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SOTU 2018 season predictions roundtable: part 2

Impact players on defense, games we can’t wait to see, and record predictions in the 2nd half of our roundtable.

Wake Forest v Miami Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Yesterday, we tackled the first part of this roundtable about the Miami Hurricanes’ 2018 season. If you missed that piece, you can click the link in the tweet below:

What about the rest of our predictions, including the W/L record for the year? Well, my friends, this is why we’re here for part 2. Let’s get into it:

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami
Bandy had last season’s most iconic moment. Is he ready to go from understudy to leading man in 2018?
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Question 8: Who is your breakout player on defense in 2018 and why?

Cam Underwood: Romeo Finley. He’s moved to a familiar position (he was an in-the-box safety in HS) withe Miami’s new STRIKER position, and I think he’s going to really excel there. With several teams looking to spread the field, Miami will run a 4-2-5 look with STRIKER being the 5th DB. Finley has great physical skills and after 2 years, the training wheels are ready to come off. He ready.

Evan Hadrick: Michael Pinckney. The junior linebacker has tons of experience alongside Shaq Quarterman, and ended last season with a bit of a mean streak. Pinckney should be the teeth of the defense and set the tone for this dominant defense.

Justin Dottavio: I’m really excited for Scott Patchan to get out there and attack the quarterback. Someone has to replace Trent Harris, why not him?

Matt Washington: Most of the conversation along the defensive line surrounds Joe Jackson, Gerald Willis, and Demetrius Jackson. Freshman Greg Rousseau has gotten plenty of applause in the off-season. However, my selection is Jon Garvin, who seemed to find a way to get a sack or force a fumble as a freshman last year. Another year in Miami’s strength and conditioning program can only help.

John Camera: Gerald Willis feels like an easy choice but I’ll go with Demetrius Jackson. He was arguably the best pass rusher Miami had last season before getting injured. He was on pace to finish with seven sacks in a complimentary role. I think across from Joe Jackson, D. Jackson will get closer to 8 or 9 sacks in 2018.

Dylan Sherry: Jonathan Garvin is my breakout player for the defense. He showed great flashes last year, but I foresee him becoming an unstoppable rusher this season.

Kevin Fielder: My breakout player on defense is Zach McCloud. Coming into his junior season, McCloud has shown flashes of being a top linebacker at the college level but has also shown times where he’s out of position or misses a tackle. However, this is the season I think McCloud pulls it all together. With Derrick Smith (a converted safety down to linebacker) putting pressure on McCloud’s spot, it’s meant McCloud will need to play better and more confident, which I expect him to do.

John Reynolds: Trajan Bandy will turn some heads on defense this year. The second year player told the coaching staff that he wanted to play on the boundary and not just at nickel. He’s a fighter, he won’t back down even if you think you’re bigger or stronger than him, just ask Notre Dame. Now it’s time for him to show the country that.

Donovan Hutchins: For breakout player on defense I’m going to stay on the defensive line, with Gerald Willis III. Following his leave of absence from the Canes, he came back with vengeance on the practice squad wreaking havoc according to coaches’ reports. If this translates to game day he will be a force at a position of need and finally put a full year on tap of him displaying his 5-star status.

Marshall Thomas: My breakout defensive player this year is Trajan Bandy. Bandy is going to be the starting cornerback opposite side of Michael Jackson. We all know about his pick six against Notre Dame, but I think Bandy is going to give us more highlights in 2018.

Question 9: Kickers are people too. How do you feel about the Canes’ kicking situation?

Underwood: We all know #CollegeKickers is a thing, and a freshman on the job adds to my already high level of anxiety in the kicking game. Bubba Baxa has a CANNON for a leg, but he needs to develop consistent technique and skill. I’m sufficiently nervous about this. Oh, and Punter Zach Feagles needs to step his game up, too. I didn’t forget about you, 18.

Hadrick: It’s concerning to rely on a true freshman to handle kicking duties for a team with Playoff aspirations, but Bubba Baxa was likely the best option after the departure of Michael Badgely, so I’m on board.

Dottavio: I don’t feel good about the kicking game at all and I think it costs Richt one game.

Washington: The only person who might be more nervous than freshman kicker Bubba Baxa, is me. He’s been good in practice, but no one quite knows the mental makeup of a kicker. I’ll be fascinated to see how he holds up over the course of the season, especially in those moments where Baxa’s leg could be the difference between a win or a loss.

