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Miami Second-Half Outlook: The Five Things The Struggling Canes May Be Able to Look Forward To

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Yes, From Top to Bottom The State of the U is Bleak and Expectations Are Rightfully Lowered, But There are Some Areas to be Optimistic About

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It would be the understatement of the year to say the 2021 Miami Hurricanes first half of the season has been disappointing. And without getting into the obvious details regarding flaming hot seats in administrative positions, the play on the field has not been up to par for a team that was ranked top-15 in the preseason and was expected to vie to an ACC Coastal crown.

That being said and despite a 2-4 start, the players in the locker room have played games tight and there is plenty of untapped talent to still go out in compete on Saturdays. So, even though the spirits are dejected and many in Coral Gables are rightfully frustrated, Canes’ fans need to find some solace in things to look forward to down the stretch. Despite the 2021 season seeming like a dumpster fire, here are five areas that will at least keep the college gamedays interesting.

How does Miami really line up in the ACC?

Even though the Canes are 2-4 overall and 0-2 in ACC play, Miami is a left upright and three-point loss away from being 4-2/2-0. That being said, losses to a hapless Virginia team and an equally disappointing UNC squad do not exude confidence - not to mention the 75 total points allowed between those two games. Miami now faces its toughest conference tests over the next two weeks in the nation’s 18th-ranked NC State and then on the road against 23rd-ranked Pittsburgh and Heisman candidate quarterback, Kenny Pickett. Thereafter, Miami faces Georgia Tech, FSU, Virginia Tech, and Duke - all of which are games Miami should be favored.

To that end, even though Miami has been miserable to watch, the ACC has been atrocious across the board - including last year’s playoff team, Clemson. Realistically, the U should win at least four ACC games down the stretch, and maybe they can surprise with another. A 4-4 ACC record is unlikely to get the Coastal crown, but they may be able to jump up a few spots and somewhat contend. On the other hand, if the slide of close losses continues past this point, only one or two wins would not be shocking either.

Talented Freshmen and Second-Year Players

Due to injury, popular demand, general skill level, or otherwise it does seem like head coach, Manny Diaz, is prioritizing giving the young bucks more snaps across the board. True freshmen, James Williams, Kamren Kinchens, Andres Borregales, Romello Brinson, Elijah Arroyo, and Leonard Taylor have all played at least 70 snaps or played key roles this season, while Cody Brown and Brashard Smith have also seen time.

Second-year freshman running back, Jaylan Knighton, was named ACC Rookie of the Week against UNC while wide receivers Xavier Restrepo and Key’Shawn Smith have flashed in action. Offensive lineman, Jalen Rivers, looked strong up until a season-ending injury. On defense, Chantz Williams, Elijah Roberts, and Corey Flagg Jr., have had varying roles, while uber-talented safety, Avantae Williams, is expected back this week.

At quarterback, Tyler Van Dyke, has had his moments but with true freshman quarterback, Jake Garcia, expected back in November, it would be nice to see a competition at the helm.

The main problem with all this talented youth is the million dollar question as to whether they will all stay at the U. Similar to some incoming recruits who flip, the odds of players entering the Transfer Portal is borderline inevitable with the flaws at Miami.

Potential Quarterback Battle

Speaking of Garcia, a true quarterback competition may be looming down the stretch as the true freshman returns - but is certainly not guaranteed. TVD has took his lumps but has developed rapport with his weapons in the spread offense. However, due to D’Eriq King’s injury, the next best situation would have been to see what the Canes have in the pipeline with both young quarterbacks getting key reps (and perhaps even athletic redshirt freshman, Peyton Matocha).

Again, the worst-case scenario here is that the young bucks’ auditions go well and they end up transferring. This is especially true for Garcia who was on the move on several occasions in high school and then flipped from USC after the Trojans picked up other quarterback commitments while Miami - and its fans - pushed hard for Garcia. Regardless, the most likely scenario is that Garcia is slowly assimilated back to practice but not real time action as he recovers from surgery. With that being the case, TVD either improves and becomes the QB1 going into 2022, or Garcia recovers over the offseason and has a true opportunity to take over going into next season.

NFL Draft-Eligible Talent and Their Decisions

Going into the season, Zion Nelson and Bubba Bolden, were consistently being projected in the early rounds. Among others, Will Mallory, King, and Lou Hedley, also were generating draft noise. At this point, however, the only player that has an argument to be selected in April 2022 is transfer wide receiver, Charleston Rambo. That being said, Zion Nelson, DJ Scaife, and Jarrid Williams, have amassed PFF Grades of 72.7, 76.9, and 86.1, respectively, but also have had drawbacks during the first half of the season.

Thus, if a player has eligibility left after this year, they should return to the U for 2022, sans Rambo and Hedley. This includes Bolden and transfer cornerback, Tyrique Stevenson, who could get shots in the NFL, but would be arguably better suited returning for another year if they want to bank on a breakout season.

Beating FSU

Going into the season, the biggest games circled on Miami’s calendar were Alabama and UNC. Obviously, with tempered expectations and the eventual outcome, both did not go as planned. Now, however, the rivalry game against the Seminoles, who have been up-and-down this season but are on a two-game winning streak.

As far as the in-state goes, Miami has won four straight games versus the Noles, including the last two by a combined score of 79-20. The icing on the cake on a poor season would be relinquishing that streak.

Even though things seem bleak, as always...

...Go Canes.