Hurricanes Red Zone: Can Miami Football be a True 2021 National Title Contender?

Even with the way the 2020 season ended for second year head coach Manny Diaz’s team, there is plenty of optimism in Coral Gables

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For a period of nearly two decades, the Miami Hurricanes were arguably the best team in college football with five national titles won over a 19-season period.

Fast forward to the last 19 seasons and the ‘Canes have been hardly the same dynasty with nearly as many losing seasons (three) as bowl wins (four). Yet, even with the way the 2020 season ended for second year head coach Manny Diaz’s team, there is plenty of optimism in Coral Gables.

Is that optimism warranted? Is this the season Miami returns to be a true national title contender? Will they suffer yet another disappointing season that has some wondering if ‘The U’ will be back?

With spring football practice completed after Saturday’s annual spring game, here’s a look at why either option is entirely possible.

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Miami lineman Jaelan Phillips displays the tunover chain after intercepting a Florida State pass during the first half of their game on Saturday, September 26, 2020. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Hope and Optimism

If you bleed orange and green, there is a lot to be happy about from the first nine games of last season. An 8-1 record included time spent ranked as high as No. 7 nationally, the biggest blowout win they had over rival Florida State since the 1976 season and its only loss came to perineal ACC power Clemson on the road.

One of the major reasons for that was the arrival of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King, who threw for over 2,300 yards with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions over that stretch of games and has some wondering if he could be the next Heisman Trophy winner to come from the program.

King’s decision to come back for 2021, even while he recovers from an ACL injury suffered in the team’s bowl game, gave Miami a boost to go with other star players returning like wide receivers Mike Harley and Dee Wiggins, running backs Jaylan Knighton and Cam’Ron Harris along with transfer receiver Charleston Rambo arriving.

Schedule wise, the ‘Canes have reason to be optimistic after its opener against defending national champion Alabama. Of the remaining 11 games, Miami should likely be the favorite in each one with their toughest test coming on the road October 16th against North Carolina.

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On the Other Hand

It can’t be ignored that the way Miami ended the 2020 season was something fans would like to forget - a 62-26 blowout loss in the home finale to that North Carolina team who took the ACC’s spot in last year’s Orange Bowl game.

For Miami, that was followed by a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl that was Miami’s fourth straight postseason setback.

In that bowl loss, the ‘Canes may have lost something more valuable that a game when King went down with that injury that have some wondering if he will be back in time for the opener with the Crimson Tide.

If he isn’t ready, the keys will be turned over to Tyler Van Dyke - a Connecticut native who threw a total of two passes last season (both incompletions in the UNC loss).

Miami will have to be on the road for what might be its three toughest games of the season: the opener against Alabama, the attempt at revenge game against UNC and its November 13th battle with rival FSU - a Seminoles team who will be looking to avenge last year’s blowout loss and can’t be worse than its 3-6 record in 2020.

Miami has done this of late: start off the season hot before fizzling out to end each year. After losing the final three games of the 2017 season, the ‘Canes went 2-5 to end the 2018 season, lost its final three games to end 2019 that included a humiliating loss to FIU and are on a two game losing streak after last season.

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