Camera: The kicking situation scares the hell out of me. Bubba Baxa converted 40% of his field goal attempts as a senior. Can he help decide a game as massive as the FSU or VT outing? Punting isn’t much better, hopefully Zach Feagles can improve upon last year’s below average performance.

Sherry: The Canes’ kicking situation is a major area of concern for me. Feagles, now a Sophomore, has to get better, and work on flipping the field. If our offense is as streaky as last year, we can’t continue to leave our defense out on the field forever. We need an advantage, not a liability. Losing Badgley doesn’t help, as Baxa has reportedly struggled throughout camp.

Fielder: The kicking situation is a question mark but should work. While Bubba Baxa is a freshman, he’s improved over the span of camp and his leg is good. The hope has to be that he remains confident even if he misses a big kick at any point during the season. Punter Zach Feagles will likely improve and pull it all together for the Hurricanes.

Reynolds: I feel pretty good about the Hurricanes’ kicking situation. Bubba Baxa has a lot of talent, and a huge leg. The only thing that concerns me is that he’ll get caught up in the moment in his first few games. If he can get past those and settle in, we should be just fine.

Hutchins: Place kicker Bubba Baxa has a huge void to fill replacing Michael Badgley. Badgley is the Canes all-time leading field goal maker and last season he scored 96 points on 74% on FGs and 98% on XP. Hopefully, the highly rated, 2nd in the nation, freshman kicker isn’t under the spotlight immediately and has time to get a rhythm in game situations.

For Punter Zach Feagles, his sophomore season has to be better than his freshman year. It wasn’t all bad. He averaged nearly 40 yards on 72 punts and 45% of his punts pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line or better. But, then you have kicks like the negative 1-yard punt against Duke. For me this is a concern because there is always at least one game that comes down to the kicking game and there are a lot of unanswered questions with the Canes’ kicking specialists.

Thomas: The Canes kicking situation is interesting. Michael Badgley was good, though he missed a chip shot against Wisconsin. As long as Bubba Baxa is automatic within a 45-yard field goal, and can hit the occasional 50-yarder when called upon, I’m fine with it.

Question 10: Who is the player Miami can least afford to lose?

Underwood: Tyree St. Louis. He’s the best OT on the team, and nobody else is ready to step into the crucial LT spot if he goes down. It would not be great, but Miami could withstand injuries to star players at other positions much easier than they could overcome St. Louis missing significant time.

Hadrick: Jaquan Johnson. He is a true playmaker on the defense, and without him out there, everyone’s job will be a lot tougher. Limiting the big plays needs to be an emphasis of the defense this year, and Johnson will be a crucial player in improving that area.

Dottavio: This was tough to decide between St. Louis, Rosier and Johnson but my pick is Shaq Quarterman. I don’t see anyone on the depth chart that can do what he does.

Washington: Last year the answer probably was Ahmmon Richards or Mark Walton. Guess what, they both got hurt. Fingers crossed we don’t jinx this guy. For this year, that designation belongs to Michael Jackson. He’s the best player Miami has at cornerback. Miami has depth at the position, there’s only one Michael Jackson — on the Miami Hurricanes.

Camera: Miami can’t afford to lose Jaquan Johnson. He is probably the best player on the defense, its leader and is holding that iffy defensive backfield together. If he gets injured, things could get ugly against good passing games.

Sherry: I would say Jaquan Johnson would be the worst player to lose. He has become a great leader and anchor for the secondary. We now have better players behind him, but I think his loss would create an immediate impact, and the whole defense would feel his absence.

Fielder: Miami can absolutely not lose Jaquan Johnson this season. Arguably the team’s best player and anchor on the defense, a significant injury to Johnson will spell trouble for the Hurricanes. Johnson is a shutdown safety with impressive range and the ability to make a big play come out of nowhere. If Johnson goes down this season, there will be a lot of concern with the secondary.

Reynolds: We can not afford to lose Navaughn Donaldson. The Hurricanes offensive line simply would not have the talent to replace a player like him if he went down. He’s the anchor of the line.

Hutchins: This was a hard question but both my picks were on the defensive side of the ball between the two captains LB Shaq Quarterman and S Jaquan Johnson. To me, Johnson’s absence would be the most impactful given his role as a leader and the stats he put up last year. He led the team in tackles (96), fumble recoveries (2) and forced fumbles (3) and tied for interceptions (4) and defensive touchdowns (1).

Thomas: The Miami player they cannot afford to lose is Travis Homer. Rosier can be replaced by N’Kosi Perry, and we have starting depth at receiver, but Homer is THE guy in my opinion. Homer is ready for a breakout season, and I don’t trust Deejay Dallas yet as a starter.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Question 11: Which game(s) are you most looking forward to?

