9/2: Miami was stomped by Louisville on Labor Day, 31-13, gaining only 244 yards (4.4/play), and failing to crack 200 yards before garbage time. Miami's true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya played like a guy who won the job because the starter tore his ACL, the backup failed yet another drug test, and the other guy transferred in after not being able to win the job at Kansas. Miami's receivers did him few favors in terms of making tough catches, running good routes, etc. But they continue to be really fast.
The offensive line was awful, and that is the biggest takeaway of the game. Miami fans expected it to be a strength, and a rebuilt Louisville defensive line brutalized Miami up front.
The defense, on the other hand, definitely looked improved, though it got gassed because the offense was 1 of 13 on third down. Louisville still moved the ball, but Miami was able to far reduce the big plays that it allowed in previous seasons.
Miami has upcoming home games against FAMU and Arkansas State, which are likely wins in front of awful crowds. Then games at Nebraska, v. Duke, at Georgia Tech, v. Cincinnati, at Virginia Tech and v. North Carolina. Miami seems likely to be 5-4 or 6-3 when FSU rolls in to town, so unless the Hurricanes pick it up significantly, FSU's game will not be in prime time.
Tomahawk Nation is setting up preview pages for each of Florida State's football opponents. This is the page for Miami. Florida State travels to Miami on November 15 for what amounts to a neutral-site game.
Yes, the game is still technically on the road. FSU still must get on the jet. It must still sleep in a hotel room and not have its customary home routine. But make no mistake, ever since Miami lost the Orange Bowl, it lost its home field advantage against Florida State. With the stadium up to more than an hour away from Coral Gables (at times, depending on traffic), fewer fans from Miami attend the games. The stadium is fodder for numerous shots every year of a supposedly elite program playing in front of awful crowds.
And when Florida State fans come to town, they buy up tons of tickets, making the stadium more like the 50-50 attendance split of Oklahoma-Texas, than of the old unfriendly atmosphere of Florida State at Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Since losing the Orange Bowl stadium, the results have been lopsided at Miami. The Seminoles are undefeated since 2004, winning by an average of more than two touchdowns. The last coach to win a home game against Florida State? Larry Coker.
Overall, FSU has won seven of nine against Miami, including four in a row. A win in Miami will produce an eight of ten result, something that has rarely happened in the series.
The fortunes have not changed much under Al Golden. Miami is just 13-11 overall in the ACC, and Golden has lost to Florida State all three times, by an average of more than two touchdowns.
Miami has also not won a bowl game against a major conference opponent since 2004.
This is a program with perhaps the richest history in the state (five rings), but it has not been nationally relevant for a decade now.
In recent years, it can even be argued that Miami has played no to win, but to avoid being blown out in front of the state's top recruits (to some success).
Will 2014 be different? It seems unlikely, but Miami does have fewer holes than in previous years. But, it's fair to question the depth of those holes.
Miami has one of the better receiving corps, offensive lines (I think, though they do lose a lot), running backs, and defensive backfields FSU will face. I think linebacker is OK, and perhaps underrated.
But Miami might be left hoping for average QB and defensive line play. And that's a problem for a team facing the squad with the best secondary in the country and perhaps the best offensive line in school history.
There's certainly the chance that FSU will face Miami twice this year and that they will finally break though and play for a conference title. But Quarterback and defensive line are two of the most important position groups on the field, and are Miami's biggest questions.
Here is Bill Connelly on Miami. This is just one of nine sections, and you really should click on over and read all of them.
The road will tell the tale: No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I balk at the names on the quarterbacks list, I just cannot be worried about the Miami offense. There's too much proven talent at the skill positions, and the line should still be solid, if not quite as good as last year. The offense will score.
But as they say, defense travels. And considering most of Miami's bigger games are on the road in 2014 -- Louisville, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech -- the Hurricanes' fortunes in 2014 will probably be tied to defensive competence. There just wasn't enough of it in 2013. The line wasn't talented enough, and the secondary suffered a glitch for every good play. The front of the defense gets some new blood, and the back is far more experienced, but there's a very good chance that defense will hold the Hurricanes back again this fall. The question is how much.
