This time last year, this site and every Canes fan around beamed with excitement. This was the year where Miami would prove, once and for all, they were back. They were ranked top 10, would crush LSU before cruising to a second straight Coastal title. We know how that worked out.
12 months later, the sunny optimism of Miami rears it’s head again. Expectations might not be as high as they were last season, but considering Miami has a new head coach and an unsettled situation at QB, it still feels like the expectation for this team is to be not just good, but great.
It’s a given that this is Miami, home to five National Titles and one of the greatest traditions in college football. Expectations will always be high; to be nationally relevant and in the top 25-15 teams every season. And while Coach Manny Diaz has been saying and doing a lot of great things, a game has yet to be played and lots of questions need answering.
This is not to say that CMD and this team shouldn’t be held to a high standard - they absolutely should. But there needs to be some caution in expecting this team to be cohesive and sharp right off the bat. Facing down Florida, in essentially a home game for the Gators, will be a good test. But this time last season, it was impossible to imagine Miami losing five games on that schedule. LSU? Fine. Getting drubbed by Boston College on the road? Not great. But losing to Duke at home, inbetween road L’s to Virginia and Georgia Tech? Absolutely inexcusable. And like that, a dream season had turned into a nightmare and all the expectations had flew out the window. The thing that was unimaginable, happened.
Miami’s schedule this season might be even easier. They have a lot of new coaches and an OC that has proven to be capable with multiple programs over the last few years. At Alabama, two quarterbacks grew under the tutelage of Dan Enos - he’s hoping to do it again in Coral Gables. Miami’s offensive playmakers are as deep and diverse as ever, their senior linebacking corps returns and young players like Jon Gavin and Nesta Silvera should dominate along the d-line. The secondary still has question marks but Trajan Bandy proved his freshman flashes were no fluke and should be ready to step into CB1 duties. All of this looks great on paper and, like last year, the defense should lead this team. But what about the two critical flaws of last season? Well, those question marks are still there.
Quarterback. What is Miami going to do at Quarterback? This year, the Canes have several options, each with their own pros and cons. N’Kosi Perry has the most experience but had more downs than ups in his playing time last year. Tate Martell is an athletic former 5-star but has played very little and may not be the passer the other two QBs are. And Jarren Williams seems to have the greatest potential of any QB - but his floor is unknown. None of these three really pulled ahead in the spring, so it will be critical that CMD, Enos and the rest of the staff makes the right decision early. Having the right signal caller will likely be the difference between a double digit win season or a miserable 8-4, 7-5 campaign littered with winnable losses.
Miami will also need to hope it’s offensive line is ready for primetime. Only two starters remain and, while their young starters seem promising, it’s not known how well they’ll perform when the bullets start flying. Cleveland Reed, Corey Gaynor and Delone Scaife will really need to anchor this o-line that, if it’s merely average, should be good enough to fuel a very good offense.
And despite all the good Manny Diaz has done in the offseason, creating the culture of The New Miami and inventing Portal U, there’s still the big question of how he will handle the responsibilities of an entire team and not just one unit. He has passed the defense off to proteges Blake Baker and Ephraim Banda, a good sign that he will not micromanage the group. From what we have seen over the past 2.5 years, it seems like CMD should be able to handle this football team well and guide them through an exciting new season, but college football is littered with excellent coordinators who failed as head coaches.
Be optimistic. Miami will win more games than last season barring a rash of awful injuries. But don’t expect to definitively say that The U is back. It won’t be this season. It might not even be next season. This will be a growing process for a rookie head coach and fairly young roster. Last year, Miami had shown us something great in 2017 and we wanted more. We were disappointed. This year? Let’s just go along for the ride.