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Identifying four of the Hurricanes most important games of 2020

Every game matters, but winning these is the road to success in Manny Diaz’s second year

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC dropped the full schedule for the 14 teams that make up the conference — including the Miami Hurricanes.

You can find the Hurricanes full schedule here:

The first thing you'll notice is that the Hurricanes have a much more manageable beginning to the season than they had a year ago. Opening away from home against Florida, having a bye week, then heading to UNC for a night game certainly wasn't ideal from a preparation standpoint.

Also, being away from home for your first two games of the season with an odd bye in between them isn't exactly the recipe for success for a first time head coach.

Nonetheless, it'll be different in 2019 as Miami opens with Temple, Wagner and UAB. All winnable games where the Hurricanes should be favored behind a revamped offense and a quarterback in D’Eriq King who was responsible for over 50 touchdowns in his last full season in 2018.

Today, I want to pick apart the schedule and identify four games that will challenge Miami to their core.

The first one comes directly after Miami’s season-opening three-game home stand.

Sep. 26 at Michigan State

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Michigan State vs Wake Forest Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

That’s Brian Lewerke, the Spartans all-time leading passer. And he’s gone. It’s certainly going to be tough replacing a three-year starter who accumulated 8,293 yards passing and 47 touchdowns through the air between 2016-2019.

That makes me feel slightly better about the Hurricanes chances here, until you realize that the Hurricanes are plainly bad on the road.

Away from Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes have lost five games in each of the past two seasons. On the other hand, Michigan State has lost at least three home games in the same time frame.

Miami *may* be 3-0 heading into this matchup, so a win on the road against a generally strong B1G team propels them forward. A loss would likely lead to others, as history tells us. It’s a big matchup for both programs who are trying to have bounce back seasons.

Michigan State is trying to get over the hump of back-to-back seven-win seasons and Miami needs to establish themselves as a team that has made a strong pivot under Manny Diaz in year two.

Oct. 9 at Wake Forest

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of those games that you already know Miami is going to struggle in. On the road on a Friday night against a team from other side of the conference.

Yes, they lose quarterback Jaime Newman, who led Wake Forest to the become the 19th ranked team in the country behind a 7-1 start before losing four of their last five. Newman has since elected to graduate transfer to Georgia.

But in comes former QB1 star Sam Hartman, who replaced Newman while he was injured during the 2018 season. In the nine games of Newman’s absence, Hartman threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Now, the offense is all his and he returns first-team All-ACC receiver in Sage Surratt and third-team guard Nathan Gilliam

The defense also returns first-team edge Carlos Basham Jr. and senior captain Essang Bassey, who finished as a third-team corner in the conference.

It’s certainly not going to be a walk in the part for the Hurricanes and could easily be one of those games that Miami seems to have every year. Especially as the only game on TV, at night and in Winston-Salem.

Oct. 24 vs. North Carolina

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-North Carolina vs Temple Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We all, or at least most of us, remember the 4th and 17 play that twisted the dagger in the Miami Hurricanes on that September night in Chapel Hill. The same people that remember that play will also remember how terrible the Hurricanes were off a bye last year.

In 2020 Miami gets another crack at the Tar Heels while coming off a bye — just as they did in 2019. The week off for the Hurricanes in between Wake Forest and this one is going to be big. Manny Diaz is going to have a chance to re-write the narrative that the Hurricanes can't win coming off a break and he can do so by beating a conference foe.

The last time North Carolina came down to Hard Rock Stadium, Miami won 47-10 and Diaz’s defense scored three touchdowns.

But they didn't have Sam Howell leading their offense. This time they will.

The reigning ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year threw for 3641 yards and 36 touchdowns. It’s a major test for the Hurricanes.

Nov. 14 at Virginia Tech

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech returns quarterback Hendon Hooker, who made his debut against Miami in 2019 and totaled 18 touchdowns in 10 games. In a 42-35 win over the Hurricanes in early October, Hooker totaled 260 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, the Hokies lose long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster, but return All-ACC linebacker Rayshard Ashby, who led the conference in tackles and totaled 17 tackles for loss. They also return 17 of their top 18 tackles from 2019 — a ridiculous amount of experience.

Going to Lane Stadium is never easy and becomes especially difficult when you have trouble winning on the road.

To boot, Virginia Tech should be one of the oldest, most experienced teams in the entire conference and I am projecting them to be a favorite in the Coastal at this point of the season, which is why they fit on this list.

But the Hurricanes have had some recent success in Blacksburg, winning three of their last four.

Going to Virginia on Halloween has an argument here, but they lose a lot in Bryce Perkins and others. Florida State is obviously huge as well, but Miami has done their job of taking care of them in recent years.

The circumstances and challenges that come with these four games stand alone for many reasons. Every game is important and every game brings their unique challenges, as we saw in 2019.

But winning these sets Miami up to have a very successful season in Manny Diaz’s second year.