Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. And yes, it’s a team from the SEC.
Previously: No. 25 South Carolina, No. 24 Utah, No. 23 West Virginia, No. 22 Central Florida, No. 21 Texas, No. 20 USC, No. 19 Florida State, No. 18 Oregon, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 16 TCU, No. 15 Michigan, No. 14 Boise State, No. 13 Notre Dame, No. 12 Auburn, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 10 Stanford
No. 9 Miami
2017 record: 10-3 (7-1 ACC)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Can Miami keep breaking out the turnover chain?
By now you know the defining icon of Miami’s 2017 season: the turnover chain.
The gaudy jewelry inspired by defensive coordinator Manny Diaz exploded in popularity as Miami created a ton of turnovers on the way to a 10-0 start in 2017. The chain reached its peak in November as Miami routed Notre Dame 41-8 to move to No. 2. The Hurricanes forced four Notre Dame turnovers that night — meaning the turnover chain was broken out four times — including a 65-yard pick-six by Trajan Bandy.
“I don’t even think I touched it until the season was over,” Miami coach Mark Richt said at ACC media days. “That thing is about six pounds. I mean, it is a thick, Cuban link chain with that big U. It is gaudy and it’s beautiful. But like I’ve said all year long, or since the season ended, if we got three turnovers last year, it would have been mocked. It would have been laughed at. But when you get 31 turnovers or whatever it was, maybe there’s something to it.”
As the turnover chain peaked that night, so did Miami. Those two things are intertwined, by the way. Miami had a positive turnover differential in each of its first 12 games of the season, including a comeback win over Virginia the following week.
But as Miami lost its last three games of the season, it started to lose the turnover battle too. The Hurricanes were +1 in a post-Thanksgiving loss to Pitt and then -2 in losses to Clemson and Wisconsin.
It’s not a football secret to say that teams that win the turnover battle have a better chance of winning. The 2017 Miami team embodied that. If the turnover trend keeps up in 2018 — and turnover rate can be fluky — double-digit wins is well within reach once again.
Malik Rosier needs to take a step without his top two WRs
As the turnover rate started to go south, so did Miami’s pass game. Malik Rosier and the Hurricane offense had its worst three passing performances of the season in the three losses. Rosier was 40-89 passing for 500 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions in those three games. Those aren’t numbers that inspire confidence.
But that’s also a limited sample size. Rosier was a fairly effective quarterback as Miami won 10-straight to start the season, even if he had two games in that stretch where he completed less than 50 percent of his passes.
He’s going to be pushed by talented redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry for the starting job, though Rosier is the favorite. WR Jeff Thomas told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Rosier has made strides in the offseason.
“He’s more accurate,’’ Thomas said. “He’s making passes he couldn’t last year.”
Rosier — or Perry, if he wins the starting job — will have to make the passing game go without the team’s top two receivers from a year ago. Braxton Berrios (55 catches for 679 yards and 9 TDs) and Chris Herndon (40-477-4) are both gone. Ahmmon Richards is the team’s leading returning receiver with 24 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns last year. He’ll be the focal point.
“I have to be more of a vocal leader,” Richards said at media days. “I have to lead these guys, especially the young guys in the receiving corps. We have a lot of young guys that have to learn the system. And I think they’re mature. I don’t really see them just as freshmen. They’re mature. They’re guys that can play day one, and I know they’re going to contribute and help this team win games.”
The schedule is extremely favorable
Miami opens the 2018 season in primetime on Sunday, Sept. 2 against LSU. The game stands alone on Sunday night and should be a fun matchup between two storied programs.
That game could turn out to be Miami’s toughest game of the season if the Tigers are legitimate contenders in the SEC West. Because after Week 1, Miami’s schedule is envious. It’s not easy, but there are a lot of top teams that would gladly want to play it.
The two toughest road games are trips to Boston College and Virginia Tech. Don’t sleep on the Eagles, who may be a surprise team in 2018. But Virginia Tech could take a step backward this season with all of its offseason losses. A road game on Sept. 15 against Toledo is intriguing, but Miami should be winning that game. If the Hurricanes don’t, then a return trip to the ACC Championship Game should be far from a formality.
Travis Homer, RB: Homer filled in admirably after Mark Walton was injured in the middle of the season. Homer finished as the team’s leading rusher with 966 yards and eight touchdowns. More importantly, he averaged nearly six yards a carry.
The offensive line has to replace starters at both guard positions but returns otherwise intact. Homer will also have a legitimate backup in 2018 too; the team shouldn’t have to use WR/RB DeeJay Dallas in the backfield as much in 2018. Why? Because of the arrival of five-star freshman Lorenzo Lingard.
Lingard was the No. 2 running back prospect in the class of 2018 and the No. 13 overall prospect. He should serve as a nice changeup for Homer.
Game to watch: Oct. 6 vs. Florida State
This right now is the toughest game on Miami’s schedule. And we expect it to remain that way — we’re higher on FSU than LSU.
Miami could enter its Week 6 matchup vs. the Seminoles at 5-0. Leaving Week 6 at 6-0 would be huge and could set up a very intriguing game at Boston College on Oct. 26.
The magic from the turnover chain’s second act lasts throughout the entire season this time. It leads to an appearance in the ACC Championship Game where Miami has a chance to win and get into the College Football Playoff. Sound familiar?
The season opens with a loss to LSU. A loss to Florida State follows and then Boston College pulls some Friday night magic. Those two ACC losses mean Miami has to run the table the rest of the way to have a shot at winning the ACC Coastal.
It’s not likely that Miami will enter a Nov. 17 game against Virginia Tech undefeated. But it’s slightly possible. Let’s go with a 9-1 Hurricanes team at that time. A loss to Virginia Tech and a win over Pitt means Miami finishes the regular season at 10-2.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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