Seven months after the confetti fell on national champion Alabama, a new college football season is nearly here. As part of Sports Illustrated's 2021 preview content, we're rolling out scouting reports for all of SI's preseason top 25 teams, featuring all the names, storylines and big games you need to know. Starting with No. 25 Nevada and running through No. 1 Alabama, we'll be featuring five teams per day from Monday through Friday.
The Big Story: Miami
The Hurricanes are rebounding this season, but not in the usual sense. The program is coming off of an 8–3 (7–2 ACC) campaign, losing its final two games of the 2020 season. But the COVID-19 pandemic continuously impacted Miami, creating a stop-and-go atmosphere as the program struggled to find consistency both in practices/games and performance. At one point, Miami was down 13 players against Virginia Tech, and head coach Manny Diaz tested positive several days later. Despite the pandemic challenges and switching to a new offense with limited preseason practices, Miami remained in the AP top 25 poll every week, and the main narrative this season is whether it can do it again—but better—with a similar quick fix on the defense and a majority of the program’s starters returning.
Can't Miss: Charleston Rambo
The Oklahoma transfer has the potential to snag one of the three starting wide receiver spots despite a lackluster 2020 campaign. He totaled only 312 yards and three touchdowns on 25 receptions during the COVID-19 season, while in 2019, the Texas native ranked second on Oklahoma with 43 receptions, 743 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. Rambo, now a redshirt junior, is showing signs that he can be a reliable threat on the outside after leading all pass catchers in the Hurricanes’ spring game.
Key Question: Will D'Eriq King be 100% healthy?
The team is bringing back all but three starters this season, and Miami expects to have quarterback D'Eriq King back and healthy to lead the pack after tearing his ACL during the Cheez-It Bowl. Diaz told The Athletic that King will be ready for the season’s start against Alabama, but how impacted will his mobility be? The quarterback threw for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdown passes and just five interceptions in the regular season in 2020, but can he improve on his big campaign while making an injury comeback?
X-Factor: The linebackers
Can the Hurricanes revive a linebacker core that often looked out of position and slow in 2020 and unify the defensive squad as a whole? The group’s weaknesses were on full display as North Carolina ran for a school-record 554 yards during the regular-season finale in a Miami blowout loss. During the offseason, Diaz moved former defensive line coach Todd Stroud and former cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph into off-field roles, and Blake Baker was demoted and later hired by LSU. Thus, new position coaches Jess Simpson (defensive line), Ishmael Aristide (striker), DeMarcus Van Dyke (cornerback) and Travaris Robinson (safety) were brought into the mix, and Diaz returns to his old stomping grounds as the new defensive play-caller.
Date to Circle: Oct. 16 at North Carolina
This is a revenge game. The last time Miami beat the Tar Heels was in 2018, when UNC was under former head coach Larry Fedora. Now, it is led by Mack Brown and is the only team on Miami’s 2021 schedule that it lost to during the COVID-19 season. In 2020, UNC blew past the Hurricanes with a 36-point win, setting multiple program, ACC and FBS records. North Carolina was the preseason media favorite to win the ACC Coastal division, with Miami projected to finish second.
The Bottom Line
If King returns healthy and the defensive coaching changes liven up the squad, will Miami run it back?
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