Miami Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions
The countdown to the 2014 regular season is dwindling, and the Miami Hurricanes are preparing to take the field on Sept. 1 against new conference foe Louisville.
Blood pressure rising, excitement building and game-by-game predictions forthcoming.
As the 'Canes continue to work through a quarterback battle, now narrowed to a transfer and true freshman, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers lead a high-ceiling, low-floor Miami roster.
The following are based on the current health status of all involved teams, which is subject to change at any moment. But that doesn't mean we can't take a shot at the predictions.
Because football is great. Any disagreement? No? OK. Onward!
Sept. 1, at Louisville Cardinals
I'm surely not alone here: I keep changing my mind about this game.
The most common reason to pick against the 'Canes is that, following the 27-point blowout in last season's Russell Athletic Bowl, they should not have been completely transformed by simple changeover due to graduation and recruitment. After all, the Cardinals didn't just handle Miami. No, no, Louisville throttled the Hurricanes.
However, that undeniable fact is rarely followed by the concession that Duke was unavailable for the game. Between Dallas Crawford and Gus Edwards, the 'Canes trudged their way to 73 yards on 23 carries, and Louisville will be weaker up front in 2014.
Per Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:
To me, despite insistence to the contrary, the defensive line should be a concern. That's not to say there isn't talent there. Read that again. There is a lot of talent there. But the running backs got 300-plus yards in Monday's closed scrimmage, and they were at the second level a lot on Saturday.
Duke poses a tremendously larger threat than last season's pair, and Miami needs to run the ball because of its quarterback situation, anyway.
A spandex-tight finish is likely forthcoming regardless, but "The U" will kick off the year with a victory.
Prediction: Win; 1-0 (1-0)
Sept. 6, vs. Florida A&M Rattlers
The Hurricanes' home opener welcomes FCS opponent Florida A&M, and the early September game doubles as the program's easiest matchup of the season.
Last year, the Rattlers finished the 3-9, including a 76-point loss to Ohio State. Quarterback Damien Fleming had a subpar campaign, completing just 52.7 percent of his passes and throwing 13 interceptions to six touchdowns.
The team's best offensive player, Fleming recently aggravated a foot injury that required surgery. Though St. Clair Murraine of the Tallahassee Democrat notes the senior said he will be ready for the season, this one will quickly get ugly.
Florida A&M simply doesn't have the firepower to overcome a deficit to the 'Canes.
Prediction: Win; 2-0 (1-0)
Sept. 13, vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves
The Arkansas State Red Wolves are not a second straight cupcake, but the 'Canes should not encounter many issues dispatching the three-time defending Sun Belt champions.
Granted, Miami needs to slow down running back Michael Gordon and contain versatile receiver J.D. McKissic, two players who proved to be immensely valuable last season. Gordon accounted for 985 yards out of the backfield, and McKissic racked up 1,575 all-purpose yards.
According to THV 11, first-year head coach Blake Anderson said quarterback Fredi Knighten is the clear starter, and the junior must prepare for the gauntlet. Arkansas State travels to Tennessee the week before facing Miami, which will certainly provide useful experience.
However, while the Red Wolves may hang around until halftime, the Hurricanes will extend the lead during the third frame and eventually earn win No. 3.
Prediction: Win; 3-0 (1-0)
Sept. 20, at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Jake Heaps, Brad Kaaya or Ryan Williams?
Williams—the expected starter before an ACL injury—has targeted this date for a return, and he appears to be making decent progress. If the senior takes the reins, it could be his first meaningful game action in a calendar year.
Miami's quarterback dilemma might resurface with a vengeance, and perhaps for the worse. On the other hand, barring injury, one thing is for certain: Ameer Abdullah wears a red-and-white jersey and often dominates the field.
In 2013, the Big Ten's leading rusher eclipsed 100 yards in every game except for two, where he scampered for 98 and 85 yards. Of course, Abdullah reached the end zone a combined five times during his lackluster yardage performances.
It's no secret the Miami defense must improve in the trenches, but as David Furones of The Miami Herald notes, the 'Canes are relying on new faces for the upgrade.
Combining a rusty starter with getting challenged by the best running back the 'Canes will see all year spells disaster—and a loss.
Prediction: Loss; 3-1 (1-0)
Note: An added bonus to this game is Miami left tackle Ereck Flowers squaring off against nationally touted Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. That will be an exciting, must-see individual matchup.
Sept. 27, vs. Duke Blue Devils
A late September bout with Duke is arguably the most important game of the season. No, not Florida State or Virginia Tech. Miami starting 2-0 in ACC play is absolutely essential, and there is a very real possibility the Hurricanes begin 0-2.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, all-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown will miss the 2014 season, but a star safety will threaten the Miami offense.
"Jeremy Cash is a guy our entire defense looks to," defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said, per Bob Sutton of the Burlington Times-News.
With that being said, similar to the opener vs. Louisville, Johnson was absent during last season's meeting. What's more, Coley exited early, and Phillip Dorsett was recovering from a knee injury, so the 'Canes were down three playmakers.
Miami will not allow 48 points again, Brandon Connette won't punch in four touchdowns, and the list goes on. So many things went horribly wrong last year, and seeing that poor of a performance repeat is borderline unrealistic.
Make no mistake, the Blue Devils are a serious threat. But the 'Canes will rebound from a road loss and topple Duke.
Prediction: Win; 4-1 (2-0)
Oct. 4, at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
A few months ago, I put too much stock in this being the Hurricanes' sixth game in 40 days. I was wrong. The Georgia Tech defense is just too depleted for me to stand by that prediction.
