Miami Football: Early Game-by-Game Predictions for the 2014 Season
The offseason is a cold, dark, football-less place, but the countdown until the Miami Hurricanes' 2014 season-opener has finally dropped into double-digit days.
Fourth-year coach Al Golden and the 'Canes play an eight-game conference schedule along with four nonconference tilts, including one against a historic rival.
Sure, the season is a few months away, but it's still fun to take some shots at way-too-early game-by-game predictions.
These guesses are sure to stay exactly how they are written well in advance, and disagreeing opinions are fully welcomed in the comments section.
Date: Monday, Sept. 1 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Miami was toppled by the Louisville Cardinals 36-9 during the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, leaving the 'Canes wishing they had a second chance at a victory. Well, the Cardinals are joining the ACC, and "The U" gets a shot at redemption on Labor Day Monday.
Charlie Strong, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Smith have parted for Texas or the NFL, but the current team still has a strong defense. According to ESPN's Andrea Adelson, the unit is already mentally preparing for the 'Canes.
Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin has the University of Miami orange and green "U" logo on the wall of his room with a big X through it. Mauldin put it up to give him extra motivation for the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl. ... Because the teams play each other again ... Mauldin decided to keep the "U" up.
The Cardinals represent one of four toss-up matchups where either result would not be surprising, and this game will be headlined by both teams starting largely inexperience quarterbacks.
Consequently, the main storyline will be reliance on playmakers. Behind Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, the Hurricanes have the offensive weapons to overpower Louisville. Of course, the Cardinals are led by wide receiver DeVante Parker and a stable of talented running backs including Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer.
Expect a final-possession nailbiter, but Louisville hasn't seen Duke yet, and the junior will provide the difference in the outcome.
Result: Win; 1-0 (1-0 ACC)
Florida A&M Rattlers
Date/Location: Saturday, Sept. 6 at Sun Life Stadium
Time/TV: 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Not too much to say here.
While the 'Canes will only have four days to prepare for the Florida A&M Rattlers, Miami won't get Appalachian State'd here. (Granted, Michigan wasn't supposed to get beaten, either.)
Last season, the Rattlers knocked off Savannah State by 13 points, and the Hurricanes knocked off the Tigers by a cool 77 points. Applying the transitive property can be dangerous at the FBS level, but this is just another paycheck outing for a lower-division school.
Miami has never lost to FAMU in Miami, and that eight-game winning streak at home won't change in 2014.
Result: Win; 2-0 (1-0 ACC)
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Date/Location: Saturday, Sept. 13 at Sun Life Stadium
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
A new addition to the 2014 schedule, the Hurricanes will host the Arkansas State Red Wolves. This will be the second meeting between the two programs—the other occurring in 1997 when Miami knocked out Arkansas State 42-10.
This season, "The U" will be tested by the Red Wolves' rushing attack and short passing game. Michael Gordon led Arkansas State with 754 rushing yards (6.7 per attempt) and 10 touchdowns last year, and versatile receiver J.D. McKissic racked up 1,475 all-purpose yards.
Miami's run defense allowed 217.2 yards per outing over the final six games, and the Red Wolves averaged 205.7 throughout the 2013 campaign—the 24th-best mark in the nation.
Considering Arkansas State has won three straight Sun Belt championships and won 28 games since 2011, the 'Canes cannot overlook this opponent. With that being said, however, the Red Wolves will have extreme difficulty keeping the explosive pair of Duke and Coley out of the end zone.
Result: Win; 3-0 (1-0 ACC)
Date/Location: Saturday, Sept. 20 at Memorial Stadium
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN2
After being challenged by a pesky Arkansas State team, Miami travels to Lincoln, Neb. to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The last time the programs met, the Hurricanes beat Eric Crouch and the 'Huskers in the the 2001 BCS National Championship Game 37-14.
Tommy Armstrong and Ameer Abdullah pilot a solid Nebraska offense that gained the 19th-most rushing yards in 2013. More importantly for Bo Pelini's team, defensive end Randy Gregory (12.5 sacks) will roam the edge and constantly challenge Miami's Ereck Flowers and Taylor Gadbois.
The 'Huskers return seven defensive starters and will bait an inexperienced quarterback in Kevin Olsen into a costly mistake or two, and Nebraska grabs the win at home.
Result: Loss; 3-1 (1-0 ACC)
Duke Blue Devils
Date/Location: Saturday, Sept. 27 at Sun Life Stadium
The Duke Blue Devils outlasted Miami to win the Coastal Division in 2013 and the 'Canes must win this early-season game, especially if Louisville beats The U.
Fortunately for Miami, defensive back Ross Cockrell graduated and Brandon Connette transferred to Fresno State (though in unfortunate circumstances to be closer to his ailing mother). Cockrell was an excellent corner and Connette entered in short-yardage situations, scoring four touchdowns.
The Hurricanes will be dependent on Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter locking down Jamison Crowder, who caught 108 passes for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Miami played a horrid defensive game in 2013 yet stuck around until the fourth quarter, and the difference this season will again be who the 'Canes were missing. Johnson was unavailable because of his ankle fracture and Coley exited the field due to a concussion suffered in the first half.
Better defense, no Connette or Cockrell and a full game of Duke and Coley equate to a Miami victory—but certainly not an easy one.
Result: Win; 4-1 (2-0 ACC)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Date/Location: Saturday, Oct. 4 at Sun Life Stadium
How good can the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets be? Last year, Paul Johnson's team jumped out to a 3-0 record before losing to Virginia Tech, Miami and BYU. A loss to Clemson sealed the Jackets' ACC fate, and they lost to Ole Miss in the 2013 Music City Bowl.
