Dec 5, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 5, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami football team started a combined 18-1 in the 2017 and 2020 seasons. Those same teams finished their seasons 0-5. How well the Miami football team finishes the 2021 season could have more of an impact on their future than the beginning of the season. Miami opens the 2021 season against Alabama.

The Hurricanes will be a prohibitive underdog against Alabama at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Miami has not fared well in season openers against SEC teams. The Hurricanes lost 33-17 to LSU at AT&T Stadium in Atlanta in 2018 and were defeated 24-20 by Florida at Camping World Stadium in Orlando in 2019.

Keeping the game competitive against Alabama would be a positive for the Miami football program. The Crimson Tide does not lose season openers under Nick Saban. Alabama defeats ranked teams by an average of 23 points per game in season openers in the Saban era. Miami will be ranked in the 2021 preseason polls.

After Alabama, Miami returns home to Hard Rock Stadium to host Appalachian State, Michigan State and Central Connecticut State in non-conference before opening ACC play against Virginia on September 30. After a bye week, Miami will travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for its first true road game of the 2021 season.

The game against the Tar Heels will likely have a major impact on who wins the ACC Coastal Divison Title. Miami closes the 2021 regular season at Florida State, against Virginia Tech and at Duke. Miami defeated the Seminoles and Blue Devils by a combined 100-10 in 2020. Miami has won three of the last four against Virginia Tech.

Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke are all in various stages of rebuild and games Miami should win. The Hurricanes dominated the Seminoles 27-10 in 2019 the last time they played in Tallahassee. After losing seven straight games to Florida State, Miami has flipped the rivalry with four straight wins.

Winning big games and finishing the season strong has been the Achilles heel for Miami in recent seasons. With a spot in the Orange Bowl on the line in the final regular-season game of 2020, Miami was blown out at home by North Carolina. Defeat the Tar Heels on October 16 this season sets up for a special season.

Winning those games late will be critical. Miami has lost 10 of its last 11 bowl games dating to a 24-17 loss to California in the 2008 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. The only bowl win Miami has had during that span was a 31-14 victory over West Virginia in the 2016 Champ Sports Bowl in Orlando.

Winning late-season games and finishing the season with a bowl game victory can add more credibility to a college football program. With the College Football Playoff likely expanding in a few years late-season games will take on added importance. Miami needs to get in the habit of winning games late in the season.