Las Vegas doesn't believe in the Hurricanes
Miami: 5.5 Over -160 (16 to win 10)
5.5 Under +120 (10 to win 12)
The fact that this article's title is a legitimate question is depressing, but that's where we are. When I first saw the team-by-team win total odds released by 5dimes, I expected to see Miami around 7 wins as an Over/Under. I made appointments with both my eye doctor and my psychiatrist after reading the Canes were listed at 5.5.
Why are expectations so low? Miami is young and talented but graduated most of their most productive players statistically, especially on offense. Brad Kaaya isn't getting the preseason respect I think he deserves and seems to be ranked anywhere from 3rd - 6th in the ACC at his position. Kaaya is motivated to change the way the nation now looks at the Hurricanes.
T Ereck Flowers left early and was a Top 10 NFL Draft pick. Miami's leading returning WR is Herb Waters, who had 277 yards and 1 TD in 2014, with his best year coming in 2013 (406 yards and 5 TD). Stacy Coley had a breakout freshman season in 2013 (591 yards and 7 TD receiving), but struggled to have an impact throughout 2014. Miami's leading returning RB is Joseph Yearby, who had 509 yards and 1 TD and received limited attention given his role behind Duke Johnson. TE Standish Dobard had just 7 catches for 147 yards in 2014. The loss of Denzel Perryman definitely hurts, but the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in Jermaine Grace and Raphael Kirby at linebacker. The Hurricanes have a number of players that need to step up this fall and take advantage of their increased opportunities. The talent is there. The production must follow. Expect to see several Miami players earn First Team All-ACC honors when the real list that matters comes out this winter.
Even at -160 (16 to win 10), the 5.5 O/U line seems like a trap to many people because it seems too easy to take the Over on Miami. Vegas seems to be begging the public to back the Hurricanes this season. As my readers know, I laugh in the face of potential traps. I can confidently predict that the Canes will exceed these low expectations in 2015. Let's look at the schedule in four parts to discuss possible ways the season could unfold. I clearly think Miami will win six games or more, but I'll lay out the devil's advocate case as well, explaining what someone who takes the Under would be thinking.
Home vs Bethune Cookman - September 5th - 6pm
Away at Florida Atlantic - September 11th - 8pm
In Al Golden's first four seasons, Miami always played a tough opponent in the first two weeks: Ohio State (2011), Kansas State (2012), Florida (2013), and Louisville (2014). This is a welcome change in 2015. The Canes will be a young team this fall and many players will be playing leading roles for the first time in their careers. The games against Bethune and FAU will allow Miami to gain some momentum and confidence, which will be crucial once Nebraska comes to town in Week 3.
Most Likely Outcome
Miami wins both games easily. The game at FAU will be a great opportunity for Canes' fans to attend a road game and I'm thrilled it's on a Friday night. Guys like Joe Yearby will shine with more touches. Getting Stacy Coley involved in the offense early will be crucial in helping him regain the form he showed in 2013. FAU might copy Uconn and create a rivalry trophy and countdown clock to get fired up. It won't change the result on the field. The Canes own the mean streets of Boca.
Under 5.5 Wins - Conceding 2-0
Despite the low expectations, no one expects Miami to be challenged in either game. That's what makes the 5.5 so interesting to me. To win less than six, Miami would have to go 3-7 or worse in the remaining ten games of the season.
Home vs Nebraska - September 19th - 330pm
Away at Cincinnati - October 1st - 730pm
Miami lost a competitive game in Lincoln last year and will probably be a small favorite against the Huskers at home, depending on how Mike Riley's debut goes against BYU in Week 1. Miami's first road game of the season is a trip to Cincinnati for a marquee Thursday night matchup.
Most Likely Outcome
Miami goes at least 1-1 in these two games, and has a better than 75% chance of winning both. Strangely enough, I'm more confident in Miami's chances to beat Nebraska. The game at Cincinnati scares me a little bit more. Focus and environment are so important in college football. If the Canes start 3-0, will they overlook Cincy a bit? With Florida State the next week, it might be hard to keep players thinking the right way.
