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Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 16 Miami Hurricanes' chances ride on King's status

Miami quarterback D'Eriq King was severely injured during the Hurricanes' 37-34 loss to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl, suffering a torn ACL.

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Miami football:For Hurricanes, recruiting local talent is one thing, developing it another

No. 16 Miami

The Hurricanes were one of college football's best feel-good stories of 2020. Miami is talented, but there are questions heading into 2021 — the biggest being whether star quarterback D'Eriq King will be back for the opener. He was one of the country's most electric players before tearing an ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl loss. That injury came days after he'd announced he would return for what will be his sixth season of college football. The Hurricanes sure could use him: They get defending national champion Alabama to start the season.

Miami wasn't ranked in our preseason poll last year. The Hurricanes ended up 18th in the final CFP rankings and 22nd in both the Associated Press and coaches polls.

About the Hurricanes

2020: 8-3 overall, 7-2 in the ACC — third place behind Notre Dame and Clemson. The Hurricanes lost 37-34 to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Coach: Manny Diaz, 14-10 in two seasons at Miami. This is his first head coaching position; he was a defensive coordinator at Miami, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech and Texas.

Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)

Shoes to fill: Two star bookend pass rushers went in the first round of the NFL draft — Jaelen Phillips (18th overall, Dolphins) and Gregory Rousseau (30th, Bills) along with fellow DE Quincy Roche in the sixth round, to Pittsburgh; DC Blake Baker (LSU, LBs); TE Brevin Jordan (Texans, 5th); K Jose Borregales (Dolphins, UFA).

Catching up

Diaz spent the offseason doing a major overhaul on his coaching staff, but the most important move involved himself. He will call the defensive plays after coordinator Blake Baker left to coach linebackers at LSU. Jess Simpson returns as defensive line coach after two years with the Atlanta Falcons. He replaces Todd Stroud, who has moved to a senior advisory role. Former recruiting staffer DeMarcus Van Dyke will coach cornerbacks in place of Mike Rumph, who has moved to the recruiting department. Travaris Robinson will coach defensive backs in place of Ephraim Banda, who left to become Utah State’s defensive coordinator. Former Michigan safeties coach Bob Shoop comes aboard as the defensive quality control coach. Former Texas A&M assistant Ishmael Aristide joins as the outside linebackers coach.

Miami running back Cam'Ron Harris rushed for more than 600 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season. He's back this year.

Returning leaders

Passing: D'Eriq King 211-329-2,686, 23/5 (led team); 

Rushing: Cam'Ron Harris 126-643-10 (led team), QB D'Eriq King 130-538-4 (2nd), Donald Chaney Jr. 68-322-3 (3rd), Jaylan Knighton 52-209-1 (4th)

Receiving: Michael Harley 57-799-7 (led team), Mark Pope 33-403-2 (3rd), Dee Wiggins 31-358-3 (4th)

Tackles: S Bubba Bolden 74 (led team), S Gilbert Frierson 53 (T-2nd), S Amari Carter 53 (T-2nd)

Sacks: DL Jared Harrison-Hunte and LB Bradley Jennings Jr. 3 (T-3rd)

Interceptions: CB Al Blades Jr. 2 (led team)

Returning all-conference

Offense: WR Michael Harley (3rd team), QB D'Eriq King (hon. mention)

Defense: S Bubba Bolden (2nd), DL Nesta Jade Silvera (hon. mention)

Special teams: P Lou Hendley (2nd)

FYI

How the pandemic affected Miami: As the state of Florida grappled with the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020, Hurricanes athletes were forced to take a two-week hiatus from campus. It got worse during the season when Diaz tested positive before Week 9. Stroud, the assistant coach, spent four days in the critical care unit of a Miami hospital with pneumonia related to COVID-19. (Seven years earlier, he had beaten a terminal cancer diagnosis.) Twelve players were eventually quarantined, forcing the ACC to reschedule Miami’s final three games.

NIL money talks: Miami made major headlines in the name, image and likeness world when South Florida businessman Dan Lambert announced he was paying each of the 90 scholarship football players $6,000 — $500 per month of the football season — to help promote his American Top Team mixed martial arts training academies through appearances and social media with his "Bring Back the U" marketing company setting everything up. "I originally planned to just enter into deals with a few players and then it hit me that there is a way bigger play here,” Lambert told CaneSport.com. “With the right contacts, effort and financial commitment, we can reach every player and get this city firmly behind this team where it should be."

The big guys up front: According to college football analyst Phil Steele, Miami boasts the most experienced offensive line in the country. The Canes have a reported 190 returning starts with junior LT Zion Nelson, a projected top-five pick in next year's draft, leading the way. RT Jarrid Williams is the most experienced lineman (30 starts) but will be pushed by DJ Scaife, who played inside last season. John Campbell is back for a fourth season; he'll provide depth, having started at every position except center. Navaughn Donaldson — back from ACL surgery — and Jalen Rivers are leading the battle for starting guard. 

2020 national stat rankings

Where Miami ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Hurricanes ranked in 2019.

Scoring: 32nd (2019 — 90th, +58 spots)

Scoring defense: 51st (23rd, -28)

Total offense: 32nd (98th, +66)

Total defense: 67th (13th, -54)

Passing: 29th (52nd, +23)

Pass defense: 65th (18th, -47)

Rushing: T-67th (120th, +53)

Rush defense: 76th (17th, -59)

Sacks: 32nd (69th, +37)

Interceptions: 58th (31st, -27)

Red zone offense: 17th (122nd, +105)

Red zone defense: T-54th (41st, -13)

Turnover margin: T-38th (46th, 8)

Time of possession: 107th (62nd, -45)

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season

No. 23 Louisiana: Ragin' Cajuns out to prove that they belong

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going

No. 21 Oklahoma State: Cowboys have offensive questions, for a change

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes hope this is the year to bump the Buckeyes

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Upstart Chanticleers look here to stay, ready or not

No. 18 Texas: Longhorns are starting over at coach, quarterback, offense, defense

No. 17 Wisconsin: Badgers eager for a bounce-back season in Big Ten

No. 16 Miami

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 15 team. Want a hint?

This school produced four defensive backs taken in this year's NFL draft.