The Clemson Tigers offense lines up against the Miami Hurricanes defense in the second quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 7 Miami must solve Clemson before realizing ACC, CFP hopes

This season's big to-do? Duplicate last season's 10-0 start. The second biggest to-do? Improve upon that 1-3 finish. And beat Clemson.

Posted July 22nd, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 8: Oklahoma has reloaded, eyeing a possible first-ever fourpeat in the Big 12

Today’s team: No. 7 Miami

The Hurricanes’ best-case scenario: Miami started its second season under Mark Richt with a 10-0 record. The Hurricanes were on track to win the ACC and earn a berth in the College Football Playoffs before an 1-3 finish to the year. An experienced Miami squad can push Clemson for the title in 2018.

Their worst-case scenario: The expectations are back for Miami, and so is the swagger. There is always a worry that the wheels fall off for the Hurricanes if adversity is faced early in the season, especially after that 10-0 start in 2017. Struggles in 2018 would prove Clemson is in a class of its own in the ACC.

RELATED COVERAGE: After ending one streak against Florida State, Miami out to snap another

RELATED COVERAGE:  ‘Canes confident about winning a Coastal title

Inside the Hurricanes

Coach: Mark Richt (third year, 19-7; 164-58 overall at Georgia and Miami)

2017: 10-3, 7-2 in the ACC (lost to Wisconsin 34-24 in the Orange Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense

Goodbye: DE Chad Thomas (3rd, Browns); TE Chris Herndon (4th, Jets); RB Mark Walton (4th, Bengals); DT R.J. McIntosh (5th, Giants); WR Braxton Berrios (6th, Patriots); DT Kendrick Norton (7th, Panthers)

Spring cleaning: It was a quiet spring outside of the normal losses to attrition and graduation. Miami must replace running back Mark Walton and its two top receivers. The momentum built the last two years by Richt allowed for an influx of talent on the recruiting trail. Miami spent the spring watching the young pups battle the experienced upperclassmen for spots on the two-deep. Miami returned 15 of its 22 starters, including a productive quarterback and a fantastic trio of linebackers.

Malik Rosier (12) of the Miami Hurricanes calls a play during a game against the Syracuse Orange at Sun Life Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Malik Rosier, 224-415-3,120, 26/14 (1st)

RUSHING: Travis Homer, 163-699-8 (1st); QB Malik Rosier, 131-468-5 (2nd)

RECEIVING: Ahmmon Richards, 24-439-3 (3rd); RB Travis Homer, 18-219-1 (4th)

TACKLES: S Jaquan Johnson, 96 (1st); LB Shaquille Quarterman, 83 (2nd)

SACKS: DL Joe Jackson, 6.5 (2nd); DL Michael Pinckney, 3.5 (T-4th); DL Demetrius Jackson, 3.5 (T-4th)

INTERCEPTIONS: S Jaquan Johnson, 4 (T-1st); CB Michael Jackson, 4 (T-1st)

Returning All-ACC players (8)

Offense: RB Travis Homer (2nd team); OG Navaughn Donaldson (hon. mention); C Tyler Gauthier (hon. mention)

Defense: LB Shaquille Quarterman (2nd); CB Michael Jackson (2nd); S Jaquan Johnson (2nd); LB Michael Pinckney (hon. mention); CB Malek Young (hon. mention)

FYI

Goal to go — repeat the strong start: Miami captured the nation’s attention with the 10-0 start. The Turnover Chain made its debut and the swag created by Miami in the 1990s returned. The Hurricanes begin 2018 with a neutral-site contest with LSU in Arlington. A win there propels Miami back into national championship contention. A loss to a weakened LSU program means Miami must run the table to contend for a spot in college football’s final four.

Is the Clemson gap closed?: The talent gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC was apparent for years after Jameis Winston left Florida State. Clemson is the clear power in the ACC and the favorites to win another title in 2018. Miami, with experience and a successful 2017 season, are ready to be in the conversation but the Hurricanes could be a recruiting class away from matching up with Clemson on the field.

Finish, finish, finish: Miami sprung a leak down the stretch, limping to the finish with an 1-3 record over its last four games. It started with an upset loss to Pittsburgh, which snowballed into an ACC title game loss to Clemson in blowout fashion, and a bowl loss to Wisconsin. The Hurricanes must prove capable of running the entire race before displacing Clemson.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 59th (29.1 ppg) — right above No. 60 Northern Illinois, right behind No. 58 Southern Mississippi

Points allowed: 28th (21.0 ppg) — right above Nos. 29 Texas and Florida State, right behind Nos. 26 Iowa State and Mississippi State

Passing: 54th (242.5 ypg) — right above No. 55 Southern Mississippi, right behind No. 53 Vanderbilt

Rushing: 71st (160.8 ypg) — right above No. 72 Florida International, right behind No. 70 Syracuse

Total offense: 60th (403.3 ypg) — right above No. 61 Purdue, right behind No. 59 Baylor

Total defense: 38th (362.8 ypg) — right above No. 39 Eastern Michigan, right behind No. 37 South Florida

A general view of the Miami Hurricanes’ and the Clemson Tigers during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 2 (6:30 p.m., ABC)LSU
Sept. 8 (5 p.m., ACCN)Savannah State
Sept. 15 (11 a.m.)at ToledoW, 52-30 in Miami
Sept. 22Florida International
Sept. 27 (7 p.m., ESPN)North Carolina*W, 24-19 in Chapel Hill
Oct. 6Florida State*W, 24-20 in Tallahassee
Oct. 13at Virginia*W, 44-28 in Miami
Oct. 26 (6 p.m., ESPN)at Boston College*
Nov. 3Duke*W, 31-6 in Durham
Nov. 10at Georgia Tech*W, 25-24 in Miami
Nov. 17at Virginia Tech*W, 28-10 in Miami
Nov. 24Pittsburgh*L, 24-14 in Pittsburgh
* ACC game

Note: Miami-LSU will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington

The key game: Florida State, Oct. 6. Miami begins with a neutral-site contest against LSU, but that has no bearing on the ACC race in the Coastal Division. An in-state battle between Miami and Florida State likely decides which team faces Clemson for the ACC title. The winner of that game becomes a legitimate option for the College Football Playoffs.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20139-4 (5-3)— / —Russell Athletic, L
20146-7 (3-5)— / —Independence, L
20158-5 (5-3)— / —Sun, L
20169-4 (5-3)— / 20thRussell Athletic, W
201710-3 (7-2)18th / 13thOrange, L
Total42-23 (25-16 ACC)1-4 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

4 schools:

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

3 schools:

ACC — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

SEC — No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

Big Ten — No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan

Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 6 team

Want a hint?

Bo Callahan, the fictional star quarterback from the Kevin Costner movie “Draft Day,” won his Heisman Trophy at this school.

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