Given that we're in a college football doldrums period sandwiched between signing day and spring practice, I was struggling to come up with a topic to write about. I spent the weekend discussing national security and ACC football at Mar-a-Lago, but was kicked out after someone told security that I didn't win 50 percent of my picks last season. Apparently the place is for winners only.
I thought about writing an article about how the Hurricanes should clearly be ranked #1 heading into the 2017 season. When the article was quickly mocked and questioned, my press secretary at State of the U would be ready to issue a statement. "Mr. Pickens has held this belief for a long time. In addition, he also believes that every team ranked above Miami in other national polls has clearly been cheating and everyone knows it."
Fortunately for my writing deadline, ESPN published its Preseason FPI (Football Power Index) yesterday. The FPI is often mocked for having seemingly every single SEC team in the Top 15, and compared to Bill Connelly's S&P+, the FPI is essentially the Breitbart of computer rankings. That being said, this year's rankings actually seem balanced and reasonable. Miami comes in at number 16.
Here is the description of the FPI from ESPN:
"Preseason FPI is designed to take the guesswork out of preseason ratings. It is an automated ranking intended to measure team strength going forward. It is not a ranking of who will have the highest win total (which is dependent on schedule) or who is most likely to make the College Football Playoff. The model comprises four major components: the last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI."
Miami finished the 2016 season ranked 20th in the AP and 23rd in the Coaches Poll, so 16th seems about right. Despite losing Brad Kaaya, the Canes benefit from returning most of their starters from a very strong defense under Manny Diaz. The Top 10 teams are Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, FSU, Auburn, LSU, Clemson, Penn State, Washington, and Wisconsin, in that order.
One of the nice features of the FPI is that it lists every FBS team. Here is Miami’s schedule in order of the opponents’ ranking.
Florida State 4th
Notre Dame 17th
Virginia Tech 31st
North Carolina 35th
Georgia Tech 37th
Arkansas State 84th
This is a very manageable schedule. The trip to Tallahassee will be a difficult challenge for the Canes, especially given the inexperience at QB for Miami, regardless of who wins the battle this offseason. The Notes should contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Putting aside that game though, Miami has a good chance of being favored in the other 11 games. The teams ranked 2nd-6th best on the schedule will be replacing their quarterbacks (Kizer, Evans, Trubisky, Thomas, Peterman). According to the FPI, Miami is the favorite to win the Coastal Division. The Canes are sometimes at a disadvantage due to the crossover game with Florida State every year, but fortunately in 2017, North Carolina has to play Louisville and Virginia Tech has to play Clemson.
With an improved offensive line, star WR Ahmmon Richards, and stud RB Mark Walton, the only question mark on offense is at quarterback. Miami is loaded on defense, especially at defensive line and linebacker. Chad Thomas, R.J. McIntosh, Kendrick Norton, Trent Harris, Joe Jackson, and Demetrius Jackson should be the best DL unit the Canes have had in years. Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinckney will continue to shine at LB in their sophomore seasons. If Manny Diaz can find guys in the secondary to effectively replace Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Jamal Carter, Miami will have one of the best defenses in the country. The win totals for the 2017 season aren’t out yet, but I expect the Canes to be listed at either 8.5 or 9 wins.