The Miami Hurricanes will begin the 2017 season against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats beneath the midday sun at Hard Rock Stadium. With the expectations of championships tethered to every Miami team, the 2017 Hurricanes are finally a legitimate contender in the ACC coastal division vying for their virgin voyage to the ACC Championship game. Saturday’s contest against an FCS foe will for the most part be a sweet release from the summer’s anticipation and an opportunity for last minute tuning.
Miami returns a majority of starters on both sides of the ball, but on Saturday all eyes will be on the new quarterback Malik Rosier. After months of competition, Rosier emerged as the most consistent, mature, and polished QB of the bunch. Making his second career start on Saturday, Rosier will execute Richt’s combination spread/RPO attack with a plethora of talent surrounding him. Running back Mark Walton, receivers Lawrence Cager, Braxton Berrios, and freshman Mike Harley, and tight end Chris Herndon will attack a physically outmatched Bethune-Cookman defense. A notable absence for the Canes in week 1 will be Freshman All-American Ahmmon Richards who will sit to rest a nagging hamstring. The coaching staff’s decision to rest Richards is mostly precautionary given the nature of this week’s opponent.
The Wildcat’s best chance to slow down the Miami offense will be Diquan Richardson and Kevin Thompson. Richardson is a MEAC Preseason First Team selection at defensive back who tallied 55 tackles and four interceptions in 2016. Still, he will be challenged to keep up with the speed of Miami’s downfield threats. Thompson is another MEAC Preseason First Team pick who has the size and ability to cause disruption on the defensive line. He will test the Miami offensive line that hopes to be much improved from last season.
As is typical when facing FCS opponents, Miami will keep the play calls basic and focus on executing with precision. With most starters not likely to play much more than the first half, Canes fans will have a good look at some new faces on the roster. The spotlight could remain on the quarterback in the second half when heralded freshman N’Kosi Perry enters to take his first snaps as a Hurricane. Perry, Miami’s likely QB of the near future, will hopefully show his much-admired physical skills and provide a glimpse of what’s to come. Other freshman to watch will be receivers DeeJay Dallas and Jeff Thomas, and offensive linemen Kai-Leon Herbert and Navaughn Donaldson.
Defensively, Miami should have no issue neutralizing Bethune-Cookman’s passing and rushing attacks. The Wildcats are also breaking in a new quarterback and will have a difficult time holding up the trenches against the Hurricane’s front seven. Joe Jackson, Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton, and RJ McIntosh are all elite players who will outmatch anything Bethune-Cookman can muster. That athleticism extends to the linebackers and defensive backs, units led by Freshman All-American Shaq Quarterman and junior Jaquan Johnson respectively. Bethune-Cookman’s best offensive weapon is Frank Brown, a Palm Beach Gardens graduate who caught 29 receptions for 439 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. Look again for the Miami defense to substitute frequently where players like Dee Delaney, Trajan Bandy, Jhavonte Dean, De’Andre Wilder, and Amari Carter will show their mettle for the first time.
Bethune-Cookman comes to Miami Gardens trending downwardly over the past two years having finished 4-6 in 2016, and barring catastrophe, will start 2017 with a loss. Wildcats head coach Terry Sims dealt with an injury decimated team last year, so expectations are that he can rebound in 2017. Bethune-Cookman is used to being at the top of their class, earning five MEAC titles in the six most recent years. Being the cream of the crop in FCS, however, is a completely different ball game than competing against an FBS opponent like Miami. This game will be a homecoming for many players on the Wildcats roster having played high school football in South Florida, but there is a reason those players were not offered to play at Miami. The Canes roster is full of NFL caliber talent who should have no issue earning win number one.
For Miami, Saturday’s game will be a chance to practice live game situations and give younger players playing experience. It is critical that the Canes lock-in sooner rather than later because a tough matchup is coming their way in week 3 against Florida State. For fans, this game will let them watch the team they love for the first time in eight months. There are plenty of reasons for optimism in the 2017 Hurricanes. This first step, though a small one, will hopefully be on the path towards something Miami has lacked for quite some time, a championship.