Starting quarterback Vad Lee transferred, but Justin Thomas is a better fit for the option offense alongside Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days anyway.
Seeing as this matchup is the 'Canes' sixth game in 40 days and Georgia Tech has an open date the week prior, Miami's conditioning will be tested.
Golden has never lost to the Yellow Jackets while at The U, but there's a first time for everything.
Result: Loss; 4-2 (2-1 ACC)
Date/Location: Saturday, Oct. 11 at Sun Life Stadium
Expected to be quarterbacked by Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, the Cincinnati Bearcats are the final nonconference opponent for the Hurricanes. Miami has won the previous 10 meetings, and the only loss occurred in 1947, though the last matchup was in 1998.
Largely overlooked in the Big East/American Athletic Conference behind the likes of Louisville and Central Florida (plus West Virginia and Pitt), the Bearcats have won 29 games since 2011. Last year, Cincinnati boasted the nation's No. 6 rush defense, ceding just 104.5 yards per game.
Similar to the clash with Nebraska, the Miami receivers will be forced to enter the spotlight. The Bearcats' secondary has a couple returning starters, but the 'Canes counter with Coley, Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis.
Additionally, Golden must make sure his team isn't looking forward to a 12-day break before taking on rival Virginia Tech. Miami will emerge victorious, but this will be a hard-fought battle in South Florida.
Result: Win; 5-2 (2-1 ACC)
Virginia Tech Hokies
Date/Location: Thursday, Oct. 23 at Lane Stadium
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
A Thursday night tilt with the Virginia Tech Hokies is arguably the most exciting point on the schedule. It's another toss-up game, and it's another rematch that did not showcase Duke last year.
Then again, the Hurricanes defense needs to stop letting a Virginia Tech quarterback look like an All-American. Three-year starter Logan Thomas was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, and senior Mark Leal is the front-runner to replace him.
The Hokies do return Miami-killers Willie Byrn, Joshua Stanford and Trey Edmunds along with leading pass-catcher Demitri Knowles. Overall, Frank Beamer has eight returning starters on offense and budding superstar Kendall Fuller on defense.
Aided by "Enter Sandman" blaring from the stadium's speakers, Virginia Tech squeaks out a win over the 'Canes.
Result: Loss; 5-3 (2-2 ACC)
North Carolina Tar Heels
Date/Location: Saturday, Nov. 1 at Sun Life Stadium
The North Carolina Tar Heels are so annoying.
After UNC bested the 'Canes in 2012, Miami needed a stellar blocking performance by its offensive line during the fourth quarter to overcome a four-interception day by Stephen Morris last year.
Bryn Renner, Eric Ebron, Russell Bodine and James Hurst are all gone, allowing a sigh of relief for the Hurricanes' secondary. Though linebacker Jeff Schoettmer will man the middle, North Carolina lost three of its four top tacklers.
Given the recent series history, saying Duke Johnson proves to be the difference after exiting the 2013 edition early is too easy. Call it a gut feeling, but somehow, some way, Miami knocks off the Tar Heels.
Result: Win; 6-3 (3-2 ACC)
Florida State Seminoles
Date/Location: Saturday, Nov. 15 at Sun Life Stadium
Is it possible to win? Sure. Likely? Not so much. The Florida State Seminoles have a very, very talented team with a Heisman-winning quarterback returning.
Miami competed with FSU for three quarters last year, but Duke's injury completely deflated the Hurricanes. Ultimately, the 'Noles continued their second-half defensive domination during the fourth stanza.
Jimbo Fisher has stockpiled elite players, and Miami is simply outmatched on both sides of the ball. The Seminoles will extend their winning streak to five straight years with a victory at Sun Life.
Result: Loss; 6-4 (3-3 ACC)
Date/Location: Saturday, Nov. 22 at Scott Stadium
Jump-started by Tracy Howard's pick-six on the game's first play, the 2013 Hurricanes finally broke their three-year losing streak against the Virginia Cavaliers.
Running backs Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell figure to form a dangerous threesome, and the Wahoos have been successful in that regard. Virginia ripped up Miami for 243 rushing yards—and 483 total—last year.
But while Mike London has definitely loaded his roster with talent, the Cavaliers have only won six games over the last two years.
At quarterback, Virginia is leaning on an inaccurate junior in David Watford, who threw 15 interceptions to just eight touchdowns in 2013 or sophomore Greyson Lambert. Safety-valve tight end Jake McGee transferred to Florida, and Dominique Terrell regressed mightily as a sophomore.
As long as the 'Canes contain Parks and Co., there's no reason Miami should lose on the road.
Result: Win; 7-4 (4-3 ACC)
Date/Location: Saturday, Nov. 29 at Sun Life Stadium
Miami will know exactly where it stands in the division race at this time, and the 'Canes need to win their season finale.
Chad Voytik is expected to earn the starting quarterback job, and he joins Isaac Bennett and James Conner in the backfield. The duo combined to rush for 1,596 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013, and they'll be hard to handle this year, too.
Barring Coley's outstanding 73-yard reverse, the Panthers limited the effectiveness of Miami's rushing attack, holding Dallas Crawford, Gus Edwards and the rest to 3.2 yards per carry. However, Pitt must replace Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, which is much easier said than done.
Depending on the way tiebreakers fall, Miami might have a shot at the Coastal title—but only with a win here.
Result: Win; 8-4 (5-3 ACC)