Miami looked like a team poised to win its first ACC championship through the first 10 weeks of the 2017 season. The Hurricanes did claim the first Coastal title in program history, but they limped into Charlotte, N.C. and were routed by Clemson, 38-3.
Miami is on the verge of returning to powerhouse status. It just needs to prove that it can be a true championship contender.
In order to do that, the Hurricanes need to improve in the areas that plagued them late in the season, especially on the offensive end.
Here are five things Miami needs to happen in order to win the 2018 ACC Championship:
Solid quarterback play
More than anything, Miami needs its quarterback, whomever that may be, to play better than Malik Rosier did down the stretch last season.
During the Hurricanes’ season-ending three-game losing streak, Rosier completed just 44.9 percent of his passes. Those late-season struggles opened the door for a four-way quarterback competition this offseason between Rosier, redshirt freshmen N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon and true freshman Jarren Williams. It is believed, however, that Rosier will retain the starting spot.
If that is the case, than the redshirt senior has to be more consistent than he was a year ago. He turned the ball over multiples times in four games last season and completed less than 50 percent of his passes five times. Championship-winning quarterbacks are not ineffective that often.
Offensive line comes together
The coaching staff has been disappointed in the offensive line play this spring. That is not a good sign considering Miami’s focus on running the football. It would also be tough to expect much of Rosier if he cannot get a clean pocket to throw from.
The biggest problem seems to be at right tackle, but the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter reported Tuesday that the Canes are seriously considering moving freshman All-American right guard Navaughn Donaldson over to tackle. Senior center Tyler Gauthier could also move to tackle as he did during Saturday’s scrimmage.
Any of those moves would leave a whole in the interior of the line, but at least Miami would feel comfortable in its ability to protect Rosier. And the Hurricanes may be more equipped to find an interior replacement than a tackle.
Tennessee transfer Venzel Boulware arrives in the summer and competed for playing time at guard last season for the Volunteers. Redshirt junior Hayden Mahoney played guard in 12 of 13 games last season, including starts against Syracuse and North Carolina. In those two games, Miami racked up a combined 895 yards and allowed only two sacks.
Ahmmon Richards stays healthy
Ahmmon Richards set the Miami receiving record for a freshman in 2016, surpassing Hall of Famer Michael Irvin with his 934 yards on 49 catches.
Injuries prevented him from making a similar impact last season. Richards missed five games total, sitting out three of the Hurricanes’ first five games because of ankle injuries before suffering a season-ending knee injury during practice on Nov. 29.
Even when he was on the field, nagging injuries limited his effectiveness. The Wellington, Fla. native caught just 24 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Richards is Miami’s best receiver when healthy. His presence is especially necessary given the loss of Rosier’s favorite target, Braxton Berrios.
Continue taking away the football
For all the issues that Miami needs to solve in its offense, it also needs to maintain its aggressiveness on defense.
The turnover chain took the college football world by storm last season and the Hurricanes rode their turnover-crazed defense to a successful season. Miami ranked third in the country with 31 takeaways.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has many of the same players that he did a year ago, but did lose corners Malek Young and Dee Delaney. The Canes certainly have the secondary talent to make up for those two losses, though, so expect more of the same this season.
Avoid questionable losses
Mark Richt needs to get the monkey off his back.
The Miami coach enters his third season with a reputation of building a winner only to falter late with a questionable loss. Last season, it was a loss to Pitt at the end of the regular season.
He had similar losses in his 15 years at Georgia. It is the reason that he only won six division titles in a weaker SEC East. In 2014, the No. 11 Bulldogs lost to Florida team that finished the year 7-5. Losses to unranked South Carolina and Tennessee in 2007 likely cost Georgia a shot a BCS national championship.
Miami has more than enough talent to beat the teams it should. It just has to make sure it takes care of business.