The Miami Hurricanes football season is finally here.
With every new season, there is plenty of reason for optimism and renewed expectations. This offseason in particular has been highlighted by an increased sense of enthusiasm as the energy has reportedly changed throughout the campus. The Canes overhauled their staff from Athletic Director to-and-through to the coaches and facilities, and the atmosphere is believed to have experienced a seismic shift.
The changes are not only being experienced by the Canes, but college football has also had an unprecedented amount of alterations and rumors affiliated with NIL, increased usage of the Transfer Portal, conferences re-aligning, and the impending CFP playoff expansion.
With all the news and changes over the offseason, college football cannot come here soon enough.
Week 1 is here, and even though it’s just Bethune-Cookman, we have real football.
But before we get to the on field action, let’s look into some of the most important on-field storylines going into the Canes’ 2022 season...
1. Can HC Mario Cristobal and Company break Miami through after many middling seasons?
Miami has only had one ten win season since 2003 (2017). The Canes are yet to win an ACC title in spite of being in the conference for almost 20 years. And over the past four years, the Canes are a disappointing 28-21 (57% winning percentage). Over the final four years in the Big East in the early 2000s? Miami was 46-4 (92% winning percentage).
As discussed above, Miami has put the pieces together to shift the program back in the right direction after several disappointing campaigns. Cristobal won two national championships with the Canes in 1989 and 1991. He now intends to instill a competitive, tough, and somewhat militant culture to the organization that has featured an undisciplined style of play in recent years.
Luckily, most of Miami’s issues can simply be broken down to lack of discipline and the new regime will use a make-or-break, no-nonsense approach, to ensure the problems are eradicated.
2. Can QB Tyler Van Dyke maintain high preseason Heisman candidacy odds?
As it currently stands according to DraftKings Sportsbook, Van Dyke is listed at +3500 to win the Heisman, which ranks 11th in the nation and number one in the ACC. For what it’s worth, these are lower odds than D’Eriq King had after week four of the 2020 season when he was tied for the favorite at +600, and even lower than his odds prior to the 2021 season (after shoulder surgery), where King had the sixth longest odds at +1400.
That being said, TVD answered the call in his first live action as a starter as he won five of his last six games and averaged over 300 passing yards and 3 TDs a game. In spite of no expectations as the backup second-year QB from Connecticut, he immediately developed rapport with Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley Jr. on his way to an impressive season.
The expectations have inherently been raised as he will be relied upon to lead the Canes to victory on Saturdays, but is also in the national limelight as a top 5-10 QB, Heisman candidate, and early round 2023 NFL Draft prospect in his first draft-eligible season.
3. Can Miami Receivers Drop the Drops?
This is where discipline will need to be ingrained into the Canes’ players’ heads - or hands. Many Miami fans have tried to find a scapegoat over the past couple of seasons, and sometimes rightfully so, but the problem has riddled the entire program. Namely, according to Pro Football Focus, the Canes dropped 26 passes in 2021 and 23 passes in 2020. Some drops have been more pronounced than others (i.e. Mark Pope in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl and Will Mallory at the goal line against Michigan State in 2021), but the problem has popped up again and again.
That’s why when the Canes’ receivers dropped passes in the spring game and then were reported to have suffered a case of the drops in recent fall scrimmages, Miami fans rightfully expressed disappointment. Cristobal is unlikely to let the team settle for preventable mistakes and will let his deep receiving core of Xavier Restrepo, Frank Ladson, Key’Shawn Smith, Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, Brashard Smith, Will Mallory, and Elijah Arroyo hear it if they make an inexcusable drop. To make matters even better, Miami brings in the best assistant coach in college football in 2021 in offensive coordinator and wide receivers specialist, Josh Gattis.
