ESPN: Five things Miami football needs to become national title contender

The additions of quarterback D’Eriq King and defensive end Quincy Roche through the transfer portal and new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has the Miami football team as one of 18 teams as national title contenders according to Bill Connelly of ESPN.

Bill Connelly is the foremost metrics expert in college football. The ESPN guru examined 18 teams he has as national title contenders in 2020. The Miami football team has the longest odds of those 18 teams. Just being in the discussion shows the respect Connelly and other college football analysts have for the Hurricanes.

The other 17 teams on Connelly’s list and other teams in similar positions to the Miami football program or somewhere between the Hurricanes, Alabama, Clemson and LSU. Those other teams include  Oregon, Notre Dame, Texas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and USC in the order of the teams’ odds.

Only Notre Dame and Oregon have qualified for the college football playoff of those listed teams. Clemson is the only other ACC team on the list. The respect from Connelly shows that Miami football is always relevant. It also shows the anticipation from analysts nationally about the pairing of D’Eriq King and Rhett Lashlee.

The up-tempo, spread offense Lashlee is installing has the perfect player to run it, at least for 2020, in King. There are a lot of questions for the Miami football team entering the 2020 season. If some of the questions posed by Connelly can be corrected at the very least the Hurricanes will be a co-favorite to win the ACC Coastal.

Five Ifs
Miami Hurricanes (+7500 {odds to win national title} )

If … D’Eriq King + Rhett Lashlee = explosions. Miami’s title odds are like Nebraska being included in this list last year: It would be an incredible story, it engages bettors, etc. And it’s almost certainly not going to come to pass.

This admittedly fun vision requires King-Lashlee to become the new Burrow-Brady. King must surpass his 2018 Houston form (in which he threw for 2,982 yards and rushed for 14 TDs).

Lashlee, an offensive coordinator with experience in both Gus Malzahn’s run-heavy spread and Sonny Dykes’ air raid, must mash worlds together into something glorious and unique. In this vision, King throws for 4,000 and rushes for 1,250, and Miami becomes must-watch again.

Expecting or even asking King to have 4,000 passing yards and 1,250 rushing yards is a lot. In addition to the passing numbers that Connelly posted above King ran for 674 yards and 14 TDs with Houston in 2018. Reaching 4,000 yards passing in the Lashlee offense is not a stretch, getting 1,250 rushing yards would be.

If … the negative plays slow down dramatically. The Canes were 105th in stuff rate allowed, 121st in sack rate allowed and a ghastly 129th in havoc rate allowed. King and the new identity will help, as will the fact that the line returns pretty much everyone. But we’re talking about a 180-degree turnaround in this department.

The Miami offensive line was a near disaster in 2019. In addition to the metrics posted by Connelly Miami finished 128th with 51 sacks allowed and 127th allowing 3.92 sacks per game. The Miami rushing offense was nearly as bad. Miami was 120th nationally in rushing yards per game in 2019 and 103rd in yards per carry.

Related Story: Miami 2020 projected offensive line depth chart

If … the wideouts can actually beat man coverage at some point. Miami’s top returning wideouts — Mike HarleyDee Wiggins and Mark Pope — averaged 7.7, 14.1 and 10 yards per target against zone coverage last year.

Against man coverage: 6.1, 3.1 and 6.0. Any modern, title-caliber offense needs guys who can punish defenses when they switch from zone to man to account for RPOs (run pass options). It doesn’t immediately appear The U has that.

King should help the Miami passing game in 2019. Jarren Williams had his moments in 2019, but his inconsistencies were too great and ultimately led to Miami signing King. In his last full season in 2018, King averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and 9.9 in adjusted YPA. Williams was 7.9 and 8.2 in 2019.

If … yet another great defensive end emergesGregory Rousseau emerged out of nowhere to become a dominant DE in head coach Manny Diaz’s system. (It’s not the first time that’s happened.) But Rousseau is the only returnee among last year’s top five tacklers up front.

Can Temple transfer Quincy Roche immediately dominate? Can someone from a batch of freshman candidates emerge as an immediate star?

Rousseau and Roche should be a force for Miami upfront. Rising redshirt junior Jaelan Phillips who was the top signee in the nation for UCLA in 2017 before transferring to Miami in 2019 is expected to give Miami a trio of pass rushers that no one can match nationally. Rising redshirt freshman Jahfari Harvey should also have an impact.

If … blitz downs are less disastrous. Miami was a bit too all-or-nothing defensively, ranking 10th in blitz down sack rates but 101st in blitz down success rate. This must obviously improve even despite all the turnover up front.

The Miami pass rush should be stout in 2020. Miami should not have to blitz as often this fall as they did in 2019 with Roche, Rousseau and Phillips upfront. The Hurricanes could play those three-plus Harvey on the defensive line on passing downs. Rousseau leads the nation’s returnees with 15.5 sacks last season.

Next: Miami Hurricanes D'Eriq King named elite QB by ESPN

Roche recorded 13 sacks in 2019 on his way to winning the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The Miami defense should be one of the best in the country in 2020. If Miami is going to be even just a contender to win the ACC Coastal their overall success will depend on how good the offense is.

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