After No. 25 post-spring ranking, what UM must do to surpass expectations
ESPN revealed its top 25 post-spring rankings, and the Hurricanes check in at No. 25 ... behind such teams as No. 21 Coastal Carolina, No. 17 Florida, No. 16 Louisiana and the only other ACC teams listed North Carolina at No. 8 and Clemson at No. 4.
The Canes' opening day opponent, Alabama, checks in at No. 2 behind Oklahoma.
ESPN notes 'Bama's six losses in the first round of the NFL Draft as a reason the defending national champion Crimson Tide aren't No. 1.
As for Clemson, the network points to QB Taisun Phommachanh tearing his Achilles' during the spring game as a reason the Tigers might have some reason to worry.
And ESPN put UNC in the nation's top 10 after pointing to Tennessee RB transfer Ty Chandler as showing he can help at a RB spot that lost the top two backs to the NFL Draft.
So what has to go right for the Canes to sneak ahead of say, a North Carolina, in the final rankings?
The top 5 in that category:
1. GET D'ERIQ KING EXPLOSIVE FOR GAME 1
Getting D'Eriq King back healthy for Game 1 is something coaches and trainers at UM are optimistic will happen. But there's a big difference between a "healthy" King and an "explosive" King. Miami can perhaps shock an Alabama with the King who was able to make plays with his legs and arm in this offense. With his running ability and passing capability all you need is a few hiccups by an Alabama offense that will be having a lot of new faces in Game 1 and there could be a quick Cane lead. But a "healthy" King who is still not sure of his injured leg and who is passing almost all the time is not going to get it done against the defending national champion. He has to be back to his explosive self.
2. FIND A RUN GAME
This was the biggest Achilles' heel on the offense last year, and whether it was a line issue or running back question, Rhett Lashlee called way too many up the gut third and short and fourth and short plays which failed. Overall the run game also left a lot to be desired in a three-headed attack (4.2 YPC, compared to 4.5 YPC for opponents). Lashlee wants a feature back this season, and the run game has to produce for the offense to average more than 40 points a game (off 34.0 points last season). Oh, and for the record we think Jaylan Knighton should be that feature guy, particularly with Don Chaney's shoulder surgery.
3. DON'T GET BLOWN OUT BY 'BAMA
Look, Alabama lost a ton of talent to the NFL- in fact, the Canes had fewer total players enter the draft this cycle (five) than Alabama had go in the first round. But Bama has proven it reloads and doesn't rebuild, a reason ESPN gives them the No. 2 post spring national ranking. What the Canes can't have happen is start the season with a blowout loss to a top opponent that will throw UM out of the rankings and have the team questioning itself ... and fans in an uproar. Can Miami win this game? Sure, but that's a longshot. What we want to see is UM play a competitive game and try to keep it within single digits. Then you never know what can happen at the end ... and it's hard to argue with a seven to 10 point loss in this one. That actually might be a sign of progress based on the last few seasons.
4. FRONT 7 HAS TO BE A BIG SURPRISE
No matter how good Miami's offense is there are going to be issues - and perhaps losses to subpar teams - if the D doesn't carry its weight. That's just the way college football goes. And the front 7 is an extreme worry with the linebacker play so sketchy last season and the loss of the top two linemen in Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche. If Nesta Silvera is still the top D lineman at the end of the season that would be a failure in our book. Miami has to do better. And if the Canes can bring in a transfer LB, and supposedly one may be coming, that would be huge.
Look, there are always ups and downs in a season, and the outside noise can be stifling. And don't think players don't notice. The big key is to keep the train steady all season, work hard and just keep getting better. The schedule is extremely favorable, something the ESPN top 25 doesn't seem to have taken into account. On paper the Canes should beat everyone except Bama and UNC, and Miami really isn't that far behind the Tar Heels talent-wise regardless of last year's horrendous showing. So avoid losses to teams that are worse than you and pull a minor upset and maybe, just maybe, the Canes get to the end of the regular season with just one loss. You'd take that, right?