Story by Yousaf Khan
Miami fans are expecting big things in Year 2 of the Mark Richt era. If Miami can manage their relatively easy schedule and overcome experience issues at the quarterback position, this could be a sleeper team on the national scene. Three year QB starter Brad Kayaa left early for the NFL and the battle to replace him has come down to JR Malik Rosier, who started a game vs Duke 2 seasons ago, and SO Evan Sheriffs. Richt has indicated that talented dual threat incoming freshman QB N’Kosi Perry will have a shot as well once fall camp opens. Odds are that Rosier will come out as the winner and start the season but if he struggles, look for Perry to take over the reins.
Two proven playmakers that should help out the new qB, are 1,000 yard rusher Mark Walton and Freshman All-American WR Ahmmon Richards. Senior WR Braxton Berrios and TE Chris Herndon bring a lot of experience that should help the passing game. One concern for the Hurricanes is the lack of proven players behind the starter at both RB and WR, should an injury occur it could prove costly. While not elite unit, the Canes offensive line returns enough starters along with some newcomers that should help it improve in year 2 under Richt. Impressive freshman like Navaughn Donaldson and LSU transfer George Brown Jr are expecting to compete for starter positions.
The defensive side of the ball, especially the front seven, is where Miami expects to excel in the 2017 season. Under defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, Miami’s aggressive defense had fans reminiscing about the old Canes defense in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The front seven is particularly impressive and could be the best in the nation. Defensive lineman Joe Jackson, Kendrick Norton, and Chad Thomas will have NFL scouts drooling as they lead the attack up front. A year ago linebacker was a big question mark as 3 true freshman were starting for the Canes but that has turned into a strength. All three return as experienced Sophomore LB’s and Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney resemble old school Canes. The one unit on defense that took a big hit was the secondary as all 4 starters are gone. Safety Jaquan Johnson did play a lot last year and will provide leadership for the unit. Two college transfers will also help bring experience to the unit in cornerbacks Dee Delaney and Jhavonte Dean. Many pundits expect Miami to have a top 10 overall defense that should carry them throughout the season and Diaz is a strong candidate to become a head coach next year.
Miami brings back a potential all ACC kicker in Michael Badgely but will need to find a new punter. The return game doesn’t have an elite playmaker but should be solid enough to provide good field position. Overall I see Miami going 10-2 with potential losses to FSU and another ACC opponent. That should be good enough to represent the Coastal division in the championship game vs either Clemson or FSU. If the Canes can get good production out of the new QB and offense, the defense will be elite enough to potentially carry to 11 or possibly 12 wins. Miami is definitely a sleeper team that could make noise on the national scene if they catch the right breaks, like beating FSU for the first time in 8 years.