Advance scouting: Looking at Miami’s 2016 schedule through the lens of media days

A stroll through Miami’s 2016 season, with thoughts from Mark RichtBrad Kaaya and others from recent conference media days:

Players from the ACC Coastal, including Miami's Brad Kaaya (front, third from left) and Justin Vogel (back, third from left) pose for a photo at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C. (ACC)

Players from the ACC Coastal, including Miami’s Brad Kaaya (front, third from left) and Justin Vogel (back, third from left) pose for a photo at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C. (ACC)

Florida A&M (Sept. 3, 6 p.m., ESPN3)

Last year’s opener against an FCS opponent (Bethune-Cookman) saw a Corn Elder punt return touchdown wiped off the board. Miami’s penalty problems got a lot worse from there. The Canes finished last nationally in that flags and yards per game.

Kaaya put it this way: Miami’s 1,094 yards in penalties were “like 10 football fields,” he said. “Imagine if we’ve got FAMU first game, to score the first touchdown we’ve got to go 10 football fields.”

No one expects UM to have that kind of trouble with FAMU. What is still up in the air: the status of New Miami Stadium for the opener. Richt preferred to dream about the day it’s done:

“I don’t know if you’ve seen what our stadium’s going to look like, but that’s the kind of stadium all our players aspire to play in some day,” he said, referring to the NFL. “When you get a Super Bowl, I think it’s in 2020, you don’t get a Super Bowl unless you have one of the finest stadiums in America.

“The canopy’s going to be over the top. Ninety percent of the people are going to be in the shade the entire game. That’s going to help keep the noise in there. There’s four big screens in the corners of the building. It’ll be one of the finest stadiums in America. I feel like we get to play there, I don’t feel like we have to play there.”

Florida Atlantic (Sept. 10, 6 p.m., ESPN3)

By now, the nation will likely be talking about Kaaya, who earned a little love for ACC preseason player of the year and is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher (more below) heralded him as “probably be a top-10 pick in the draft.”

What is the next step in Kaaya’s evolution?

“He’s really good,” Richt said. “He’s a really good player. I wouldn’t even dream about touching his throwing motion. He’s so efficient and so accurate I wouldn’t even think about that. His footwork has to fit the route system, the play-action, the run game. The feet of a QB with me is non-negotiable. Everybody’s got to do it a certain way. The ball-handling is non-negotiable. The reads and progressions are non-negotiable. But when it comes to his ability to hit his target and see the defense, he’s really, really good.”

FAU (3-9 last year) was picked fourth in Conference USA East. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson was named preseason defensive player of the year. Punter Dalton Schomp was named co-specialist of the year. FAU’s first-team selections were OL Reggie Bain, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, CBs Ocie Rose and Jalen Young and Hendrickson.

at Appalachian State (Sept. 17, noon, ESPN or ESPN2)

What is Richt’s knowledge of Boone, N.C., the place Miami finds itself playing its first road game?

“Well No. 1, my sister Michelle got her degree from there,” he said. “She was a volleyball player at Appalachian State. But coach [Stacy] Searels coached there years ago, our offensive line coach. Great program. A team that’s used to winning. It’s going to be a battle royale, I can promise you, going in their house. They’re just a great team, well-coached. I have seen their tape. I’ve looked at the first three opponents, first four opponents. It’s going to be a battle.”

It’s a huge game for Appalachian State, which (like FAU last year) has never hosted a Power 5 school. The Mountaineers (11-2, 7-1 last year) were picked to win the Sun Belt on Monday at the conference’s media day in New Orleans, edging Arkansas State.

Linebacker John Law was named the preseason defensive player of the year. They had four first-teamers: QB Taylor Lamb, OL Parker Collins, LB Eric Boggs and Law. RB Marcus Cox and OL Colby Gossett were second-teamers.

at Georgia Tech (Oct. 1)

Richt’s first ACC game comes at a very familiar place: Atlanta, home of a program he beat regularly (13-2) in his 15 seasons at Georgia.

“I don’t think I’ll not be able to not have memories from the last 15 years, every other year going in and out of there,” Richt said. “A lot of ballgames played in that place. It’s a great venue. But we’ll be wearing orange and green this time. That will be exciting, too.

“It’s going to be the first time around for me in this league, playing the Coastal division, of course crossing over with Florida State and NC State. I’m looking forward to it.

“But there’s a lot of unknowns for me. I have a little bit of an idea what to expect with Georgia Tech, like you said. Been playing against them for the last 15 years. But it will be fun. It’s a great place to play a game.”

Coach Paul Johnson said he was more worried about Kaaya than Richt.

“I think we’re excited to have Mark in the league,” Johnson said. “Certainly he brings a lot of tradition, whatever. We’ve struggled with Miami the past few years without Mark. Unless he’s going to throw it or carry it… I’m more worried about their quarterback than I am him.

