What an up and (mostly) down 2015 regular season for the 'Canes.
With the euphoria of the Duke win and the angst of the UNC loss now in the rear view mirror, UM closes out the season against a very underrated Pittsburgh (Friday at Noon, ESPN2) squad on the road.
The Panthers (8-3) may have just one less loss than the 'Canes (7-4), but their defeats have come by a combined 19 points against UNC, Iowa, and Notre Dame.
And the latter two are competing for the College Football Final Four.
So this is a very solid team.
With the exception of FSU, Miami has not been able to hang tight with the "elite" teams on their schedule.
And while Pitt may not carry the cache of #1 ranked Clemson nor the explosiveness of the Tar Heels, this will be a very good test of the preparation, heart, and mental toughness of this UM team under Interim Coach Larry Scott.
A win would mean a better bowl, but more importantly progress for the young players and the program.
The much bigger news of course will be who the next Coach is, but this is still important.
Besides, 8-4 would look and feel a whole lot better than 7-5.
Here's what to watch for on the field.
When the Hurricanes have the ball: As always, the Hurricanes would love to establish the run with Joe Yearby and Mark Walton. And this will be especially important, given the conditions at Heinz Field could be pretty frigid. Pitt's front 7, led by MLB Matt Galambos and is solid if not spectacular against the run. SS Jordan Whitehead also loves to creep up in 8 man fronts. With the Hurricanes offensive line being so inconsistent, this will be a real key to the game. Controlling the trenches and staying out of third and longs will be crucial for UM. If they get into predictable passing situations DE Ejuan Price, who is coming off a 5 sack performance Vs Louisville, could become a real headache for Brad Kaaya and Co. If Kaaya is given time, he can pick apart a decent if not great secondary. Like most teams the Hurricanes face, the Panthers do not have the depth in the defensive backfield to match-up with Stacy Coley, Rashawn Scott, David Njoku, and Herb Waters among others. Overall, I expect Miami to put some points on the board, but not exactly light it up against this D.
When the Panthers have the ball: Miami's defense looked a little improved last week Vs GT. Of course a lot of that was made easier when QB Justin Thomas was knocked from the game. Nonetheless the tackling was better, and it will need to be even more stout this week Vs a team that loves to bloody your nose. A lot of people, including myself, thought Pitt would really be in trouble when RB James Conner was lost for the season due to injury. But 6'2 230 pound RS freshman Qadree Ollison has stepped right in, and the Panthers running attack hasn't missed a beat. UM LB's Juwon Young and Jermaine Grace will really be tested by that physical Pittsburgh O line and Ollison. Speaking of tests, when steadily improving Panthers QB Nate Peterman drops back to pass, he has one of the premier targets in America to throw to in Tyler Boyd. Boyd's yardage is down a bit this year, but he remains the go to guy, especially in the red zone. Artie Burns will likely draw the assignment of Boyd. It should be a fun battle to watch. The most important thing for UM though is to at least slow down the run game. Given this has not been a strength of Miami's, it could be a long day for this unit.
Prediction: I actually think that the 'Canes D will play better than expected. Pitt likes to run in between the tackles, and Miami is a little better facing that kind of running game, than one that likes to get out on the edges. I worry about turnovers, given the conditions. But if the Hurricanes can break even or at least keep it close in the TO battle, they should have the personnel to win this game. Kaaya throws a late TD pass and UM comes out victorious, 30-27