Miami will beat Nebraska this fall. Huskers fans treated me with respect and kindness during my trip to Lincoln last year and I only hope Canes fans treat them the same way -- but Nebraska will leave Sun Life Stadium disappointed in September. I only hope Canes fans treat them the same way I was treated. Like Miami, Nebraska loses their top playmakers on offense from a year ago (Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah). Nebraska will also be adjusting to a brand new coaching staff and a new system on both sides of the ball. It might take a while for the Huskers to adjust to new OC Danny Langsdorf, who is used to running a more pass-heavy spread offense, given his experience at Oregon State, most recently with Sean Mannion. Against Miami last season, Nebraska ran the ball 54 times and attempted just 13 passes. While that was extreme, the Huskers ran the ball on 62% of plays during the course of the season. Under the new system, I think Miami will match up better, especially given the leaders of UM's defense should be an experienced secondary (Bush, Burns, Edler, Carter, Howard). The return of Al-Quadin Muhammad and the emergence of Chad Thomas should be able to pressure Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong, who I don't think is accurate enough to succeed in Langsdorf's offense. Brad Kaaya has a big night and the Canes earn some national respect with a win.
The Bearcats are led by a talented QB in Gunner Kiel and incredible veteran depth at WR. The Bearcats do most of their damage in the passing game, which plays into Miami's strength. This will be Cincinnati's biggest home game of the season so expect the Bearcats team and fans to be ready. Given recent flops on the road, I'm always concerned with how Miami responds to hostile environments. The biggest positive for the Canes is the memory of a dominating victory over Cincinnati at Sun Life last season. Miami put up 621 yards on offense on just 60 plays and will have the advantage again in 2015 against an average UC defense. If the Canes show up ready to play, they should be fine, but that's a big if. The Canes should win this game, but until Al Golden's road record improves, I can understand why many might be looking at Cincinnati to pull the upset.
Under 5.5 Wins - Split Decision
This is where the Under 5.5 crowd might really start to sweat. If you're down on Miami this season, you most likely expect them to split these two games and enter the ACC with a 3-1 record. You'd also believe that there is a higher likelihood that the Canes lose to both Nebraska and Cincinnati than win both games. If Miami goes 4-0 in non-conference play, the Canes will become bowl eligible easily. Miami isn't going 1-7 in the ACC. If Miami enters ACC play at 2-2, Al Golden and company will be in big trouble, because the schedule only gets harder from here.
The next three games are when Miami's season starts to get interesting.
Away at Florida State - October 10th
Home vs Virginia Tech - October 17th
Home vs Clemson - October 24th
After starting off conference play too early in years past, Miami doesn't play an ACC opponent until October 10th. Unfortunately, their first three conference opponents are three of the best teams in the league. Miami will be an underdog at Florida State and Clemson is a popular pick to win the conference, as long as star QB Deshaun Watson can stay healthy. Virginia Tech had a down year in 2014, but the Hokies are loaded on defense and should bounce back this fall. How well Miami deals with this difficult stretch will likely decide which way this season unfolds.
Most Likely Outcome
This one is a toss-up between 2-1 and 1-2. If Miami is able to go to Tallahassee and upset the Noles, then a 3-0 stretch is possible, given how much momentum that win would provide. Miami's season went into a tailspin after losing a late lead to FSU in 2014. While FSU has tons of elite talent on the roster, the Noles will be inexperienced this fall. Everett Golson is a likely improvement from Sean Maguire at QB, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he can adjust to Jimbo Fisher's offense. Miami is fortunate to be playing FSU early in the season. By mid-November, Florida State will likely look much better than they appeared early in the year. This game will be a huge opportunity for Brad Kaaya to prove he can lead his team to a road win in a hostile environment. As we discussed previously, Miami was just 1-4 on the road in 2014.
One reason why the Canes' ACC expectations are so low is the difficulty of their conference schedule. Miami's crossover opponents are Clemson and Florida State, the two favorites to win the league. As a comparison, Duke's Atlantic opponents are Boston College and Wake Forest, while North Carolina's are NCState and Wake Forest. Clemson lost several defensive stars to the draft, but Dabo and Brent Venables are poised to reload after a few years of elite recruiting. Deshaun Watson is a dynamic playmaker and dual-threat QB's have caused problems for Miami in recent years. Artavis Scott and Mike Williams are two of the best receivers in the ACC. The Canes will have to play well in all phases to beat the Tigers.