'We saw some big plays and we saw some big-play opportunities not converted on'— Susan Miller Degnan (@smillerdegnan) August 21, 2022
NEW: Mario Cristobal on Miami’s second scrimmage: ‘Big plays and big drops. It’s been inconsistent’ https://t.co/aC7lN2GiES #Canes
4. Can Miami carry over the momentum on the recruiting trail to build their 2023 class?
Earlier this summer, Miami looked to be storming through the recruiting path like a category five Hurricane. And while many rival programs were warned about the incoming damage from the new regime’s capabilities, they were mostly left picking up the scraps with the new structure including Cristobal as an elite recruiter and an increased focus by Dan Radakovich on investing in the football program.
Miami picked up commitments from five-star OL Francis Mauigoa, and a slew of four-stars including QB Jaden Rashada, EDGE Jayden Wayne, LB Raul Aguirre, TE Riley Williams, LB Malik Bryant, WR Nathaniel Joseph, and ATHs Robert Stafford and Robby Washington. The Canes rose into the single digits on the nationwide 247Sports rankings, and currently sit at ninth.
That being said, recruiting is a momentum game and the Canes have lost some traction. As recruiting is a full-year affair, and in spite of the season starting, Miami needs to maintain a focus on their targets to work on not only the targeted prospects, but also on flipping committed prospects. A recruits signing day decisions can be heavily based on success on the field and the fostered relationship with a team’s staff. In order to maintain its current cohort of talent for the 2023 class, the Canes need to win games or they will not only settle for inferior talent, but could also lose some commits.
Miami looks to keep its pulse on prospects such as RB Chris Johnson, WR Andy Jean (Florida commit), OL Samson Okunlola, S Joenel Aguero (Georgia commit), CB Cormani McClain, CB Dijon Johnson, EDGE Samuel M’Pemba, DL Reuben Bain, among many others.
Miami and Mario Cristobal have quickly become a force in recruiting— On3 Recruits (@On3Recruits) July 9, 2022
+ 5-star OT Francis Mauigoa
+ Top-40 EDGE Jayden Wayne
+ Highly coveted QB Jaden Rashada
+ No. 2 TE in the country Riley Williams
Read: https://t.co/811m5BnDNt pic.twitter.com/jkX24qIG9L
5. Can the Defense, specifically LBs and CBs, play more disciplined football?
Similar to dropped passes on the offensive side of the ball, something that has plagued the Canes’ defense over the past couple years is undisciplined play. The byproduct of this lazy effort has revealed itself in gameday performances with missed tackles, lackluster coverage, and bonehead, inexcusable penalties.
The most infamous memory of came in 2020 when UNC embarrassed Miami 62-26 essentially ran all over the Canes by garnering 544 rushing yards.
As evidenced by the embedded clip below, Cristobal will not stand for nonsense and will make the players well aware when they mess up. Cleaning up the basic mechanics and finishing plays will be highlighted by the Cristobal staff to ensure principled football is displayed on Saturdays.
New defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, linebackers coach, Charlie Strong, and defensive backs coach, Jahmile Addae, should be pivotal in this transformation.
Mario Cristobal throws his headset and chews out his receiver for picking up an ill-timed unsportsmanlike penalty. pic.twitter.com/ivNzTlF4iP— Zak (@CaramelPhd) September 26, 2021
6. Can Miami hang with Texas A&M?
Last year in the season opener, the Canes did not even belong in the same stadium as their opponent, Alabama. And unfortunately the Canes have had a hard time against SEC opponents in recent years as they have not beat a team in the pinnacle CFB conference since 2013. In the last three contests dating back to 2018, Miami has lost by a combined score of 101-50, where two of the games - LSU and Bama - were not even close.
As they head to College Station, the Aggies are no slouch not only in the SEC, but they just had the best recruiting class of all-time and are ranked sixth in the country. Not to mention Kyle Field is one of the most notoriously challenging places for opponents.
This will be a huge early season test on September 17 after two Group of Five contests to start the season. TVD has not played even close to this type of environment and scouts will be scrutinizing his every move. If TVD and the Canes have games similar to that against LSU in 2018 or Bama in 2021, then the expectations for the remainder of the season will need to be seriously tempered.
