Miami Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Hurricanes' 2014 Season
Five games on the 2014 schedule could derail the Miami Hurricanes' chances at a Coastal Division title, which is the program's most realistic goal for the upcoming campaign.
Due to parity within the division, "The U" should be targeting six conference victories to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history.
A loss to rival and preseason No. 1 Florida State in mid-November will not necessarily ruin the 'Canes' season, but that's why the following contests are so important.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Sept. 1 at Louisville Cardinals
Falling to the Louisville Cardinals in the season opener does not ruin Miami's season per se, but the uphill battle a loss creates for the 'Canes is unavoidable.
Again, Florida State is the best team in the nation. Al Golden's team certainly has a chance, but we're talking Dumb and Dumber levels if the Seminoles are completely healthy for the early November meeting.
Ultimately, entering the final seven conference games needing six wins to ensure an opportunity at the Coastal title is rather difficult when FSU still stands in the way.
During Golden's tenure, Miami has slipped in a winnable contest each year (Virginia, Virginia, Duke), and that's a major hurdle for the program to overcome. It is paramount the Hurricanes begin the 2014 campaign with a victory over Louisville so a late-season, one-game lapse is not the crushing blow to a potential division crown.
Sept. 27 vs. Duke Blue Devils
Following a prime-time nonconference bout with Nebraska, Miami hosts the defending Coastal champion Duke Blue Devils at Sun Life Stadium.
Though Duke lost Brandon Connette to transfer and Jela Duncan to academic ineligibility, Anthony Boone, Laken Tomlinson and Jamison Crowder return for the Blue Devils. Plus, Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell torched the 'Canes for 197 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries in 2013.
"We've got a lot of experience coming back," Crowder said, per ESPN.com's David M. Hale. "We've lost a few linemen and one of our running backs, but we have a lot of playmakers coming back."
Miami coaches and defensive players have raved about their own progression, but Duke will be the most complete offensive squad it faces in September.
What's more, since the Blue Devils are a leading contender in the division, allowing them to hold a tiebreaker weakens the Hurricanes' chances should that scenario become necessary.
Oct. 23 at Virginia Tech Hokies
Exit light, enter night and welcome to Lane Stadium—the loudest venue The U is scheduled to invade this year.
A Thursday night showcase to be broadcast by ESPN, this game likely decides the loser's fate in the Coastal. The Virginia Tech Hokies have one of the easier conference schedules, taking on just Wake Forest and Boston College from the Atlantic side.
According to Mark Berman of The Roanoke Times, former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe believes the Hokies will take the division.
Virginia Tech will have already played Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh, leaving just Duke after Miami comes to town. In other words, the former Big East member has an excellent opportunity to practically lock up the Coastal if they handled two of the three previous ACC foes.
And if the 'Canes falter here, they'll possibly fall to their two biggest rivals for the fourth time in five seasons.
Nov. 1 vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
If Virginia Tech handles Miami the week prior, the Hurricanes' 2014 division aspirations may already be shattered. But if Golden's squad enters November fighting for a top spot, the North Carolina Tar Heels could put a major dent in The U's Coastal hopes.
Thankfully, the 'Canes no longer must worry about Eric Ebron dominating the middle of the field for the Tar Heels. However, without overlooking special teams extraordinaire Ryan Switzer, beach god Larry Fedora has another dangerous playmaker.
Marquise Williams started the final five contests at quarterback in 2013, completing 57 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. But the junior's legs are what makes him so threatening, adding 335 yards and five more scores on the ground.
Yes, a matchup with Old Dominion slightly inflated those numbers, but UNC was two points away from a 5-0 record with Williams under center.
Additionally, the Tar Heels play Clemson, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks, so Williams will have experienced Carolina's gauntlet stretch of the season. He'll be ready to put a hurt on Miami, so linebacker Denzel Perryman and the 'Canes must be prepared to fire back.
Nov. 29 at Pittsburgh Panthers
If the division pans out the way many expect—a mess—Miami's regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Panthers will be of the utmost importance for tiebreaker purposes.
Unless the 'Canes hold a two-game advantage or are eliminated in the Coastal, every hypothetical situation hinges on this late November game. Therefore, if Pitt tops Miami in an all-or-nothing outing, the Hurricanes' season would be effectively ruined.
Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes head coach Paul Chryst is changing the program's image, and it's hard to argue the potential of his young talent. Quarterback Chad Voytik, wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Connor—all sophomores—will each be major contributors for Pitt.
In all likelihood, Miami would have qualified for bowl season, but being this close to a Coastal Division championship and missing out would ruin the 2014 campaign.