Underwood: The opener vs LSU (I’m writing this from my Mom’s house in the Dallas area on Thursday night, so I’m REAL READY FOR THIS!!); Florida State; Pitt. I want to destroy them all.

Hadrick: Florida State. The Noles should be better this year, but the Canes have to deliver at home for the first time in over a decade. Hard Rock Stadium will be absolutely electric.

Dottavio: Florida State University.

Washington: It goes without saying that team from Tallahassee is marked on the calendar. LSU is a great test out of the gates. Outside of those game, Boston College will be intriguing because they’ve got some talent this year that should give everyone on their schedule a main event worthy fight.

Camera: FSU duh. Blacksburg in a game that will likely decide the ACC Coastal is going to be fun. What’s the point of being The U if you can’t go into someone else’s house, whip some ass and take home a division title?

Sherry: I’m looking forward to the season opener in Jerry’s World, as it’s a huge stage to showcase what we’ve been working on all off-season. It’s also early enough where a loss wouldn’t derail the season. Another game is FSU of course. Hard Rock Stadium will be livid, and hopefully we can make it 2-in-a-row again the Noles. Lastly, I’m looking forward to the Pitt game to close out the regular season. Last year, we completed the Hitlist from the previous year, now, I’m hoping that the Canes demolish Pitt out of revenge. No holding back.

Fielder: I have three games that are especially circled on the schedule for me: Florida State, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. Florida State is the obvious one given that it’s a yearly rival and Pittsburgh is on there because of revenge for last season, where they knocked off the Hurricanes on the final week of the regular season. As for Virginia Tech, it’s hard for me to erase the 2016 trip to Blacksburg from my mind.

Reynolds: I’m looking forward to LSU, VT, and FSU like anyone else, but two games really catch my eye elsewhere; Pitt and Thursday Night against UNC. We owe both of these teams a blowout, and there’d be no better time to do it than this season. Especially against UNC on national television, so here’s hoping that we get the work done.

Hutchins: Outside of FSU at home, I am looking forward to week 1 against LSU at Jerry World. This game will set the tone for the season and let the college football word know what the Canes are made of. This is a primetime Top 25 game against a SEC team with a head coach with Hurricane ties, you can’t ask for a better match up.

Thomas: I’m most looking forward to LSU in the opener in Dallas. FSU at home in October, haven’t beaten the Noles at home since 2004. Then, against Virginia Tech in November, a game that’ll probably decide the ACC Coastal.

Question 12: What would a successful season for Miami look like in your mind?

Underwood: NO LESS than 10 regular season wins, a competitive ACCCG (hey, might as well go win it), and NY6 bowl win. So, basically, improvement across the board from what was seen last year. I’m looking for Miami to make the leap, and this schedule sets up well for that to happen.

Hadrick: 10-2 with a bowl victory (so 11-2). The program needs to keep the positive momentum going. A bigger step would be awesome, but 30 wins in 3 seasons would be a great feat for Coach Richt.

Dottavio: The natty. But really- putting up a better fight against Clemson in the title game.

Washington: Beat LSU. BEAT FSU. Repeat as ACC Coastal Champions. Return to the ACC Championship.

Camera: I would be happy with a season like this: Miami finishes the regular season with undefeated, falls to Clemson in a close ACCC game and wins the Orange Bowl [editor’s note: the Orange Bowl is a CFP semi-final this year, so substitute in another NY6 bowl here; likely the Peach Bowl]

Sherry: Winning the Coastal, getting closer to beating Clemson, and a NY6 bowl victory. Personally, I want 11 wins. Last season was a great ride, but we still aren’t top-4 material, as we showed in the Clemson blowout. I want a close, competitive game against Clemson at least to show that we’re back to competing at a supreme level.

Fielder: Any improvement of the 2017 season is a successful season. While the team almost certainly has to make the conference championship for me to think the season was a success, a win is not mandatory for me. However, the team should be winning their bowl game this season or making the playoffs.

Reynolds: 11-1, anything else would be a disappointment in my eyes. Everything has built towards this season for Mark Richt and his staff. It’s time to go out there and prove that Miami is a national power once again.

Hutchins: In order for Miami to have a good season they need to make a few statements this year. First, they must beat FSU under new head coach Willie Taggart and his career sub-500 record. Winning this game convincingly can solidify Miami owning the state of Florida for years to come like Jimbo Fisher did during the Golden Era. Miami must show they own the Costal Division by winning it out right again and beat VT on the road. Opening weekend, they must show that they are a serious contender by winning against a Top 25 SEC opponent. Finally, the Canes must prove they can compete with college football elite in the ACC Championship game. My prediction is a rematch against Clemson.

