There’s a feeling, somewhere next to your liver, that bubbles up through to your skin when football season arrives. A euphoric excitement that brings a grin to your face and a little bit more spring in your step. That long exhausting wait is over! Unlike the long waits for the new iPhone, grabbing a seat to watch your Miami Hurricanes take part in the 2018 Advocare Kickoff Classic against LSU is mercifully on the horizon.
For Miami and LSU, the game means more than just the first game of the season. It goes beyond being a tone-setter for the 2018 season. For both programs, the game is a major step to realizing the team’s identity. When the Hurricanes walk into AT&T Stadium, staring up at the massive jumbo screen in the middle of the field projecting their image back towards the thousands in attendance, the atmosphere should only further amp up a team that wants to assert themselves among the best programs in the nation. For the players returning to the team from last season, the pressure to put their best foot forward on a national stage rears its face once again. We’ve already penciled in a Cane victory Sunday. Can this team repeat the 10-game winning streak to start the season similar to last year? That streak captured the hopes of UM’s fan base, as well as national attention from every major publication from ESPN to Bein Sports. However, there are still rumblings about how the team finished the ‘17 season. Those three straight losses to Pitt, Clemson and Wisconsin have no bearing on the months to come; the perception that the Hurricanes are struggling against other national powers is a narrative this Canes squad looks to bury in the past.
Rest in Peace 2017.
Not The Same Old Canes
It’s a new year, with new expectations. The Canes are expected to repeat as ACC Coastal champions in 2018. UM returns a healthy number of players form last year’s team who made it to the ACC Championship and played in a New Year’s Six bowl game. With another year of game experience in hand for the underclassmen, the expectations have increased from what they were a season ago. A return to Charlotte for the ACC Championship is viewed as a formality by the national media. Nothing can be guaranteed, especially when the Hurricanes, referees and yellow flags, or lack thereof, factor into the equation.
Miami appears to be the one program in the ACC Coastal that media outlets have the best feeling about. Multiple outlets have the Hurricanes as a top-10 team, sitting on the edge of getting a plate at the VIP table behind the velvet rope. However, as those who are familiar with the Hurricanes know, no one will give the program the benefit of the doubt until UM storms through the competition to grab the mantle on their own.
Know Your Competition
The first test of the season comes in the form of the Louisiana State Tigers. One of those big, bad SEC teams that have immense depth and talent on both sides of the ball, but has been unable to get everything work at the same time. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has replaced most of his staff after finishing 9-4 in 2017. After trotting star running backs to start each of the last five seasons, this may be the first instance in a long time that the teeth of the Tiger running game may not be as sharp as its bite. That said, with the security blanket of their defense that trots out CB Greedy Williams, LB Devin White and S Grant Delpit, the Tigers once again return a formidable unit that will be the calling card for a program with so many questions on offense.
In most scenarios, naming a starting quarterback carries the most weight into a season. For the Tigers however, it may actually be the play of their offensive line that grabs headlines in Baton Rouge. For a group that is tasked with opening holes at the line of scrimmage, word is that they’re better at opening a path directly to the quarterback in training camp. Not a good sign when you’re going up against the tactical mind of Miami DC Manny Diaz. Starting right guard Ed Ingram is suspended indefinitely, forcing the Tigers to turn to JUCO transfer G Damien Lewis to solve the issue on the offensive interior. The competition at LSU’s right tackle was won buy junior Adrian Magee. While the Tigers have released their starting lineup, they won’t know what they have until they square up against the Canes on Sunday.
In regards to who will take the snaps from under center, the Tigers have named Ohio State transfer QB Joe Burrows as their starter. We know Burrows for lighting it up at the OSU spring game, but the redshirt junior has only completed 29 of his 39 pass attempts for 287 passing yards and two touchdowns in his two years with the Buckeyes. New LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger doesn’t have too many alternatives to go with at QB, especially given that two of the team’s scholarship QBs left the program in training camp. If Burrows is the savior at quarterback, and the starting unit provides ample protection while he’s in the pocket, then the receiving options in WR Jonathan Giles, WR Justin Jefferson and freshman WR Terrace Marshall Jr. become much more dangerous. Yet, if the those Tigers of the Bayou do head to the skies, it should play right into the hands of the Canes — and the folks at ABC as well.
Cuban Link Defense
Most of the nation wants to see the new Turnover Chain, and none more so than the Canes’ familia. The Cuban link prop has evolved from an accessory into a phenomenon, birthing clones and imitations with each appearance. The chain may get the camera time, but it’s the Canes’ defense that bring the hardware to life. Miami’s 31 turnover gained was tied for third in the nation with Memphis in ‘17. Turnovers are one of those stats that involve the L-word — luck. However, the Hurricane defense has emphasized forcing turnovers all off season, with an eye on getting off the field in short order as often as possible. With the firepower on Manny’s Diaz’s defense, the Turnover Chain should once again be the envy of the CFB world.
Looking at both rosters, the defense almost feels like a stalemate type of situation. Each side has an All-American caliber corner. LSU with Arnaez “Greedy” Williams and Miami with Michael Jackson. Miami’s linebacking trio makes a strong case for the best starting unit in the country. With Michael Pinckney, Shaq Quarterman and Zach McCloud entering their junior year, the triplets are nearing their most polished form at the collegiate level. Some NFL scouts have LSU LB Devin White as the best linebacker eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft. With a defensive line that returns Joe Jackson, Demetrius Jackson and Gerald Willis, even with the loses from the line a year ago, the Canes feel confident in the group entering the year. With the addition of Breiden Fehoko, LSU returns K’lavon Chaisson, Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander. Defense wins championships, and they’ll certainly be counted on to figure into victory this season opener.
Which Malik Are You?
For Hurricane fans, it’s a question of what version of Malik Rosier the country sees on Sunday evening. Is it the same Rosier that puts the ball in the dirt, and takes off with the pocket still intact? Or is the narrative of a “new Malik” — one that has become a more vocal leader, better decision-maker and the most functional QB the Canes have to offer — that has evolved into a more productive version of the Rosier we’ve seen to-date? Regardless of the answer, whatever form the UM quarterback has taken will need to diagnose and withstand the onslaught of LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s attacking 3-4 system.
Big Time Games Need Good Special-ist Plays
The only aspect of the team that has been more unpredictable than the man in the pocket for the Tigers has to be the guy they call in to kick field goals. LSU made 16 of their 27 field goal attempts a season ago using two different placekickers. That 59.3 percent FG rate placed LSU 110th out of 130 teams in the country. For context, the Hurricanes ranked 65th in ‘17 with 73.9 FG rate.
That’s a reasonable goal for new Miami placekicker Bubba Baxa to aspire to. Baxa is expected to have all the tools to be great since he’s replacing UM’s all-time leading point scorer, Michael Badgley. All he needs is the experience that comes with playing a season. With the strength of both teams resting on the defensive side of the ball, a steady leg might be the difference between their team being 1-0 as opposed to 0-1 in this high profile matchup.
Sizzling on the Sideline
The Richt Era enters its third season at Miami. Like the the South Florida humidity, the forecast for the Canes in 2018 is unrelenting. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron arrives at AT&T Stadium holding a bullseye not only from Miami, but his own fan base should the Tigers underwhelm Sunday evening. The coaches are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to job security and projections this season. Richt holds a 2-0 record against Orgeron dating back to the former’s past life as the head coach of Georgia and the latter’s time as Ole Miss HC. A win silences haters and sceptics for a week at least, while a loss creates mild depression. Let’s not dwell on what could be; college football is back once more.
And once again it’s time for the rest of the country to understand that it’s…
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!