After a solid 2020 season in which the Miami Hurricanes finished with an 8-3 record, UM is widely considered a Top 25 team by most preseason polls.
Where exactly Miami falls in these polls, however, varies.
This article looks to take a look at Miami’s average preseason poll ranking between Phil Steele’s preseason power poll, the Athlon Sports college football preview magazine, the Lindy’s Sports college football preview magazine, along with ESPN’s computer models: the football power index and the SP+.
This article also takes a look at the average ranking of the opponents on UM’s schedule going into this 2021 season.
Miami finished the 2020 season ranked No. 22 overall in the final AP Top 25 Poll.
There are plenty of reasons for optimism as it pertains to the Hurricanes going into the 2021 season, with the biggest reason being because of the returning production on the offensive side of the ball.
Quarterback D’Eriq King had a strong showing during his first year in the Rhett Lashlee system, throwing for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 64.1 percent of his passes. Pro Football Focus graded King out with an 88.2 passing grade in 2020. That is the highest passing grade from PFF for a Miami starter since Brad Kaaya earned an 81.7 passing grade in 2015.
Earlier this offseason, wide receiver Mike Harley announced he would be returning to Miami in 2021 and take advantage of his extra year of college eligibility. This is no small thing to brush over as Harley had one of the most productive seasons by a UM receiver in recent memory, catching 57 passes for 799 yards with seven touchdowns.
Miami will also return Mark Pope (403 yards, two touchdowns), Dee Wiggins (358 yards, three touchdowns), and Will Mallory (329 yards, four touchdowns) as players that finished the year with at least 300 receiving yards and multiple touchdowns in 2020. Pope, Wiggins, and Mallory each produced more than they did in 2019. The Hurricanes added Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo this offseason as well.
Between Cam’Ron Harris (643 yards and ten touchdowns), D’Eriq King (538 yards and four touchdowns), Don Chaney Jr. (322 yards and three touchdowns), and Jaylan Knighton (209 yards and one touchdown), the Hurricanes will return 99 percent of their rushing production from the 2020 season. It is the most returning production Miami has featured at running back since 2015-16 when Miami returned Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton from one season to the next.
Miami is set to return their top eight offensive linemen from the 2020 season as well, while expecting to add proven UNLV starter Justice Oluwaseun later in the summer.
The ESPN FPI ranks Miami’s schedule as the 19th toughest going into the 2021 season. College football expert Phil Steele ranks UM’s schedule as the 53rd toughest schedule.
Miami’s 2021 opponents finished with a 64-54 record in 2020.
Two games in particular stand out when looking at Miami’s 2021 schedule on paper in the preseason: the neutral site season opener against Alabama in Atlanta, Georgia and the October 16th match-up against North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At this early stage, Las Vegas betting lines view Miami as an underdog in both of those games (about an 18 point underdog against Alabama and a three point underdog to North Carolina).
Alabama has never lost a season opener during the Nick Saban era, winning every season opener against Power Five opponents by at least 23 points. The recent combination of head coach Mack Brown and quarterback Sam Howell has been difficult for Miami to compete with the last two years. In 2019, UM lost to the Tar Heels, 28-25 at Chapel Hill. Last year, Miami was thumped, 62-26 at Hard Rock Stadium in a regular season finale.
The contests against Alabama and North Carolina will be tough, but the Hurricanes are expected to be favorites in every other game on the 2021 schedule.
How tough will the schedule be? Check out how the average ranking of various college football preseason publications and computer models of Miami’s 2021 opponents shakes out.
Phil Steele: No. 17
Athlon: No. 14
Lindy’s: No. 14
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 10
ESPN’s SP+: No. 8
Average Ranking: No. 13
The computers are higher on the Hurricanes than the humans, likely because Miami returns a lot of production from a 2020 team that went 8-3.
Phil Steele: No. 1
Athlon: No. 1
Lindy’s: No. 1
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 1
ESPN’s SP+: No. 1
Average Ranking: No. 1
With the way Alabama recruits at a high level and translates that recruiting success to winning on the field, it is tough to argue against the Crimson Tide as the preseason number one team in the country. Sure, Alabama is replacing a lot of offensive production from the 2020 National Championship team, but they are a team that reloads—and they are always a safe choice to bet on at the end of the day.
Phil Steele: No. 42
Athlon: No. 55
Lindy’s: No. 62
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 33
ESPN’s SP+: No. 35
Average Ranking: No. 45
Miami’s Group of Five opponent on the 2021 schedule is not going to be a cakewalk by any means. The Mountaineers are a team that went 9-3 last season and returns one of the best running backs on UM’s 2021 schedule in Camerun Peoples. The computer models like Appalachian State more than the humans.
Phil Steele: No. 87
Athlon: No. 77
Lindy’s: No. 79
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 45
ESPN’s SP+: No. 59
Average Ranking: No. 69
The first year of the Mel Tucker era was a rough one in 2020 with the Spartans going 2-5 (but did beat archival Michigan and pulled off an upset over Northwestern). The Spartans will be looking for some transfers to provide a big boost, particularly the backfield duo of Temple transfer quarterback Anthony Russo and Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III. More growing pains are expected for Mel Tucker and Michigan State in 2021, however.
Miami’s FCS opponent on the 2021 schedule, CCS is projected by many to win the Northeast Conference going into this season.
