Last season was a disaster for Miami. Simple. That win/loss record should not have even been a possibility last year. Seven games were lost due to poor coaching, poor play, (more poor coaching), complacency and quitting. Amazing how a college program, with the pedigree that Miami has, quit. After several key players leaving for the NFL, Miami's goal of an ACC Championship appearance does not get easier, especially with a brutal schedule that lays in their way. Here are three games the Canes and the Miami faithful should keep a very close eye on -- and none of them are FSU.
Friday, November 27, TBA - @ Pitt
Pitt was supposed to be a cakewalk after they were added to the Coastal division during expansion of the conference. Miami is winning the series against their old Big East foes, holding a 23-10 lead. In their previous matchup, Miami fell at home to the Panthers on senior night, 35-23.
Completely lackluster, uninspired football.
Why They Should Be Afraid
James Connor. The junior, then sophomore tailback started all 13 games for Pitt and racked up 1,765 yards on 298 carries, including an astounding 26(!!) TDs on the ground. Connor was a second-team All-America selection by the AP, and those numbers also won him the ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. He even played hurt against Miami and still made them look like the lesser opponent. Pitt is also returning their starting QB from last season, Chad Voytik, and their top receiver the past two season, Tyler Boyd. Boyd, a perennial All-American player, has eclpised the 1,000 receiving yards mark in his first two collegiate seasons. Pitt also added former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi as their new head coach. Narduzzi is a hard-nosed, defensive minded coach who helped coach Michigan State to becoming one of the top defenses in college football, and Pitt is a perfect fit for what he brings to the table. Pitt is a very underrated team this upcoming season. Not to mention, Miami has to travel up north to Pennsylvania in late November, so you never know how a bunch of South Florida boys will deal with weather that probably won't be more than 40 degrees.
Thursday, October 1, 7:30 p.m. - @ Cincy
Adding Cincy to the schedule was a plus for the Canes, as power 5 schools always want to have a quality non-conference schedule. In addition to that, they want to play teams that they can beat, but are still respectable programs, such as Cincy. Miami is dominating this series matchup, sporting an 11-1 record against the Bearcats. Last season, the Canes defeated Cincy at home in a rout by the score of 55-34. Yes, the defense gave up 34 points, but it really wasn't a close game at all.
Not much of a "highlight" video...but it's not important. The offense made Cincy look silly all game long.
Why They Should Be Afraid
Away. Thursday night. Primetime. Oh yeah, you better believe it...they're probably going to have some type of homecoming/blackout game for that date, too. Because, you know, it's Miami.
Cincy is no pushover, at least they shouldn't be treated that way. Miami is clearly the superior team, but there is a reason why you play the game. And why is this a trap game? This game is on the road against a lesser opponent, and is sandwiched between Nebraska and FSU. Yes, there is a bye week before Miami and Cincinnati square off, but there will be a lot of emotion and energy spent on Nebraska and FSU. The last thing the Canes can afford is dwelling on Nebraska if things go sour and/or jumping ahead and focusing on FSU too early.
First thing of note is the Cats' defense...it was so bad last year, that I'm not sure it can get worse. Bet the house that they will put on a better performance than they did last year in Miami. Second, the Bearcats return Gunner Kiel, the QB that was actually rated higher than Jameis Winston coming out of high school. Kiel led them to a 9-4 record, earning them a share of first place in the AAC. He also threw for 3,254 yards with a 31/13 TD/INT ratio, so he's pretty damn good. On top of Kiel's supreme arm talent, the Bearcats also bring back all FIVE of their leading receivers from last season. They are also bringing in a freshman from South Florida, Kahlil Lewis, who will definitely be in line for playing time come the first of October. Don't expect the same 55-point outburst that the Canes put on in the last matchup, but better believe, or hope that both teams will come ready to play.
Saturday, October 31, TBA - @ Duke
Yeah, you read that right. This could've easily been Cincinnati or Pitt, considering how Cincy is a potential trap game and Pitt could very well decide Miami's postseason (or Al Golden's *eyes emoji*) fate.
Anyway, the Canes defeated Duke 22-10 last season in Miami on a very rainy Saturday night. It wasn't pretty, but it was a W nonetheless. Kaaya didn't make many mistakes with the football, Duke Johnson ran for 155 yards and a score, and the defense...played rather aggressively. Miami handed Duke their first loss of the season, while Miami got back above .500 with the victory.
Still mad about that unsportsmanlike penalty on Denzel...
Why They Should Be Afraid
Oh look...another away game. I'm not sure what Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has up his sleeve in regards of the offense and new QB, but Duke can run the football. The Blue Devils can turn to Jela Duncan, who rushed for close to 100 yards against Miami in 2013, Shaquille Powell, who averaged more than 7 YPC and had Duke's lone TD in the game last year, or Shaun Wilson, who did this...
Yeah, I know, it was against Kansas...but still. You see they type of speed and ability he has when you give him running room.
Another name to know is that of Jeremy Cash. The South Florida native and Ohio State transfer has been nothing short of spectacular for the Blue Devils. Cash has tallied six interceptions and 232 tackles (121/111) in the past two seasons...as a safety. Typically, when your safety has a high tackle number, it means that the two front lines of the defense aren't getting their job done. While this may be true in some cases, Cash is a baller, and he will make plays and call his own number when the team needs it most.
But for the real reason(s) Duke is #1 on this list, as listed above, this is another away game for the Canes. It is well documented that Miami has been pretty good at home over the past few seasons, but struggle mightily on the road. Last time Miami played in Durham they got embarrassed. I'm sure it will be a night game as well, not that that should even matter...(I'm looking at you, Al). Also, this game concludes a rough October schedule for the Canes. In order, they play @ Cincy, @ FSU, home against VT, home against Clemson, then finish the month @ Duke. Who knows? Miami could go 5-0 in October. But again, who knows? I'm worried about how the Canes will play at this point in the season. If they are hot and playing to the potential they could, this game shouldn't even be a problem. However, the world saw the tailspin Miami went on after the loss to FSU. What if the Canes have a rough October? Are they going to quit if the season looks bleak? Will they play uninspired football if another loss to FSU occurs? Duke is also a main player in the fight for the Coastal division crown, so this matchup is as important as the FSU game...statistically, of course. It always seems to come down to head-to-head matchups for the Coastal at the end of the season, so it is imperative Miami walks out of this game with a win.
These games are simply games Miami should fear, not ones that are necessarily most important (yet). Nebraska, UNC, even UVA could've made this list. Frankly, the entire schedule from Nebraska-onward had potential to be listed. A close fourth had to be the matchup against the Cornhuskers, because that game is where we will see the real Miami Hurricanes team. So dub September 20th as the unofficial first game of the season for the Canes. It could very well set the tone for what the season could become.