The excitement is certainly building towards Miami’s 2016 football season, the first under head coach Mark Richt, who has returned to his alma mater to try and make the Canes relevant again.
There’s reason for optimism in the Miami camp with a new staff and some very talented athletes returning. Is it enough to push the Canes over the hump? Since joining the ACC in 2004, Miami has not won an outright Coastal Division title and has never played in the ACC Championship Game.
Here are three main reasons why the 2016 season could be the one that finally finds Miami in the hunt for its first-ever ACC championship.
He’s a leader on a Miami offense that should be among the league’s best.
Kaaya brings experience and talent to a position that is the most vital in the sport. He’s thrown for 3,000-plus yards in his first two seasons as the Canes’ quarterback and 2016 looks to be even better. Kaaya has an offensive line that is more experienced than a year ago. It’s still not the best in the league, but it should be better than last year’s.
And that should bode well not only for Kaaya, but for the entire group of talented skilled players the Hurricanes possess. Running back Joe Yearby returns after a 1,000-yard season in 2015. He was also the Canes’ fifth-leading receiver and will no doubt be called upon again in 2016, especially considering two of their top three receivers were seniors last year. Stacy Coley does return to lead the receiving corps. He caught 47 passes last season for 689 yards and four touchdowns. He led all Canes receivers averaging 62.6 yards per game.
The new head coach brings with him an impressive resume.
Say what you will about Richt, he’s won football games at a high level. In 15 seasons at Georgia, playing in arguably the strongest conference in the country year in and year out, Richt won consistently (145-51) both outside and inside the SEC where he posted an 85-40 record. Richt’s teams won two SEC championships and captured six SEC East titles. His teams went to nine bowl games and finished the season in the Associated Press Top Ten rankings seven times.
His .740 winning percentage ranks fifth-best among active FBS head coaches and he is tied for ninth among the winningest head coaches in SEC history. He’s one of just seven head coaches in SEC history to record four straight 10-win seasons (2002-05). He has been able to consistently bring and develop some of the better talent around. Over the last 14 years at Georgia, 77 of his players were selected in the NFL Draft. He had eight players chosen in the 2002 and 2013 NFL Drafts. That’s the most Georgia players ever selected in a single year.
Miami’s biggest division games are at home.
The Canes do not play defending conference champion Clemson during the regular season and games with Florida State, defending Coastal Division champion North Carolina, Pitt and Duke are home games. If the Canes can survive early back-to-back home games with FSU and North Carolina, things could shape up to be very interesting the rest of the way. The Canes, however, still must navigate through conference road games at Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech and N.C. State. But those appear doable.
The Hurricanes appear primed to make a run at their first-ever outright Coastal Division title and if so, who knows what might happen from there.