Let’s start with this: Miami is not “back” yet. It seems anytime there is optimism about the Canes, folks are too quick to jump the gun. As I’ve said before, Miami isn’t back until Miami wins another national title. The Canes have won five national championships in the past 35 years, but it’s been 13 seasons since they finished in the Top 10 or won double-digit games.
Still, it’s starting to feel like Mark Richt has Miami on the right path. The Hurricanes finished last season on a five-game winning streak, all by at least two touchdowns, capped off by a thumping of a good West Virginia team in the Russell Athletic Bowl. They also are on track to land a top-five recruiting class. Richt and his staff have developed a nasty front seven on defense, something the program hasn’t had in years. There’s plenty of speed on offense, led by a crew of young wideouts featuring budding star Ahmmon Richards. I think Miami has the potential to make a run at the ACC title … next year. Then again, if the Canes can figure out their QB situation—and last year’s underwhelming O-line improves in support of whoever’s in the pocket—Miami’s defense looks salty enough to hold up its end of a playoff contention argument right now.
What to love: Miami has one of the best D-lines in the country, with a legit front four of Chad Thomas (11 tackles for loss last season), Kendrick Norton (10 TFLs), RJ McIntosh (nine TFLs) and Joe Jackson (8.5 sacks as a freshman last year) and there’s some studs behind those guys too. The linebackers are fast and fierce—keep an eye on sophomore Shaq Quarterman, who looks like he’ll be an All-America before he leaves Coral Gables. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has a lot to work with now. Last season his group was pretty green up front, especially the freshman linebacker trio, but it still ranked fifth in FBS in tackles for loss and 22nd in sacks.
One ACC coach last winter told me he thought Miami was the most talented team he faced in 2016. And this was a guy who had also faced Clemson.
“I think we are close to getting over the hump,” Quarterman said. “We are really focused on the little things, not just with the starters, but with everyone because it’s the standard. If everyone keeps that standard then we’ll be right back on top where we are supposed to be.”
Miami lost a solid corner to the NFL in Corn Elder, and a key to this year’s defense has been the emergence of two newcomers at cornerback: Dee Delaney, a grad transfer who was a two-time FCS All-America at The Citadel, and junior college transfer Jhavonte Dean. Both are long and very athletic.
Canes cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, a former first-rounder himself at Miami, said Delaney is a pleasant surprise. “He’s just very strong and physical and athletic, and most of all, he’s almost taking control of my room already,” Rumph said. “He’s the guy who’s disciplined because he’s coming from The Citadel, he’s a little older, and he’s urgent, similar to [2016 grad transfer] Adrian Colbert last year, so we’re just excited about him.”