Thomas: A successful season for Miami this year is getting back to the ACC Championship game, and winning at least 10 games. We have no room to go backwards.

Question 13: What would a bad season for Miami look like in your mind?

Underwood: 3+ regular season losses. Not winning the ACC Coastal. Losing to LSU. Losing to FSU. Losing a game we shouldn’t lose — like Pitt last year. 8-4 in the regular season is fine for most schools.

This ain’t most schools, tho.

Hadrick: Single digit wins. We need to keep moving forward to approach national title contention.

Dottavio: A bad season is not winning the ACC Coastal.

Washington: Miami’s offensive line can’t provide enough time to throw the ball down the field and when they do the passes are off target. Because the offense can’t sustain drives, the defense plays way too many snaps, leading to big plays and frustration for all who care.

Camera: I truly think anything less than an ACCCG appearance would be bad. Miami is the best team in the coastal, bar none. A slew of injuries or some really bad play is the only thing that can derail them.

Sherry: A loss against LSU, and a collapse midway or at the end of the season. Basically under 10 wins would be a disappointment. With the talent that we’ve been able to recruit, losing some easier games would really raise some red flags.

Fielder: A bad season for the Hurricanes is no conference championship and a loss to Florida State at home. Miami should be making the conference championship yearly to truly be “back” (though I hate the use of that word in college sports) and losing to Florida State in front of a sold-out crowd should be means to the firing of any head coach.

Reynolds: A 9-3 or 10-2 season, or God forbid anything worse, would be a disappointing season in my eyes. Miami must show progress year over year, and another year of finishing the season on a bad note or wondering what could’ve been would be a bad year in my eyes.

Hutchins: Anything less than playing in the ACC Championship and 10-plus wins is a bad season.

Thomas: A successful season for Miami this year is getting back to the ACC Championship game, and winning at least 10 games. We have no room to go backwards.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Question 14: Lastly, what’s your prediction for the W/L record for Miami this season?

Underwood: 11-1 regular season. ACCCG appearance. NY6 bowl. This should be a year where Miami contends for the College Football Playoff. Play like it!

Hadrick: 10-2 with a bowl victory (so 11-2). If the Canes play close games as well as they did last year, they could just as easily enter bowl season at 11-1.

Dottavio: 13-1

Washington: 10-2

Camera: Miami finishes 11-1 in the regular season, loses to Clemson, wins the Orange Bowl and altogether finishes 12-2.

Sherry: I predict that Miami will go 11-1 in the regular season, lose the ACC Championship game, but win a NY6 bowl. So 12-2 in total. Go Canes!

Fielder: In my opinion, the Hurricanes will finish the regular season 11-1. In college football, it’s so hard for teams to finish the season undefeated and it seems likely that, for whatever reason, the Hurricanes will lose a game, even if it’s against a inferior opponent. Other than the regular season, I expect the Hurricanes to win the Coastal and win their bowl game.

Reynolds: I see an 11-1 record for Miami. My best guess is that at some point in that bad stretch of road games before Virginia Tech the ‘Canes will lose to a team they shouldn’t lose to. Away games at Boston College and Georgia Tech are both dangerous, and my sense is that one of those will get us, especially since both play a physical scheme and Miami will be running through a gauntlet of road games at the time.

Hutchins: Bottomline Up Front: 11 – 1

When I look at the schedule I see all winnable games. However, I’m not fully sold on the Canes killer mentality, (see last year’s game against Pittsburgh) and I still probably have PTSD from the Al Golden days where they always lose at least one game they shouldn’t. The LSU (neutral site), FSU (Home), VT (Away) and Boston College (Away) games make me uneasy, but the Canes have proven that at full strength and when the lights are the brightest they show up. With that said, Clemson didn’t stop ‘Clemsoning’ until they started winning. So, until the Canes prove otherwise, I have to assume the Canes will stumble or overlook an opponent despite a very favorable schedule. I hope I’m wrong.

Thomas: My prediction for this Miami season is either at 10-3 or 9-4. I think they lose at Virginia Tech, lose a bowl game, lose to either LSU or FSU, and then either Boston College or Georgia Tech. Sorry for the negativity.

And that, my friends, is that. Our SOTU roundtable concludes with plenty of great predictions, and lots to discuss for the season record. So, hop in the comments and share your thoughts.

Go Canes