Making Sense of the ACC Football Coastal Division: No. 3 Miami Hurricanes

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The Miami Hurricanes have their fair share of question marks entering 2014, but they also have as much talent as anyone in the ACC Coastal division. Miami’s success will depend on how they develop that talent and whether they can build enough depth to sustain the wear-and-tear of the college football season. They will play a difficult schedule, with a cross-divisional game against the Louisville Cardinals who, as you may recall, decimated the Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season. And, of course, they will also take on the Florida State Seminoles. On the other hand, they also get key Coastal division games at home, including battles with the Duke Blue Devils, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Why the Hurricanes could win the Coastal division:

The Hurricanes will see one of the best running backs in the country, Duke Johnson, return to the field this season after an injury derailed him in Miami’s Week 8 game against Florida State last year. Before his season abruptly ended, Johnson had rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns with an average of 6.3 yards per carry. With an experienced offensive line blocking for him, Johnson could have a Heisman-caliber season in 2014 if he can stay healthy.

The Hurricanes also have an enormous amount of talent at wide receiver. Their leading pass catcher from 2013, Allen Hurns, may be gone, but Miami is still loaded at that position. Sophomore Stacy Coley could be one of the best in the conference this season, after an impressive freshman campaign in which he caught 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Herb Waters, Phillip Dorsett and Dallas Crawford all return as well, along with tight end Clive Walford, who was second in receptions for Miami last season.

Why the Hurricanes could end up in last place:

Miami was already going to need to find a new quarterback this season, with Stephen Morris departing, and they thought they had their man going into spring practice in senior Ryan Williams. Then Williams tore his ACL and the starting job fell to redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen. Olsen has talent, but he is young and there could be growing pains.

Olsen is lucky to have plenty of talent around him, but the Hurricanes’ offense could struggle if he can’t get the ball to his receivers. If that turns out to be the case, Miami will need their defense to step up. And there is some reason to believe that the defense could be decent this year. They return most of their starters from last season, and Crawford moved from running back to safety and had a strong spring. However, Miami’s defense was one of the worst in the ACC last season. That unit will need to improve substantially, particularly if the offense stagnates.

Prediction:

The Hurricanes’ defense should improve this year, and they have enough talent on offense to assure that they will score points, even if Olsen struggles. Miami has more than enough talent to compete for the division title, but they have struggled to put all the pieces together in recent years. Ultimately, unless Olsen has an impressive season, the ‘Canes will most likely fall short of a division championship once again in 2014.

Previous articles in this series:

No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers

No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies

No. 6 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Dan Kelley covers college football for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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