Phil Steele: No. 77
Athlon: No. 59
Lindy’s: No. 50
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 37
ESPN’s SP+: No. 56
Average Ranking: No. 59
This average ranking is perfect for Virginia, who almost always enters every season with very little hype and then manages to exceed expectations because of good coaching and a veteran team that executes assignments. UVA will be a tough out in 2021 because the Cavaliers feature lefty quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who is a nuisance to defend because of his dual-threat ability.
Phil Steele: No. 14
Athlon: No. 10
Lindy’s: No. 9
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 14
ESPN’s SP+: No. 10
Average Ranking: No. 11
By far the toughest ACC opponent Miami faces on the schedule is North Carolina, who both humans and computer models feel like is a borderline top ten team. Those expectations are more than fair with UNC returning arguably the best quarterback in the country in Sam Howell and a young, talented defense that is a year older. The match-up between Miami and North Carolina will likely decide the Coastal Division.
Phil Steele: No. 28
Athlon: No. 38
Lindy’s: No. 40
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 41
ESPN’s SP+: No. 45
Average Ranking: No. 38
In our opinion, the Wolfpack are Miami’s third toughest opponent on the 2021 schedule, which almost lines up with the average rankings on this list. On offense, NC State returns a talented quarterback in Devin Leary along with a strong receiver and running back tandem in Emeka Emezie and Bam Knight. They also returning arguably the best offensive lineman in the ACC in Ikem Ekwonu. Defensively, weak-side linebacker Payton Wilson is a tackle machine.
Phil Steele: No. 35
Athlon: No. 41
Lindy’s: No. 53
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 32
ESPN’s SP+: No. 43
Average Ranking: No. 41
Quarterback Kenny Pickett will once again lead Pittsburgh’s attack and the Panthers will always be a threat because when Pickett gets hot he can he a tough quarterback to deal with. Couple Pickett’s streaky good play with a Pat Narduzzi defense and the Panthers will always be a tough out on their best day.
Phil Steele: No. 76
Athlon: No. 75
Lindy’s: No. 78
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 57
ESPN’s SP+: No. 48
Average Ranking: No. 67
The Yellow Jackets are an interesting team to keep an eye on because they will feature an athletic and dangerous quarterback and running back tandem in Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs along with some talented transfers that should boost the overall talent and depth of the team. It wouldn’t be surprising if Georgia Tech emerges as a top 50 level team this season.
Phil Steele: No. 52
Athlon: No. 43
Lindy’s: No. 51
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 44
ESPN’s SP+: No. 61
Average Ranking: No. 50
Florida State is another intriguing team to keep an eye on. If McKenzie Milton can produce near the level he achieved at UCF and if the Seminoles make a big leap on defense, FSU will have a chance to push for a Top 25 ranking. That seems like a big ‘if’ though. Florida State was in the discussion of being a bottom five team at the Power Five level in 2020. Since 2017, FSU has gone 12-20 in ACC play and this 2021 roster doesn’t look very talented on paper.
Phil Steele: No. 44
Athlon: No. 40
Lindy’s: No. 37
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 26
ESPN’s SP+: No. 36
Average Ranking: No. 37
Are you surprised to see the Hokies rank this highly in the average ranking? We are. The Virginia Tech football program seems like one that is teetering on the edge with Justin Fuente’s seat a little warm going into this 2021 season. Virginia Tech appears to lack top tier talent at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver going into the season while they need a playmaker to step up in the front seven on defense. The average ranking puts Virginia Tech as the third best team on Miami’s schedule and we are not sure about that.
Phil Steele: No. 99
Athlon: No. 93
Lindy’s: No. 80
ESPN’s Football Power Index: No. 82
ESPN’s SP+: No. 102
Average Ranking: No. 91
No matter what ranking you look at, Duke is the consensus worst FBS level team on Miami’s schedule. It is tough to argue with Duke going 2-9 during the 2020 season and getting blown out by a large margin in the majority of those losses.
So what do the average preseason rankings look like in order? Here you go:
No. 1 Alabama
No. 11 North Carolina
No. 37 Virginia Tech
No. 38 NC State
No. 41 Pittsburgh
No. 45 Appalachian State
No. 50 FSU
No. 59 Virginia
No. 67 Georgia Tech
No. 69 Michigan State
No. 91 Duke
We’d view these opponents in various tiers.
– Alabama deserves a tier of their own because they are the elite of the elite in college football at the moment.
– North Carolina is the next tier because they are the only other opponent going into the season that deserves to be ranked inside the Top 25.
– The next tier goes to teams that rank from 26-50: Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Appalachian State, and Florida State. Truthfully, there isn’t much difference between a lot of these teams on paper, but some of these teams will either finish inside the Top 25 at the end of the year or have very poor seasons.
– The next tier is Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Michigan State. They each enter the season with low expectations, but certainly could exceed those expectations if the quarterbacks play at a strong level.
– Duke is clearly Miami’s easiest game on the schedule outside of Central Connecticut State.
The Alabama and North Carolina games will certainly be valuable measuring sticks as to where the Miami Hurricanes are as a program, but Miami’s ability to win ten games will depend on how UM handles business against the teams that are outside of the preseason Top 25’s on the schedule. Miami needs to win the games they are supposed to win in 2021–and if they do, they will win ten games.