This piece is a part of our 2018 football preview. To view other entries in the preview series, click here.
Counting down the days until the season kicks off, we're ready to start breaking down the schedule game-by-game, with summaries of each team we'll face and our confidence level in the Hoos to get that win. Today, we'll tackle October, with the September preview posted earlier this week and the November portion of the schedule following later this week.
Date: Saturday, October 13, Time TBA, Homecomings
Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
2017 Record: 10-3 (7-2)
Last Meeting: Miami 44 - UVA 28, 11/18/17 @ Miami
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 6th (1st in the ACC Coastal)
Athlon team preview: Miami Hurricanes Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 8th (1st in the ACC Coastal)
CFN team preview: Miami Hurricanes Preview
An athletic, talented front seven is going to carry an aggressive Miami defense that will be the lynchpin of this team. They'll be able to get after the quarterback and look to force turnovers in droves. The starting linebacking unit (Shaquille Quarterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinkney), perhaps the top in the country, will be the anchor that makes things happens for the Hurricanes. And while they lost both starting defensive tackles to early departures, the replacements will be just as good including a former top recruit transferring from Florida (Gerald Willis). Added to excellent defensives ends, including perhaps the best pass rusher in the ACC (Joe Jackson), the Miami defensive line is going to be a problem for ACC competition in 2018.
On offense, Miami doesn't have a unit that's without questions. But what they do have is speed and athleticism to burn. They'll deploy the type of athletes that will challenge the Wahoo defense throughout four quarters.
The biggest weakness on this team is under center. The presumed starter, 5th year senior Malik Rosier, did not finish the season on a high note. He threw 14 interceptions last season including 5 in the last three games of the season (all losses). During the three game losing streak to end the season, Rosier only completed 45% of his passes. If things don't start out well, Miami fan will be calling for dual threat R-FR N'Kosi Perry or true freshman 247 Sports composite 4 star Jarren Williams to supplant Rosier.
As talented as the defensive backfield is for Miami, and it's aided greatly by the impressive front seven, the Hurricanes still allowed a 70% completion percentage over their last four games last season. The most talented quarterbacks on Miami's schedule last year were able to pass the ball with success. This unit will need to harness its individual talents into a collective force for Miami's defense to live up to its billing as one of the nation's best.
Miami will enter the season with ample question in its kicking game. Athlon notes that freshman punter Zach Feagles struggled at times last season but that Miami is hoping for improvement. They'll be replacing their starting kicker with a true freshman, Bubba Baxa, who went only 4 for 10 on field goals as a high school senior.
College football is more fun when Miami is good and last season's mini renaissance was just that, especially because of the introduction of the Turnover Chain. But part of that fun is the hope that your team, if on Miami's schedule, has a chance to win the game. Otherwise, Miami is just another college football bully. And no one like's a bully.
It's hard to see the Hoos winning this game unless things unexpectedly spiral out of control for Miami. There are some things on the fringes that could increase UVA's chance of a win. A disastrous QB situation is a good example of that. Miami arriving in town over confident and looking past the Hoos is another. I actually think that's a good bet because it never feels like Miami is especially up for its annual game against UVA. Last season, that allowed UVA to surprise Miami for a half before the Hurricanes woke up and went to work. I'd like the Hoos chances a bit more because of the over confidence / not up for the game factor if there were any expectation for a packed house in Scott Stadium waiting to make life miserable for the visitors.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 2
Date: Saturday, October 20, Time TBA
Duke Blue Devils
Location: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
2017 Record: 7-6 (3-5)
Last Meeting: UVA 28 - Duke 21, 10/07/17 @ UVA
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 65th (5th in the ACC Coastal)
Athlon team preview: Duke Blue Devils Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 35th (3rd in the ACC Coastal)
CFN team preview: Duke Blue Devils Preview
When it comes to Duke football, everything begins and ends with the coaching staff, especially head coach David Cutcliffe. This year's edition will be no different. Cutcliffe is an excellent offensive mind and has done wonders with the Duke football program. Like him, or not, Cutcliffe has earned the respect of the college football world. And because of that, coaching will always be a strength in Durham. It should be noted, however, that the Blue Devils did lose their defensive coordinator to Oklahoma State. That's going to be important to consider because...
