The Miami Hurracanes

Remember when the Miami Hurricanes joined the ACC and everyone just assumed the conference’s championship game would be a constant rerun of the great Miami-Florida State rivalry?

That was back in 2004 and twelve years later the Hurricanes have still never even qualified for the ACC Championship Game. They’ve hired Mark Richt, who won a pair of SEC titles at Georgia, to bring the program back to national prominence.

There are three good reasons to like Miami’s chances in the ACC - the first is quarterback Brad Kaya. The second is that they play in the weaker Coastal Division. And for college football bettors, the price is right - Miami is a 9-1 shot simply to win a conference that isn’t well-regarded among sharp handicappers.

Let’s start with Kaya. He’s considered one of the best quarterbacks in college football and on track to be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring. With a 16/5 TD-INT ratio, he does a good job avoiding mistakes. He threw for over 3,200 yards. Kaya operates behind a veteran offensive line that has good mobility, so there should be time to throw.

If the Hurricanes played in the same division with Florida State, Clemson or even Louisville, we might feel differently about their chances. Miami is far from a perfect team, as we’ll see in a moment. But neither are North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or Pitt. And it’s those teams that they have to be out in the Coastal Division. It’s much easier to talk about pulling one modest upset over the Atlantic Division powers in a conference championship game on a neutral field than it is to survive an eight-game league schedule.

Furthermore, the divisional split is not being properly considered by the betting market. Louisville is also a 9-1 shot. Now we won’t argue that the Cardinals are at least as good and maybe even better than Miami. But is Louisville really more likely to even reach the conference championship game, given the path goes through FSU and Clemson? If you want to find good prices on the ACC race the Coastal is the place to look and that includes spots like division co-favorite North Carolina (9-1), Virginia Tech (15-1) and Georgia Tech (18-1) if that’s your preference.

But Miami is our focus here. They have the basics of an experienced coach and a quality quarterback. The issue is going to be whether they can find a running game to support Kaya. Last year, in spite of the solid passing game, the Hurricanes’ offense only ranked 71st in the country. Their line has been described by coaches and observers alike as having players who are natural guards playing tackle. That can be roughly translated as saying that while they have quickness, drive-blocking is a problem.

What the Hurricane offensive line does have is an extra year of experience. Last year four sophomores started and that’s not a stage in their development where they’re going to push anyone around. All four tip the scales at 300-pounds plus, so we think it’s worth keeping an open mind on whether the offseason that sees them transition into being upperclassmen will bring some increased power.

Miami opens with three easy games that won’t tell us a whole lot about them, unless they play poorly. October is when the season starts for real with a road trip to Georgia Tech and home game with Florida State.

We think it’s worthwhile to hold off any futures investing until at least the Georgia Tech game - if they win that, or at least run the ball and play well in a close game, that would speak well to the ’Canes ability to win going forward. The latter part of October includes a six-day stretch where they host North Carolina and go to Virginia Tech on a Thursday night.

Miami has real potential to finally do some big things. Be ready to watch them carefully from the moment the season kicks off.