Football is really close.
You can tell because teams are starting to be listed on rankings by just about anyone who knows how to use the numbering feature on Microsoft Word.
“The Worldwide Leader” also known as ESPN, released its Preseason College Football Power Rankings Thursday, with the University of Miami earning the No. 9 spot in the 25-team poll.
The Hurricanes were also ranked No. 8 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll released Thursday, marking their highest position in the preseason poll since 2005.
The power rankings were composed by various college writers on ESPN’s staff, slotting teams based mostly on the number and fortitude of returning players while also projecting based on a program’s success from the previous season.
Defending national champion Alabama sat atop both polls. Joining the Crimson tide in the top four was Clemson (No. 2), Ohio State (No. 3), and Georgia (No. 4).
The SEC and Big 10 each had three teams in the top 10 and five overall make the list. The ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 all had four teams in the rankings. Independent Notre Dame was ranked No. 11, the Mountain West’s Boise State was No. 19, while AAC Champion and self-proclaimed national champion Central Florida was ranked No. 24.
The defending ACC Coastal champion Hurricanes cracked the top 10 thanks majorly to their number of high caliber players returning players on defense and their offensive weapons.
Miami’s top defender – as in leading tackler and top interception grabber from a year ago – Jaquan Johnson decided to ignore the call of the professional ranks and chose to stay in Coral Gables for his senior year.
Johnson proved himself to be one of the best defensive players in all of college football in 2017 – being named a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated and the AFCA while also finishing as a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
ESPN’s rankings also singled out Miami’s linebackers – group that returns all of its 2017 starters. Juniors Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney headline the group and both should find themselves up for All-conference honors with solid performances in 2018.
What makes UM slide behind teams like Penn State (No. 8), Oklahoma (No. 7), and Wisconsin (No. 6) is its unknowns at a pair of very important positions.
The Hurricanes’ offensive line remains a work in progress.
Graduating a pair of senior starters from 2017 (tackle Kc McDermott and guard Trevor Darling) means that a group that was just passable at best this past season is going to be thinner in 2018.
Returning is center Tyler Gauthier, who was named to the preseason Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) and Rimington Trophy (top center) watch lists, along with tackle Tyree St. Louis and Navaughn Donaldson – who started at right guard for the Canes this past season as a true freshman.
The group struggled through the spring. Miami head coach Mark Richt even said that the lackluster offensive line play altered the way he called plays and that offensive line coach Stacy Searels continued to shuffle the group to find the “best five guys”.
Even if Donaldson is moved out to tackle permanently – a change that coaches said they tried during the spring – Miami’s O-Line will have at least two new starters with little game experience under their respective belts.
The uncertainty up front pours right into Miami’s question mark under center.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that a redshirt senior quarterback returning for his second season under the same head coach would be looked at as a cause for concern, but that’s the case with quarterback Malik Rosier.
Even though Rosier broke Miami’s all-time record for total touchdowns in a season in 2017 and led the Canes to a pair of dramatic comeback wins – including one of hated rival Florida State – it’s the inconsistency in his play that has left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
It was the – unfortunate – norm that Rosier would look like two versions of himself during games.
It is “bad Malik” that gets a lot of the blame for Miami’s nosedive at the end of the year – three straight losses, each more embarrassing than the last.
Still, Rosier has maintained his spot as “QB1” since spring camp and holds that spot going into the open of fall practice.
Although the outcry from fans for either redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry or true freshman Jarren Williams to be given the ball continues to ring, coaches have stood firm on the fact that neither young signal caller has outperformed Rosier enough during the offseason to warrant a change.
Solid play along the offensive line will go a long way to making Rosier look like the best version of himself in 2018. If he’s given time in the pocket, Rosier has the luxury of operating in an offense that has a surplus of talent at the skill positions.
Junior running back Travis Homer, who replaced Mark Walton as Miami’s top ball carrier midway through 2017, returns and he’ll be pushed by sophomore DeeJay Dallas and true freshmen Lorenzo Lingard (a former five-star recruit) and Cam Davis.
Miami’s wide receiver room is crowded, too.
Junior Ahmmon Richards, who was named a player to watch for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, will be healthy for the start of 2018; slot speedsters Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley return; 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior Lawrence Cager is also healthy and should be a red zone threat; freshmen Brian Hightower and Dee Wiggins flashed high-level potential during the spring and true freshman Mark “Noodles” Pope was regarded as one of the top receivers in the country in the 2018 recruiting class.
If the Hurricanes can clear its opening week hurdle – a September 2nd battle with LSU in Arlington, Texas – and successfully navigate through its early October showdown with Florida State and consecutive road trips to Georgia Tech (Nov. 10) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 17), Miami will find itself at the top of just about every poll in the country by regular season’s end.