There’s no debate which two teams are the cream of the crop in the ACC. Either Clemson and Florida State are expected to win the conference and be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff this season.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t considerably high expectations for other programs in the conference. With all due respect to North Carolina and Pittsburgh, fans are probably expecting the most from Louisville and Miami after the Tigers and Seminoles.
What’s interesting when comparing the expectations for Louisville and Miami is that they have risen this season for vastly different reasons. The Cardinals finished last season winning six of their last seven games and trounced Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. Quarterback Lamar Jackson capped his freshman season throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
In Miami, though, the expectations have risen due to the arrival of new head coach Mark Richt. Many fans expect that calling plays for the offense will enable Richt to bring the Hurricanes back to national prominence.
Although the pressure will be on both schools to produce stellar 2016 seasons, here are three reasons why Miami needs to have the bigger year.
Wide-Open Coastal Division
As much as Louisville is a sleeper in the Atlantic and could play a huge role in deciding which team plays in the ACC Championship Game and ultimately advances to the playoff, no one expects the Cardinals to win the division.
Miami doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding that pressure. The Hurricanes have a wide-open Coastal division for the taking, but that also means dealing with the burden of being one of the favorites.
Fans won’t cut Miami any slack for finishing third in the Coastal as they will if Louisville is third in the Atlantic this year.
Junior vs. Sophomore Quarterback
Theoretically, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya could be back next season, but it appears very unlikely at this point. He’s considered a Heisman dark horse, and if he plays to his potential, he could be a first-round selection in next year’s NFL Draft.
Last season, Kaaya finished among the top three ACC quarterbacks in yards per game, yards per attempt, passer rating and fewest interceptions, and even more is expected under Richt.
After his brilliant performance in the Music City Bowl, Jackson’s expectations are higher too, but he’s still only a sophomore. He will stick around one more season no matter what, so he doesn’t face the pressure of playing for his NFL Draft stock. Moreover, his team won’t feel as bad if the Cards underachieve this season. There’s still next year.
For Kaaya, in all likelihood, this is it.
Let’s face it: Louisville isn’t a historic power in college football; Miami is.
The Cardinals have had more recent success than the Hurricanes, but just 12 years ago, Louisville was in Conference USA. The Cardinals have been in one of the six major bowls just a handful of times in their history, and they have never won the national championship.
Miami, on the other hand, went to a major bowl 12 straight years from 1983 through 1994. Since 1983, the Hurricanes have won five national championships, and the only other school that can say that is Alabama.
For that reason alone, Miami needs a bigger year than most ACC teams. In light of the two other factors mentioned above and the program’s inability to make even one ACC Championship Game, it’s clear that Hurricane fans are extremely hungry for a promising football season.
The ACC needs each of these programs to become big-hitters behind Clemson and Florida State, but if one had to choose a program which needs to emerge in 2016 to bolster the ACC’s national reputation, Miami — not Louisville — is the foremost choice.