It’s been an offseason of good news for Hurricanes faithful.
Miami still holds the No. 1 recruiting class, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. The school broke ground on its indoor practice facility, a hard-earned $34 million structure slated to open in Aug. 2018, on Thursday. On the field, of course, the Hurricanes are coming off a 9-4 season and No. 20 ranking. They should be in the Top 25 when they go for their sixth win in a row Sept. 2 against FCS lightweight Bethune-Cookman.
Here’s some more good news for Miami: Its defense should be very, very good in 2017. And the offense and special teams could be good enough to have the Canes in title contention.
Miami’s 2016 defense was ninth nationally in yards per play allowed and 12th in points allowed. It may hold or improve those rankings this season, since the freshmen and sophomores who comprised most of the front seven last year are back and better. Linebackers Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud all improved this spring, per coaches. The defensive line could rival Clemson, Florida State and NC State for the best in the conference.
Ends Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson and tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh combined for 17 sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss last year. There are also waves of depth behind them; the secondary loses four starters but brings in an excellent recruiting class. The incoming group includes the country’s top grad transfer cornerback, FCS All-American Dee Delaney (The Citadel).
The offense will take a step back if Miami doesn’t find an acceptable replacement for quarterback Brad Kaaya. UM can’t replace its all-time leading passer, and that may be a good thing. Kaaya had accuracy and touch on his throws, but he was not a mobile quarterback. Mark Richt is intrigued by the skills of 4-star recruit N’Kosi Perry, a dual-threat playmaker who possesses the tools to be a star. He arrives in May, and if he’s got the goods, Miami’s offense could go to a whole new level; the run-pass option plays that didn’t work with a statuesque Kaaya may give defenses fits with Perry shaking-and-baking back there.
In addition, there are boatloads of weapons at receiver, and the offensive line returns every major contributor. Oh, and UM has perhaps the best back in the ACC in Mark Walton (although not much depth behind him).
Like their offense, the Hurricanes’ special teams must replace a major piece in punter Justin Vogel. That won’t be an easy task as the three-year starter had a consistently strong, accurate leg. UM hopes incoming freshman Zach Feagles, the son of Hurricanes great and NFL mainstay Jeff Feagles, can win the job off the bat. Kicker is locked up by senior Michael Badgley, who has made plenty of clutch kicks. UM’s wealth of skill-position players means it has plenty of return options, and coverage teams have been a plus.