Our ranking: No. 25 MIAMI
Coach: Mark Richt (9-4, entering second season; 9-4 overall)
2016 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, finished tied for second in Coastal Division
Look back: Mark Richt’s first season at Miami was a program success as the Hurricanes won their first bowl game since 2006 and finished the season in the Top 25 of the Associated Press and Amway Coaches’ polls for the first time since 2009.
A nine-win season and 18 returning starters have raised expectations as Miami was selected by ACC media to win the Coastal Division this season and reach the ACC title game for the first time since joining the conference in 2004.
The Hurricanes will have to replace three-year starting quarterback Brad Kaaya but are led by a promising young core behind running back Mark Walton, receiver Ahmmon Richards and linebacker Shaq Quarterman with hopes of leading the program back to national prominence.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB Brad Kaaya, DB Corn Elder, WR Stacy Coley, RB Joseph Yearby, DL Standish Dobard, DB Jamal Carter, RB Gus Edwards, WR Malcolm Lewis, DB Adrian Colbert, DB Rayshawn Jenkins, FB Marquez Williams, OL Danny Isidora, OL Alex Gall, P Justin Vogel.
Top returnees: RB Mark Walton, WR Ahmmon Richards, LB Shaq Quarterman, LB Michael Pinckney, TE Chris Herndon, WR Larence Cager, DE Joe Jackson, DE Chad Thomas, DT R.J. McIntosh, DT Kendrick Norton, LB Zach McCloud, OL Nick Linder, OL Kc McDermott, OL Sunny Odogwu, K Michael Badgley.
Strengths: From Walton to Richards on offense to defenders like Quarterman, fellow linebacker Michael Pinckney and defensive linemen Chad Thomas, Joe Jackson, R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, the Hurricanes are once again bursting with skilled positions players up and down the roster. The difference this season, it seems, is Miami’s all-in mentality under Richt’s leadership to dominate the ACC.
Weaknesses: Replacing Kaaya — the school’s all-time leader in passing yards, attempts and completions — will be no easy task for Richt and the Hurricanes to overcome, but there are several options to explore. Despite playing in only six games as a backup, redshirt junior Malik Rosier is the most experienced quarterback on UM’s roster. But the Hurricanes are also excited about true freshman N’Kosi Perry, a four-star talent from Ocala Vanguard High who has received positive reviews from teammates during the offseason.
Miami’s secondary will also be led by some new faces such as junior safeties Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and transfer cornerback Dee Delaney, who hope to keep UM’s resurgent defense moving forward without three of four leading tacklers last season in cornerback Corn Elder and safeties Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins.
Outlook: Outside of a quirky Week 2 visit to Arkansas State followed by rival FSU in Week 3, Miami has a favorable schedule that could result in the Hurricanes’ first Coastal Division title.
If the Hurricanes are able to get over the hump in Tallahassee — the Seminoles have won seven straight in the series — or can keep focus despite an early-season defeat, they have the opportunity to run the table in the Coastal Division to possibly set up another matchup with FSU in the ACC title game.
With 18 returning starters looking to once again solidify their roles, the Hurricanes are primed to win their first conference championship and win at least 10 games for the first time since 2003.