To have a chance at the division title, Miami might need to only win one of the three conference road games listed above (Louisville, GT, VT). But to have a legitimate chance at their first 10-win season since 2003 (yep, 2003), the Hurricanes might need to win two. Is that actually a possibility? Can the defense improve that much? Probably not.
Expectations are a funny thing for Miami right now. A series of strong recruiting classes have offset the uncertainty of lengthy Nevin Shapiro investigation, and Al Golden will probably get less benefit-of-the-doubt moving forward. His offense will give him a chance against basically anybody not named Florida State, but unless he gets things figured out on defense, he's going to struggle to clear a rising bar.
Paul Myerberg, of USA Today, is less optimistic, I'd say. You really need to click on over and read the entire thing, especially because I excerpted more than I would ever normally do, but both intro and conclusion were too good to decide.
Miami's last piece of conference hardware came not just more than a decade ago - way back in 2003, to be precise - but in a different conference. It came in a conference that no longer exists, in fact: Miami shared the Big East crown with West Virginia, taking the title on the head-to-head tiebreaker to reach the Orange Bowl - the program's last postseason appearance of consequence, but let's stay on track.
That's the funny thing about Miami being picked to win the Coastal Division, ahead of Duke, last year's winner, and ahead of North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech: Miami has never won the Coastal Division.
Not once, and don't count that asterisk next to 2012, when Miami was one of the three teams - one of two not participating in the postseason - to tie for first atop the division. In total, the Hurricanes' ACC existence has included zero seasons with double-digit wins, one losing season, one bowl win and not even the faintest sniff of national contention.
Think of it this way: Duke has more 10-win seasons and Coastal Division titles than Miami as members of the ACC. The Blue Devils have one and one, respectively; the Hurricanes have zero and zero, respectively.
It's a decade-long trudge made more painful by a rival's resurgence: Florida State, though not hampered by NCAA sanctions and penalties, has charged back into familiar ground behind Jimbo Fisher and friends, claiming last year's national title and setting itself up for another run of unparalleled heights. Miami doesn't merely suffer in comparison; there is no comparison.
The worry is simple: Miami could have a blueprint for getting out of the wilderness - coaching, recruiting, player development - but there is an expiration date on this, as there is on most things. Eventually, Miami needs to follow the Seminoles' lead or embrace its newfound place in the national pecking order.
In a nutshell: It's not going to be easy, all preseason expectations aside. But these are unfair, to a degree: Miami isn't ready to claim the Coastal even if the division remains as undecided as any in the FBS, seeing that the Hurricanes are not just battling a few personnel woes but dealing with one of the rowdiest schedules in the ACC. This isn't a perfect situation; it may be a perfect storm, in fact, one that leads Miami not to first place in the Coastal but into a position behind the league's top group - Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, in one order or another.
It's hard to ignore the schedule. There's Louisville on the road to kick things off. There's Nebraska on the road three weeks later, at which point the floodgates open: Nebraska is followed by Georgia Tech, Duke, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State. That's as brutal a stretch as you'll find in and out of the ACC - and let's recall that Miami is set to start a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Is that a dream situation? Obviously not. It's also a situation where a year that starts slowly runs off the rails entirely in November. That probably won't happen, but it could.
I'm just not sold on this team. The offense should be fine if Johnson remains healthy, but starting Olsen or Heaps essentially negates a good part of Miami's strength at receiver. The offensive line is sturdy, the backfield and receiver corps good to great ... but the Hurricanes have one of the worst quarterback situations in the ACC. The defense has strong individual pieces but does not yet inspire confidence; it'll be on this defense to step forward, and it's too soon to project any major improvement until we see what each level brings to the table in September. The bottom line? I don't think Miami has what it takes to build upon last year's nine-win finish. This is a bowl team and a Coastal contender, due in large part to the division's unsettled nature, but Miami has issues to address.
Dream season: Miami loses to Florida State, as expected, and drops a tough one at Nebraska. But the Hurricanes break through the nine-win mark to capture the Coastal Division championship.