracle 4th down conversion off of a tipped pass.
They would follow that game up by winning by 1 score against Syracuse, and then beating a 3-win UNC team by just 4 points. The Canes were racking up the Ws, but they certainly didn’t look like contenders, despite the hype.
They would later fall apart at the end of the season, losing their last 3 games. They ended the regular season with a loss on the road to a bad Pittsburg team, then got dismantled by Clemson in the ACC Championship game the following week. Miami would still go on to make the Orange Bowl as Clemson earned a playoff berth, but they would drop the finale by 2 scores to Wisconsin.
In 2018, Miami is a favorite in every game on their schedule, and they are almost unanimously predicted to win the division again... so is the U finally back? The answer to that question will largely be decided by their returning QB
Malik Rosier returns at the helm of the Miami offense. Rosier completed 54% of his passes for 26 TDs and 14 INTs... not great numbers, but enough to get the job done. He was also running for his life much of the time behind an offensive line that allowed 29 sacks on the year.
On the offensive line, center Tyler Gauthier, RG Navaughn Donaldson, and LT Tyree St. Louis all return to hopefully bring some continuity to a line which never seemed to gel last season. However, 3 of 5 linemen being successful isn’t enough, and unknown quantities at LG and RT will make or break the line on offense this year.
The U also returns their entire back 7 on defense. Linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney will be entering their 3rd year as starters. Zach McCloud returns at OLB as well. This unit was run-stopping, hole-plugging machines, but they were often liabilities in pass coverage, and it showed in their last 3 games.
At safety, Jaquan Johnson returns for his senior year, who had 4 interceptions last season. However, opposing QBs completed over 70% (!) of passes against this secondary over the last 4 games of the year while recording only 1 interception. These numbers will certainly need to improve in Manny Diaz’s defense of the ‘Canes hope to claim their first conference title.
The main players the 2018 ‘Canes lose are on the defensive line. DE and team leader Chad Thomas departs after tying for the team lead in tackles for loss with 12.5. Both interior linemen in RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton are also gone to the NFL. The Miami defensive line and the disruption they caused was one of the team’s biggest strengths last season. Replacing 3 of their 4 starters their is easily their biggest question mark.
Last season, the Hurricanes finally broke through and made the conference title game for the first time since joining the conference. For a team with the history, swagger, recruiting rankings, NFL talent, and location they possess, it surely had to be frustrating seeing conference brethren like Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, and UNC all make the game ahead of them.
They at least won the Coastal before Virginia did, though.
The ‘Canes are favored in every game this year, and they probably should be. They return a slew of talent and have sparkling recruiting rankings to hopefully fill in holes lost to graduation and the NFL. The season more than likely hinges in Rosier’s development and whether the offensive line can improve enough to protect him. Fortunately for him, Mark Richt does have some experience developing QBs, and I would expect Rosier to take the next steps this season. Now, whether that means just another Coastal title or something more remains to be seen.