Miami's loss to Florida State was frustrating, but losing to North Carolina on Saturday brought a new level of disappointment. Coming into the season, everyone was confident in Miami's offense and nervous about the defense. After two close losses, that narrative has been flipped around. In both games, Miami's defense gave up just 20 points each to two very talented teams, efforts that should have been more than enough to win. The injuries are piling up on defense, but Manny Diaz and his unit have still given fans plenty to be excited about. It's hard to single out just one guy from the UNC game, but Corn Elder is a true star and will be a terrific NFL player.
The first four wins brought hope that the Canes had cured some of the problems on offense we'd gotten used to in recent years - run blocking, finishing drives, and converting on key downs. Against Florida State and UNC, Miami was just 8-28 on 3rd down. Miami's running game struggled for most of the game against an average UNC front 7. It's up to Mark Richt, Brad Kaaya, and the offensive line to get things turned around.
College football seasons are usually defined by a few key plays in close games. Despite losing two games in a row, it is important to realize how close is Miami to being 5-1 or 6-0. We all know about the holding call on Mark Walton's touchdown against FSU, Brad Kaaya's end zone interception, and the infamous blocked extra point. The UNC loss will be remembered for the egregiously bad review that gave the Tar Heels a game-changing touchdown early. If Brad Kaaya hits a wide open David Njoku on 4th down for a touchdown in the first half, I think the game ends up differently. After struggling on offense all day, Ahmmon Richards broke free for what would've been a long touchdown, but Kaaya overthrew him.
As Miami prepares for the game in Blacksburg, let's keep this 4-2 start in perspective. Everyone knew October would be a difficult month for the Canes. Most of the optimistic season predictions had Miami finishing the year at 9-3 or 10-2, both of which are still achievable, starting with a win at Virginia Tech. If I was offered a 6-2 start to the season back in August, I would've gladly taken it. Through the first half of the season, one thing is crystal clear - Miami has a much better coaching staff. Players are showing significant improvement, especially on defense. Years of Shannon and Golden conditioned fans to question or blame the coaches for every problem, but I'm still disappointed by some of the reaction to the past two losses that I've seen in the stadium and online. The planes with banners are gone. Please put your pitchforks away and stop asking for players to be benched after every mistake. Don't boo if you don't agree with every play-call Mark Richt makes. Give this staff a little time and I am very confident they will succeed.
MIAMI +6.5 at Virginia Tech - 7pm - Thursday Night
Playing at Virginia Tech on a Thursday will always be a challenge, but I'm excited about the opportunity it brings to get this team back on track. This game is on ESPN and is the only game on, providing the Canes with national exposure for recruits all across the country. Statistically the two teams are very evenly matched. Per game, Miami averages 37 points, 234 yards passing, and 189 yards rushing. Virginia Tech averages 36 points, 232 yards passing, and 189 yards rushing. Both defenses are allowing less than 20 points per game. Miami needs to create a few turnovers tomorrow night. The Canes have only lost two fumbles this season, while the Hokies have lost twelve. While I can understand Miami's loss to North Carolina, I'm still stunned that Virginia Tech lost by two touchdowns to Syracuse last week. A lack of focus on the road clearly cost the Hokies.
The quarterback battle will be crucial as always tomorrow night. No doubt Brad Kaaya is hearing the doubters and motivated to play well in front of a large audience. Kaaya won at Virginia Tech as a freshman and won’t be intimidated. VT QB Jerod Evans has been better than advertised this season and is playing with a lot of confidence, despite the loss to Syracuse. Both teams have injury issues along the defensive line and depth will be tested. I expect a close game throughout, with the Canes winning by a field goal.
"When you're going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill
Sorry if I've used it before, but that Churchill quote is my mantra during times like this. Given the short week, I wasn't able to update my stats table in time, sparing you the gory sea of red. I got home from the UNC game with a 6-6 record on Saturday, hoping for a decent night to secure a positive week. I lost six straight games instead, falling to an unspeakably bad 64-81-6 on the year. After another week of losing literally every close game, I'm running out of excuses. As one friend put it, "your article is my weekly go-to for pseudo-clever Trump jokes and embarrassing picks." My significant contract buyout is one of the only reasons I haven't been let go by SOTU. Fortunately my agent seized the opportunity to extend my deal last year after a strong 54% year. My fortunes will turn eventually, but I'm running out of time in 2016.
I'm sticking with the SEC for three of my best picks of the week, one of the only conferences I've seen success in this season. All three SEC picks are road underdogs, but in each case I think the line is too large. Texas A&M's defense won't simply roll over like Tennessee's did last week. Arkansas Auburn will likely be decided on the final drive. Ole Miss lost a tough one to Arkansas last week, but Chad Kelly will make enough plays to keep his team in the game in Baton Rouge. Tulsa's offense will put up 35+ points in an easy win over Tulane.
TEXAS A&M +18.5 at Alabama - 330pm
ARKANSAS +9.5 at Auburn - 6pm
TULSA -10.5 vs Tulane - 345pm
OLE MISS +6 at Lsu - 9pm
Boise State will pull away from a feisty BYU team in the second half. I've been so impressed by USF all season and think the Bulls have significantly more talent than Temple. Oregon's defense will struggle all night trying to stop Cal QB Davis Webb. San Diego State's offense doesn't play fast enough and isn't very explosive. Look for SJSU to keep this game within 20.
MIAMI +6.5 at Virginia Tech - 7pm - Thursday Night
BOISE STATE -7 vs Byu - 1015pm - Thursday Night
USF -6.5 at Temple - 7pm - Friday Night
CALIFORNIA -3 vs Oregon - 1030pm - Friday Night
SAN JOSE STATE +23.5 at San Diego State - 1030pm - Friday Night
Oklahoma will blow out a Texas Tech team searching for answers. Wyoming is one of the most improved teams in the nation and will keep surprising out west. Stanford beat me last week, but the Cardinals offense is still awful. Colorado can win this game on the road. Wisconsin has a tough trip to Iowa City after a disappointing overtime loss to Ohio State. Washington won't run up the score on Oregon State like we saw against Oregon a few weeks ago. Lamar Jackson and Louisville get back on track with a convincing win over NCST.
IOWA +4 vs Wisconsin - 12pm
CENTRAL MICHIGAN +10.5 at Toledo - 12pm
NORTHWESTERN -1.5 vs Indiana - 12pm
LOUISVILLE -19.5 vs NCState - 12pm
TEXAS +2.5 at Kansas State - 12pm
COLORADO +1.5 at Stanford - 3pm
TCU +6.5 at West Virginia - 330pm
OREGON STATE +36.5 at Washington - 630pm
WESTERN KENTUCKY -13.5 vs Old Dominion - 7pm
KENTUCKY +3 vs Mississippi State - 730pm
OKLAHOMA -13.5 at Texas Tech - 8pm
PENN STATE +20 vs Ohio State - 8pm
WYOMING -4.5 at Nevada - 1030pm