The Yellow Jackets lost key starters, including second-round draft pick Jeremiah Attaochu, sixth-rounder Jamea Thomas and seventh-rounder Brandon Watts. Additionally, Georgia Tech graduated a quartet of experienced players in Louis Young, Jabari Hunt-Days, Euclid Cummings and Emmanuel Dieke.
Yes, Justin Thomas will lead a more efficient option offense than Vad Lee, which head coach Paul Johnson alluded to, per The Sports Xchange, via the Newton Citizen.
"We've got to be better at what we do," Johnson said. "Last year we weren't very good at running the triple option. I want to get back to where we're better at that, so things come off that. That's the way this offense is built."
But the Yellow Jackets defensive unit will have trouble containing the Miami skill positions throughout the day, giving the 'Canes their sixth consecutive series win.
Prediction: Win; 5-1 (3-0)
Oct. 11, vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
Gunner Kiel has yet to be officially named starting quarterback, but we all know it's inevitable. Not only does defensive lineman Silverberry Mouhon definitely have one of the best names in college football, he will consistently challenge Flowers and the Miami offensive line.
However, it won't be enough to outlast the Hurricanes.
Cincinnati lost middle linebacker Greg Blair, and its special teams unit are so horrendously awful, meaning The U needs to constantly attack both weaknesses. And with an experienced offensive line, especially on the left side, the 'Canes are prepared to pick apart the Bearcats defense.
It may be closer than currently expected, but Miami will topple Cincinnati.
Prediction: Win; 6-1 (3-0)
Oct. 23, at Virginia Tech Hokies
Traveling to Lane Stadium opposite Virginia Tech will always be tough even in down years for the Hokies.
Mark Giannotto of The Washington Post writes the quarterback competition between Mark Leal and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is still unresolved.
But if there is a non-Florida State defense that can limit Miami's dangerous backs and receivers, it's Virginia Tech. Luther Maddy, Dadi Nicholas, Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett highlight a very solid unit.
Miami cannot afford to commit silly mistakes in this game because even a mediocre Virginia Tech attack can outscore a frustrated Hurricanes offense during this mid-October, Thursday night clash in Blacksburg.
Prediction: Loss; 6-2 (3-1)
Nov. 1, vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
If Duke is the season's most important contest, the swing game against No. 23 North Carolina easily comes in second.
As discussed previously, Miami should be targeting six victories in conference play. Winning matchups versus Coastal opponents are paramount—yes, technically more important than beating Louisville and Florida State the first time around.
In the future, this meeting should routinely be deciding the division because both programs are on the rise. But right now, the 'Canes have one final opportunity to knock off a young team.
The "concern is the defense, with holes up front and inexperience deep," said USA Today's Paul Myerberg.
Quarterback Marquise Williams and superstar returner Ryan Switzer will continually test the Hurricanes, but the Tar Heels' youth on defense will cause them to fall short.
Prediction: Win; 7-2 (4-1)
Nov. 15, vs. Florida State Seminoles
Use this battle as a measuring stick: How good are the Hurricanes this time around?
Accounting for the stunning loss of Johnson during the second half last year, Florida State was at least three touchdowns better than Miami, no question about it.
In 2014, the 'Canes have 14 days to rest, game-plan and prepare for the rival Seminoles. Nevertheless, Jameis Winston, Cameron Erving and Florida State's stockpile of elite NFL talent will overwhelm The U, but by how much is the lingering question.
Though Miami should put together a better performance than the previous campaign, the 'Noles may be even better. Ultimately, the Hurricanes can build confidence for their final two regular-season outings by sticking with Florida State for four quarters.
Of course, unless the unthinkable upset occurs, which inevitably leads to party time in Coral Gables. But I wouldn't hold out hope.
Prediction: Loss; 7-3 (4-2)
Nov. 22, at Virginia Cavaliers
While the Hurricanes have an unanswered situation at quarterback, Virginia's quarterback situation is a mess. The Greyson Lambert experiment was largely unsuccessful last season, yet Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress notes he will be the starter, "barring something extreme."
Additionally, Doug Doughty of The Roanoke Times writes the Cavaliers' offensive line remains unsettled after losing a pair of draft picks. For once, the Miami defense can already be credited as a deciding factor even before any improvement is gauged.
Virginia has scattered talent in Kevin Parks, Andrew Brown and others, but the 'Canes are simply a better all-around team than the Wahoos, and it will show.
Most importantly, Miami will need this win to stay alive in the multiteam race for the Coastal Division championship.
Prediction: Win; 8-3 (5-2)
Nov. 29, vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh will be a tough opponent, especially because Tyler Boyd is the Stacy Coley of the Panthers.
Tracy Howard is Miami's best coverage corner, but defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio may continue employing the strong-side and weak-side corner scheme, which Boyd can exploit. If the super sophomore is lined up opposite Ladarius Gunter, Artie Burns or Antonio Crawford, Boyd is better suited to tear apart the Hurricanes.
However, one player does not make a team, and Miami, at least on paper currently, is better overall than Pittsburgh.
And after the ninth win of 2014, it comes down to tiebreakers. Would the 'Canes claim a berth in the conference championship? Well, a 6-2 record in ACC play is a promising record in a very average 2014 outlook.
Then again, if Miami dropped a game to Louisville, Duke or UNC, it could already be eliminated from contention in the Coastal. But we can hope for the best.
Prediction: Win; 9-3 (6-2)