Stadium of the day, Texas A&M— College Football Hype (@CFB_Hype) February 2, 2021
College Station, Texas
7. Where does Miami stand in the ACC?
As mentioned above, Miami has yet to win the ACC in spite of joining the conference two decades ago. This year, as has been the case in many previous preseasons, the Canes are favored to win the ACC Coastal as they rank 16th in the nation, which is just one spot ahead of defending ACC champion, Pittsburgh. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Miami is listed at +550 to win the ACC, only trailing the nation’s fourth ranked team, Clemson, who has -130 odds. After the Canes, NC State is close behind at +750, while Pitt is next at +850.
The conference schedule will be a good indicator of the Canes’ odds, but the Texas A&M (6) and Clemson (4) games will be the best barometers.
ACC teams in the AP Top 25— Saturday Road (@SaturdayRoad) August 15, 2022
No. 4 Clemson
No. 13 NC State
No. 16 Miami
No. 17 Pitt
No. 22 Wake Forest pic.twitter.com/hpccvmCAbB
8. Will Cristobal break through to the Playoffs?
Twitter thread tweets and Oregon online message boards have made it clear that Cristobal’s Oregon teams were never able to do something recent Miami teams have also not been capable of doing - making the College Football Playoffs. That being said, Cristobal was right on the cusp of this breakthrough in 2019 when the Ducks finished fifth in the nation after finishing 12-2 and winning the Rose Bowl. Last year, Cristobal again had the Ducks in hunt late in the season as Oregon was ranked third overall until a disappointing 38-7 loss to conference rival, Utah.
Because Cristobal could not get the Ducks back to the 2010 and 2014 promised land, his tenure was considered disappointing. That being said, Cristobal was brought in in 2017 to turn the program around as the team went a 4-8 the prior season. During his HC career, Cristobal also has had a track record of putting program’s back on the right path. Cristobal led FIU to their first ever bowl-eligible seasons and victory during his time with the Panthers, which was a big leap for a team that went 0-12 in the season before he was added.
NEW @WideRightPod ️ Our @BruceFeldmanCFB joins me for a deep look into Miami Hurricanes football. What led to the hiring of Mario Cristobal? How has the history of the Hurricanes program ignited these recent changes? Playoffs?!?— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) December 9, 2021
APPLE LINK: https://t.co/zAIhBP7hgE pic.twitter.com/ybnkFi4Ymi
9. How many stars are truly on this roster?
All signs point to TVD being the leader of this team and a possible star in his first draft-eligible year and first full season as a starter. Beyond the signal caller, there are a number of players who are primed for breakthrough years. And on a day today where a number of Canes either get cut or make an NFL roster, it is becoming real how the talent gap has split in recent years at the U, with recent exceptions like Braxton Berrios, Jaelan Phillips, KJ Osborn, and Gregory Rousseau breaking through to already be solid contributors to their NFL teams.
The current roster has a flock of players that could rise to the next level but the potential has been there in recent years, but we have not seen that materialization as often as fans expect.
Some have already shown flashes, but let’s see how the following players will look to put the Canes back on the proverbial clock and seek to earn all-Conference and/or all-American accolades: S James Williams, RB Jaylan Knighton, CB Tyrique Stevenson, CB DJ Ivey, WR Xavier Restrepo, EDGE Jahfari Harvey, S Avantae Williams, DE Chantz Williams, LB Caleb Johnson, DL Mitchel Agude, DL Ahkeem Mesidor, OL Zion Nelson, DT Leonard Taylor, OL Jalen Rivers, TE Will Mallory. All of the players listed above have immense potential and if they can put it together on game days, then the Canes could be back, but...
10. Is the U Back?
Talk is cheap. The hype is all too real during the offseason and this offseason that hype train is even more pronounced. Miami is finally investing in their football program and the staff has been completely overhauled. There are valid reasons to be excited and there are valid reasons to believe the U is back.
However, until the Canes put on the game day jerseys and regularly win pivotal games, the U is NOT back. We will find out early and often what this team has.
See you this Saturday....