Duke's defense should be the foundation of the 2018 team. The Blue Devils return 8 starters from a unit that ranked 4th in the ACC in 2017 and 21st overall in FBS. Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris will have All American potential. And returning corner Mark Gilbert was All ACC First Team last year with 6 interceptions and 15 pass break ups.
For Duke to secure another bowl berth in 2018, the offensive line will have to be much better than it was in 2017. The 2017 Blue Devils managed to go bowling but the OL was the team's weak link. That unit lost three of its five starters too. The offensive coaches are banking on better depth to turn out an improved performance but the depth vs talent crutch on the OL is one UVA fans know all too well.
Quarterback Daniel Jones gets a lot of love but I've never been impressed. He's fairly inconsistent and against UVA he's been a turnover machine in two starts. In the 2017 game, Jones threw two interceptions while going 14 for 42 for only 124 yards. In 2016, Jones threw five interceptions and lost one fumble. How much of that is to blame on Duke's offensive line is hard to tell but until Jones improves his consistency week to week, I'm not going to be a believer.
I've got this game as a true tossup. The Hoos have won both meetings since Bronco replaced Mike London including the 2016 game in Durham. That gives me confidence that the team can handle that venue, especially since it isn't especially intimidating for visitors. Duke's question marks at QB and OL will be a factor in the game, and UVA fans know how quickly that issues there can sink the best defenses. The game will probably come down to how well can Cutcliffe scheme around those weaknesses, if the Hoos' run defense slows down sophomore Brittain Brown, and which team wins the battle of turnovers.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 5
Date: Saturday, October 27, Time TBA, UVA Family Weekend, The South's Oldest Rivalry
North Carolina Tar Heels
Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
2017 Record: 3-9 (1-7)
Last Meeting: UVA 20 - UNC 14, 10/14/17 @ UNC
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 69th (6th in the ACC Coastal)
Athlon team preview: North Carolina Tar Heels Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 62nd (7th in the ACC Coastal)
CFN team preview: North Carolina Tar Heels Preview
Wide receiver slash kick returner Anthony Ratliff-Williams is the surest thing on this Tar Heels team. He's the equal of UVA's Joe Reed as a kick returner, they both returned two for touchdowns in 2017, and he emerged as a legitimate ACC wide receiver despite some less than stellar quarterback play in Chapel Hill last year.
When a team goes 3-9, it's difficult to identify a lot of strengths especially when there isn't an infusion of high end talent coming aboard. Such is the case with this edition of the Tar Heels. And while the Tar Heels defense was pretty bad last year, the 2018 edition will return a ton of experience. In college football, that does count for something. Back will be eight starters and eight of the nine defensive lineman in last year's rotation.
Now for the bad news. For all of that returning experience, defense has been optional during Larry Fedora's tenure in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have allowed the most yards rushing in the ACC each of the last five seasons. Even with all of the experience and depth returning, there's no reason to think that this unit will suddenly become stout in 2018.
Like most teams that find themselves at the bottom of the standings, the offensive line is a major question mark. UNC struggled to run last year and featured an inefficient passing game that was plagued by sacks. Now the OL must replace four of five starters.
When UNC is at its best under Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels spread opponents out and outscored them via a quick striking offense helmed by an ultra-talented college quarterback. Marquise Williams gave defenses fits with his arm and legs. Mitch Trubisky replaced Williams for one season in 2016 and parlayed that into the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 2017 Tar Heels weren't talented enough at the quarterback position to overcome a suspect offensive line. LSU transfer Brandon Harris, redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt, and redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott all had turns under center for UNC and none distinguished themselves as a threat like Williams or Trubisky. Surratt and Elliott are both back to battle for the starting job in 2018. If neither makes a quantum leap forward this season, don't look for UNC to be able to hang in enough shootouts to be a bowl team given their other weaknesses.
The Tar Heels also suffered an inordiate number of injuries last season, especially on defense. That certainly impacted their 2017 results and any relief they get from the injury bug will help in 2018. But, historically under Fedora, defense is an afterthought in Chapel Hill whether healthy or not.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 7