Miami Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship
The 2014 season may be a long way off, but a handful of reasons stand in the way of the Miami Hurricanes' first outright division title ever.
Despite some struggles in spring practice, Miami is still a front-runner in the Coastal Division to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
A couple of variables stand out, but the 'Canes must battle through a few conditions that will change neither before nor during the upcoming campaign.
And with an unfavorable schedule comprised of four matchups against the conference's best programs, including three on the road, Miami is facing an uphill battle for that elusive ACCCG berth.
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Surviving ACC Road Contests
Miami has one of the best rosters in the entire conference, so the Hurricanes are built to contend for the ACC title.
However, champion-caliber teams win on the road and 'The U' faces a tough schedule away from Sun Life Stadium.
Its difficult slate starts with an immediate test when the team travels to Louisville on Labor Day. The Cardinals smashed the 'Canes by 27 points in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, so the now-conference matchup now provides a shot at redemption and an ever-important ACC win.
Miami has beaten Georgia Tech in five consecutive seasons, but the Vad Lee-less will be triple-option-quarterbacked by a true option runner. The Yellow Jackets still tallied 5.4 yards per carry in last year's meeting and the Hurricanes must be ready for an improved attack.
For the second time in three seasons, the 'Canes will battle Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. While the Hokies defense has to replace Antone Exum, Kyle Fuller and Jack Tyler, beating Frank Beamer's squad in a midweek game is never an easy task.
A 3-0 record in these tough road contests would obviously be welcomed, but a 2-1 mark with wins over intra-division foes Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech is the next-best scenario.
If Miami is going to lose, falling to an Atlantic Division foe instead of Coastal opponents allows the 'Canes to hold more tiebreakers.
Defenses Containing Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley
As a sophomore, Duke Johnson racked up 920 yards in what essentially amounted to seven appearances, considering he left the UNC and Florida State games early due to injury.
This season, Miami will rely on him and its offensive line to steer the offense in the right direction while redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen presumably takes the snaps.
When Johnson isn't handling the football, the 'Canes need multi-dimensional weapon Stacy Coley to be just that. From catching passes to breaking long returns on special teams, the super-sophomore has sky-high expectations after a scorching finish to the 2013 season.
While Johnson is the most important player because of his value in the backfield, Coley is the more dynamic asset to the team.
If opponents effectively stop both catalysts, Miami would be left scrambling to make up for Johnson and Coley's respective voids in production.
Avoiding Letdowns at Home and at Virginia
Miami has a challenging road schedule, so—save for Florida State—the 'Canes cannot afford dropping conference meetings at home or when they head to Virginia.
Duke won the Coastal in 2013, but David Cutcliffe's offense has taken major hits over the four offseason months to date.
Josh Snead and Anthony Boone return, but the Blue Devils lost Juwan Thompson—their second-leading rusher—to graduation and Jela Duncan—the No. 3 back—to academic ineligibility.
Brandon Connette, who scored a team-high 14 touchdowns last year, is in the process of transferring to be closer to his ailing mother.
When Duke enters Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 27, it is imperative that Miami sends the weakened Blue Devils home remembering a loss.
Last season, North Carolina struggled in early ACC play and fell short of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and the Hurricanes. However, a revamped UNC offense likely guided by Marquise Williams will challenge The U, looking to steal a win in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Virginia landed 5-stars Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding along with elite 4-star playmaker Jamil Kamara in its 2014 class, but the Wahoos are coming off a 2-10 season. At this time, falling in the Nov. 22 matchup would be an unacceptable result for Miami.
Lastly, Pittsburgh must replace CBS Sports Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and journeyman quarterback Tom Savage. Chad Voytik is likely to win the competition under center and the sophomore will have plenty of experience by the season finale.
Miami must go 4-0 in these games. Otherwise, a Coastal Division title will be nearly impossible to attain.
A Defensive Relapse of Its Own
The 2013 season was a tale of two halves for the Miami defense. During the Hurricanes' 7-0 start, opponents managed 342.3 yards per game, were sacked 22 times and scored a total of 18 touchdowns.
However, over the final six games, Miami surrendered 524.5 yards per outing, tallied just seven sacks and allowed 28 touchdowns.
The main problems were sloppy tackling and opponents' ground games dominating the trenches, which resulted in 217.2 rushing yards per contest.
Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke each scored at least four times, while the Virginia and Pittsburgh backfields gained 243 and 220 yards, respectively.
The already-gaudy number would have been even higher, but Louisville abandoned the ground game, and for good reason—Teddy Bridgewater shredded the 'Canes for 447 yards through the air.
Though competition was undoubtedly easier in the first seven outings, the Miami defense cannot regress like this again and leave its offense locked in scoring battles.
Florida State Seminoles
If the Seminoles are not in the inaugural College Football Playoff, it certainly would be a surprise.
Quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, wide receiver Rashad Greene possesses elite skills in the open field and the offensive line is a force to be reckoned with. FSU will again showcase a fantastic defense, highlighted by numerous 4- and 5-star recruits over the past few recruiting cycles.
While the Hurricanes will be decent, Florida State is one of the nation's premier programs. No, Miami fans don't want to hear that, but ignoring its bitter rival's collective talent is foolish. The 'Noles are not the defending national champions because of continual luck.
The U hosts Florida State on Nov. 15 and a Dec. 6 rematch in Charlotte, N.C. potentially awaits the longtime adversaries.
Getting by FSU will be the most difficult undertaking of the year and a second meeting—at the least—will give Miami another chance to knock off the Seminoles, however unlikely that accomplishment would be.