Is 2017 the year that the Miami Hurricanes break through and play for the ACC championship?

That’s a question that many fans have been asking since the ‘Canes joined the league back in 2004. Expected to compete for a spot in the conference title game year in and year out, Miami has finished third or lower in the Coastal division eight times. The closest that the Hurricanes came to playing in the ACC title game was in 2012, when they tied with Georgia Tech and North Carolina for first place, but didn’t play in the game due to a self-imposed postseason ban.

Is this the year that the string will end?

Had quarterback Brad Kaaya returned, this would be an easier question to answer. Unfortunately for ‘Canes fans, he chose to go pro a year early. As a result, UM has to replace a three-year starter, who finished his career with 9,968 yards and 69 touchdowns. Considering that the quarterback competition will likely continue until the end of fall camp (if not longer), that’s going to be a huge question mark heading into the season.

Despite the loss of a very accomplished signal caller, there are still plenty of reasons for Miami fans to have hope this season. For starters, the Hurricanes weren’t that far away from winning the division last year, finishing one game behind Virginia Tech. They were also a blocked PAT away from taking Florida State into overtime. Had Miami forced OT and eeked out a “W,” it could have changed the complexion of the entire season.

Yes, I realize that if “if’s and but’s were candies and nuts, we’d all have a hell of a Christmas”. However, the point still stands that the ‘Canes aren’t as far away from that elusive Coastal title.

Why is that important? Because Miami welcomes back a lot of starters from last year’s team. Although Kaaya departs, 1,100-yard rusher Mark Walton is back, as is leading receiver Ahmmon Richards. On the other side of the ball, eight starters return from a unit that ranked 20th nationally in total defense, 12th in scoring defense, 9th in yards per play, and 8th in tackles for a loss. The defense also held West Virginia – which finished the year ranked 17th in total offense – to season lows in both yards (229) and yards per play (3.52).

It’s hard to argue with those results, which is why there is so much optimism in Coral Gables heading into the fall. While Miami still needs to answer a few burning questions before the season starts, this could very well be the year that its string of futility in Coastal finally ends.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.