Of these three games, Virginia Tech is the most likely win for Miami. I mentioned the talent the Hokies have on defense, but I'm not sold on QB Michael Brewer. The Canes dominated VT in Blacksburg last year and Miami has the benefit of this year's matchup being at home.
Under 5.5 Wins - A Losing Streak - 0-3
To believe Miami will win five or less, you would have to expect the Canes to lose all three of these games. Under 5.5 would still be alive if Miami went 1-2, but assuming a win against or Nebraska or Cincinnati, that would leave Miami with a 4-3 record after seven games. With that in mind, the Virginia Tech game becomes the key swing in this part of the schedule. If UM beats FSU, the Under 5.5 crowd might as well rip up their tickets, but if the Canes lose another heartbreaker, how they respond the following week will be critical. Miami played terribly in losses to UVA and Pitt to close last season, letdowns that the doubters will be counting on to repeat this year.
Away at Duke - October 31st
Home vs Virginia - November 7th
Away at North Carolina - November 14th
Home vs Georgia Tech - November 21st
Away at Pittsburgh - November 27th
Most Likely Outcome
I think 3-2 or 4-1 is the most probable record for Miami in these five Coastal matchups. Keep in mind, that confidence depends on my predictions for the first seven games being accurate. If Miami enters this stretch at 5-2 or even better, the Canes have an excellent chance at finishing strong and contending for a trip to the ACC title game. Duke will have a new QB this season, likely Thomas Sirk, a junior who has just 14 career pass attempts. The Blue Devils also lost their best playmaker in WR Jamison Crowder and this roster doesn't have the depth to easily replace him. Duke has talent on defense, but Miami's never had a problem scoring at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The trip to North Carolina is a tricky one, given how much I like QB Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels should be much improved this season. Pitt will be a tough place to play this year too, with the Panthers returning three dynamic players on offense: RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd, and QB Chad Voytik. I know it shouldn't be an issue, but I still have trouble feeling comfortable with Miami playing road games in cold weather. The margin for error in this division is razor thin and this race may be decided by which team manages to stay the healthiest. While I think that the Canes have more talent than these five opponents, none of these games will be easy. I do think this might be the part of the year where you'll notice a huge improvement in Brad Kaaya's performance and leadership. He'll be finishing up his second full season as a starter and I expect him to emerge as a national star this season.
Under 5.5 Wins - Late Season Collapse
The Under 5.5 backers expect Miami to enter this stretch at 3-4 or 4-3. That makes the Duke game extremely important. If Miami beats Duke, they'll have at least some momentum heading into the game at home against UVA. Should Miami lose to Duke, this season could go downhill quickly. The Canes should be favored to beat UVA, but I've been embarassed by Miami's inability to beat Mike London in recent years. In a division as unpredictable as the Coastal, anything can happen. Miami's doubters are counting on the two crossover games against FSU and Clemson to put the Canes behind the eight ball in the Coastal Division race. If the Canes are eliminated from Coastal contention, motivating his team will become very difficult for Al Golden. The final three games are a tough way to finish, with two road games and hosting a very good Georgia Tech team. Until Miami's run defense actually shows significant improvement against elite teams, many will expect the Yellow Jackets to option their way to a win in South Florida. GT's QB Justin Thomas is getting a lot of attention in preseason voting as a potential ACC Player of the Year Candidate and he'll be tough to stop.
As you can see given my predictions for each section of the schedule, I think Miami will easily exceed 5.5 wins, with an 8-4 or 9-3 record being the most likely outcomes. There is no doubt that I tend to be more optimistic than most people, especially in the midst of a long offseason, so I'm anxious to hear what other fans think. A big part of why Miami's O/U is so low is Al Golden's position firmly on the hot seat. Some people anticipate a scenario where if Miami starts the season poorly and rumors about job security begin, it might be difficult to save the season under the intense pressure of that situation. I only ask one thing from Miami fans in 2015: I know you're frustrated with how the Canes have done in recent years. I know many people have emotional and strong opinions about the coaching staff. Don't let those feelings prevent you from showing your full support to the players on the field this fall. If the team doesn't win, everything will take care of itself. I hope to see all of you at Sun Life in September. If I'm right about exceeding expectations, this team will be in the mix for a Coastal title.