Summer has come and gone. Students and faculty alike have made their way back to Coral Gables in start of a new school year, and football season is finally here.
Let’s kick it off with some key players you’ll need to know about, this year’s biggest game and a prediction as to how the season will turn out.
Duke Johnson, running back, Junior
Simply put, the Hurricanes football team lives and dies by its best player, starting tailback Duke Johnson. With a healthy Johnson last season, the team went 7-1, losing only to Florida State in the game where Johnson was injured. Without him, the team finished 2-3. Johnson racked up over 900 yards in those seven-plus games and averaged over six yards a carry. He also has some of the surest hands on the team, making him a threat catching the ball out of the backfield as well. With a new quarterback taking the snaps, expect a heavy dose of Duke early on in the season.
Brad Kaaya, quarterback, Freshman
When Ryan Williams went down with an ACL tear in April, the starting quarterback position was suddenly up for grabs. Kaaya, a true freshman, beat out Jake Heaps, a fifth-year senior, in summer practice to earn the starting job based on merit and poise beyond his years, according to head coach Al Golden. Until Williams is healthy again, Kaaya will take the majority of the snaps, and if he plays well early into the season, he may not relinquish his spot even when Williams comes back. But with QB being the most important position, as well as arguably the largest question mark on this Hurricanes team, Kaaya has great expectations hanging over him. Kaaya should find his groove over the next couple games against easier competition than Monday’s Louisville loss.
Denzel Perryman, middle linebacker, Senior
Just as the offense lives and dies with Johnson, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes defense, which has come under heavy fire recently for consistent poor play. Perryman was one of the few bright spots last season, leading the team with 108 tackles while accumulating All-ACC first-team and All-America honorable mention nods as an outside linebacker. Now manning the middle, Perryman faces even more responsibility, but looks to be up to the challenge. One of the hardest hitters in America, don’t be surprised to find Perryman on highlight reels and SportsCenter Top 10 plays frequently over the course of the season.
Nov. 1 vs. North Carolina: While the Hurricanes game against Florida State two weeks later will draw more fans to Sun Life Stadium, it’s this early November game against the Tar Heels that will likely decide the ACC Coastal division. The Coastal is totally up in the air, meaning this game, also homecoming weekend at the U, has much greater significance than the one against FSU.
Coming off nine days’ rest after what looks to be a tough trip to Virginia Tech, Miami cannot afford to lose this game. The Canes got lucky last year in Chapel Hill to win 27-24, and you can bet that UNC head coach Larry Fedora is ready for some revenge.
The preseason No. 23 team may even be favored despite being away from home, but if Al Golden’s team wants to get to its first ACC Championship game in team history, it will have to overcome QB Marquise Williams and a strong UNC offense.
Miami struggles out of the gate against Louisville as the offense sputters behind its new freshman quarterback. The Canes will go to Nebraska Sept. 20 and fight hard but lose to the Cornhuskers to fall to 2-2 before rattling off three consecutive wins. That brings the team to a tough Thursday night game in Blacksburg, VA, in which Frank Beamer’s defense comes up big and hands Miami its second consecutive loss in the series after last year’s beatdown at Sun Life.
Miami comes home and narrowly beats UNC to cap off a glorious Homecoming weekend, before once again losing to Florida State, who will still be #1 in the nation at that point.
The Canes win their last two games to finish the season 8-4 and 5-3 in the ACC, which in any other conference would be a middle of the road finish, but in the Coastal Division, may be enough to secure a bid to the ACC Championship game.