The Atlantic Coast Conference recently released its 2014 football schedule and the Miami Hurricanes will have their work cut out for them this fall.
Al Golden and his program wrapped last season 9-4, stumbling to a 2-4 finish after a gutsy 7-0 start. The Hurricanes certainly benefited from a lighter load in 2013, but that certainly won't be the case when year four of The Golden Era rolls around.
|9/1||@Louisville||8:00 p.m. ET / ESPN|
|10/23||@Virginia Tech||7:30 p.m. ET / ESPN|
|12/6||ACC Championship Game||TBA|
Miami will begin next season right where it left off—staring down Louisville. The fresh-to-the-ACC Cardinals will host the Hurricanes under the lights on Labor Day night at Papa John's Stadium in what is certainly a blessing-and-a-curse game for Miami.
Motivation clearly won't be a factor after the 36-9 drubbing the Hurricanes took in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but will Miami have enough time to reload between meetings and fix last season's mistakes?
Louisville will be without all-everything quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Charlie Strong, but the Cardinals are still loaded and welcome back offensive guru and former head coach Bobby Petrino, who will look to make a statement in his first game back in the saddle.
Miami enters the year with question marks at quarterback and both offensive and defensive line. There are also key players coming off of injuries that would've been better off easing into the season with lesser competition, but that's not how things will play out.
With the Cardinals now a conference game and the first showdown officially an anti-cupcake matchup, the Hurricanes simply must survive and find a way. Get in, get out, steal a road win, exhale and regroup.
A lighter mid-September load will allow Miami to work out early kinks regarding Ryan Williams or Kevin Olsen at quarterback, while breaking in some new talent on defense. The Canes also need to ease running back Duke Johnson and wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott back into the fold, as all missed significant time last year.
Florida A&M (9/6) and Arkansas State (9/13) are a few standard, early-season gimmies where Miami can tune up for what will be a hectic run the rest of fall.
A road trip to Nebraska (9/20) follows, which immediately has a high-risk, no-reward feel for Miami—much like a road game at Kansas State years back. The Huskers are tough at home and the Canes don't recruit the Midwest hard enough to justify the appearance in Lincoln.
Still, based on the classic games these two have played over the years, coupled with decades of success, a quality TV slot and national exposure are expected.
Two straight ACC Coastal Division showdowns follow—a home game against Duke (9/27) and a short trek to Georgia Tech (10/4). Both are crucial regarding Miami's standing in the division.
The Blue Devils return a slew of starters from a squad that won the Coastal last season, while the Yellow Jackets always play the Hurricanes tough in Atlanta. Both foes also have relatively light conference schedules, with neither taking on Florida State or Louisville, so any ground lost to either could prove tough to make up later in the year.
A week later, Miami hosts Cincinnati (10/11) in the final non-conference contest of the season and no doubt the Bearcats will treat the meeting like a BCS game, creating a no-win type of situation for the Hurricanes.
Win and there will be no credit as it was expected. Lose and the season can take a nasty turn south.
The first of two bye weeks occurs before a Thursday night road showdown at Virginia Tech (10/23). The Hokies have played the Hurricanes tough at home for decades and Lane Stadium will be electric for another nationally-televised throwdown.
ACC realignment sent Virginia Tech to Sun Life Stadium in back-to-back seasons, so this marks the first game on the Hokies' turf since 2011—a last-minute, 38-35 heartbreaker the Hurricanes dropped.
Miami hasn't won at Virginia Tech since 2005, and while both squads will be breaking in new quarterbacks the Hokies have a huge edge courtesy of home-field advantage in a season-defining conference meeting.
The month of November will again decide the conference and the Hurricanes will have their hands full. North Carolina (11/1) heads south, thinking about revenge after falling to Miami in the final minutes of a nationally televised Thursday night home game last October.
The Tar Heels play at Clemson this fall and take on both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. But they avoid a showdown with Florida State, putting more pressure on the Hurricanes to get the late-season conference win against a Coastal foe.
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From there, one final bye week follows before the a game against defending national champions Florida State (11/15).
This home matchup will mark the third time the Seminoles will take on the Hurricanes in South Florida while defending a title. Miami topped Florida State 34-20 in 1994, and pulled another upset in 2000, knocking off the despised rival, 27-24.
Miami hasn't topped Florida State since 2009, having lost three straight and seven of the last nine.
Taking on the Seminoles early in the year could prove disastrous, but a mid-November meeting allows the Hurricanes to work through some growing pains and to develop an identity on both sides of the ball before facing off.
The Hurricanes close the season with a road game at Virginia, followed by a home finale against Pittsburgh.
Scott Stadium hasn't been kind to Miami as the Cavaliers topped the Canes in 2006, 2010 and 2012. Miami's last road win against Virginia came in overtime six seasons back.
Pittsburgh's journey south will be the Panthers' first since the Big East era for both schools. Miami won the last South Florida meeting in 2002 at the Orange Bowl, 28-21.
The 12-game schedule has some very winnable games, but gets heavier the latter half of the season. The Hurricanes will have to negotiate some hefty challenges en route to topping last year's nine-win run.
Translation: Miami has to make the most of some lighter opportunities early and build off those wins if it wants to be battle-tested and ready for some late-season success.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter at @allCanesBlog.com.