Phil Steele labels Miami a top ‘surprise team’ in 2021 – 247Sports

The Miami Hurricanes are certainly entering the 2021 season with some expectations. 

But even with that being said, college football expert Phil Steele labels UM as a surprise team going into this season. 

Miami checks in as Steele’s No. 5 ‘surprise team’ in his annual preseason college football magazine. The reason? Steele believes the Hurricanes have a chance to win the Coastal Division when most view North Carolina as the favorite at this stage. 

Here is what Steele writes: 

“If D’Eriq King is 100 percent (I think he will be), my No. 5 surprise team, the Miami Hurricanes are capable of getting to the ACC title game. Last year Miami was my No. 2 surprise team and coming off a 6-7 season. They got to 9-1 and No. 9 in the AP but lost their last two games. They face a power full Alabama program in the opener (the reason Miami is not higher) but do catch the Tide reloading on offense and in their first game of the season. They also face North Carolina on the road and have ten starters back on offense and nine starters back on defense with all eight positions ranking in my top units in the ACC. This is Manny Diaz’s third year, which is when new head coaches usually hit their stride. Last year, they pulled Clemson out of the Atlantic and this year avoid them. Even if they lose to the Tide they can win the rest of their games to get to the ACC Title game, putting them one step away from the playoff.”

The Washington Huskies are Steele’s top ‘surprise team’ on Steele’s list, followed by Wisconsin, USC, and Utah. 

Steele defines surprise teams as those that rank outside of his projected Top 25 that might make a push for the College Football Playoff (and maybe a run at a national championship). 

There is no doubt that if quarterback D’Eriq King makes a full recovery from the ACL injury that was sustained in late December during the Cheez-It Bowl that Miami has an intriguing team—particularly on the offensive side of the ball. 

As the starter for the Hurricanes in 2020, King was one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, throwing for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 64.1 percent of his throws. King also rushed for 538 yards and four touchdowns.

That percentage rate in 2020, is the second-best single-year mark in Miami history; Jacory Harris completed 65% of his throws in 2011. The rushing yardage total was the most by a UM quarterback in the modern era.

The best single game example of the impact King can make on a game? His performance during a dramatic 44-41 comeback victory at N.C. State, when he threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 105 yards.

There have been only two instances in the last three seasons where a quarterback threw for 400 yards and ran for 100 yards in the same game — and King is responsible for both. He had a 419-yard passing, 132-yard rushing game for Houston in 2018 during a win over South Florida. King became the first quarterback in the last 20 years to have two games with 400 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, and five touchdowns. He also was the first Miami quarterback to have a 400-100 game and his 430 passing yards ranks eighth on UM’s single-game list.

The biggest reason for optimism for Miami concerns the returning experience. Miami will return 19 of their 22 starters from a 2020 team that went 8-3. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, UM returns 91 percent of their production from the 2020 season, which ranks as the third most in the country.

On the offensive side of the ball, Miami returns 95-percent of their production from 2020, which is the most of any team in the country. Tight end Brevin Jordan, who caught 38 passes for 576 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020 is the only major contributor that is not returning in 2021. Miami’s defense returns 86-percent of their production from the 2020 season, which is the 12th most in the country. 

Coach Manny Diaz has taken over the defensive play calling in 2021 after the 2020 Hurricanes allowed 27 points per game. UM also has a new defensive line coach in Jess Simpson, a new strikers coach in Ishmael Aristide, a new cornerbacks coach DeMarcus Van Dyke, and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. Jonathan Patke returns from the 2020 staff, but has gone from strikers coach to inside linebackers coach.

Miami once again has added plenty of talent through the NCAA Transfer Portal with the Hurricanes adding former Oklahoma wide receiver transfer Charleston Rambo, Tennessee defensive end Deandre Johnson, and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. All three players project as starters.

The ESPN Football Power Index gives Miami a 28 percent chance to win the Coastal Division (North Carolina is viewed as having a 37 percent chance to win the division). UM is given a seven percent chance to win the ACC (Clemson is given he highest percentage to win the conference at 72 percent).

FPI views Miami’s 2021 schedule as the 24th toughest in the country. 

UM will open the season with a neutral site match-up against Alabama, which will kickoff on September 4th at 3:30 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.