“Certainly he brings some credibility to their program and to the conference.”

Richt on a group of new ACC coaches that includes Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall and Syracuse’s Dino Babers: 

“I think their records speak for themselves. Not knowing all of them, but knowing a lot of them, really good people. Winners, guys that have been there and done it. There’s not a lot of inexperience in the group. I’d have to just think about it. It’s a pretty experienced bunch of coaches that have won a lot of games. It’s going to be a great challenge, no doubt.”

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, on last year’s 3-9 finish:

“A lot of turnovers, missed assignments. This year we need to make sure we take care of those things, make sure everybody knows what’s going on, just trying to stay ahead of the game.”

Florida State (Oct. 8) 

Coach Jimbo Fisher had plenty of praise for Richt and Kaaya. “You name me a league that has bigger stars than Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya,” he said, in touting the strength of the ACC.

Asked for his thoughts on Richt: “You’ll have to ask Mark what he’s going to do to change Miami around. He’s won 146 games, almost 10 game a year in a great conference. Mark knows how to coach, knows how to win. Great coordinator when he was at Florida State. Won a couple national titles.

“Great gentleman. Knows how to recruit. He lived in South Florida, played in Miami. He knows the area. They have a top quarterback, probably be a top-10 pick in the draft. They’ve got good skill guys. They’ve got players. I think he’ll do very well.

“Miami made a good hire.”

Richt on Florida State:

“Anytime you beat Florida State it’s a good day, if you’re a Miami fan, no doubt about that. I don’t even know who are the rival teams that have been developed over time in the league, over the last 10 years. I really don’t know how our players feel about all the teams that we play.

“I know that’s the one, if you said to our fans, Which game would you want the most, asked our players, coaches, whatever, most of them would probably say that game.

“The reality is our goal is to win the Coastal division. You can win that game and lose the coastal, you can lose that game and win the Coastal. Our job is to win that game and get back to the ACC championship game. Every single conference game is very important.”

North Carolina (Oct. 15)

This is the time of the year when Miami will start to find out what it’s made of. Asked what he knows about his team right now, Richt said this:

“We’ve got potential. We’ve got a chance. Even if they’re all veterans, even if they’re all lettermen, they’re brand-new to this system. They’re brand-new to me. I’m brand-new to them. I’m brand-new to the league. There’s a lot of things we’re going to find out about ourselves as the season progresses. I’m not even going to say we’ll know in the first couple games, necessarily. Maybe by the second league game we’ll have a better feel of who we are and what we are.

Tar Heels wide receiver/return specialist Ryan Switzer, like many in his program, is sky-high on new quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

“I feel like the time I’ve gotten to spend with Mitch on the field thus far, whether in the game or in practice, I feel like [former star QB] Marquise [Williams] would even tell you that Mitch’s arm talent is unique and very rare,” Switzer said. “He’s very composed.”

Remaining calm will help coach Larry Fedora this fall. Including the opener against Georgia (and Miami), he’ll face seven teams with first-year head coaches.

“It’s chaos,” he said of game-planning.

at Virginia Tech (Oct. 20, 7 p.m., ESPN) 

Richt knows Justin Fuente was successful at Memphis, but he’s not yet looking this far ahead in the season.

“You’ve got 1, 2, 3 non-conference games before the first conference game, being Georgia Tech, and an open date prior to that. I’ve been focused so much on developing our guys,” he said. “I really haven’t spent a tremendous amount of time trying to game-plan a game that’s 5 or 6 or 7 games down the road. It just doesn’t make any sense. No matter how much information I gather all summer, usually by the time they play four or five games, it’s a different story, so you’re almost wasting your time.”

Fuente, formerly of Memphis, has a reputation as a quarterback-whisperer (see: first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch). He doesn’t know what he’s got yet in Blacksburg, though many (myself included) expect junior college transfer Jerod Evans to beat out Brenden Motley for the starting job.

Fuente is also known for running a fast-paced offense. Like any coach, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. “Tempo, in my opinion, is an advantage,” he said. “I also believe it’s like anything else, it’s probably like sugar and pizza, soda pop. Too much of it is not a good thing. I do not believe in going so fast that we hurt the other side of the football.”

at Notre Dame (Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m., NBC)

Since the Irish aren’t a football member of the ACC, they weren’t represented in Charlotte. They’re expected to be a top-10 program (I picked them ninth in my pre-preseason poll).

In lieu of any media day tidbits, we ask you this: are Notre Dame’s new alternate uniforms cool, awful, or really awful?

https://twitter.com/NDFootball/status/756302012912840704

Pittsburgh (Nov. 5)

“It’s going to be awesome” when James Conner runs back on the field with the Panthers, quarterback Nathan Peterman said.

Conner, the former ACC player of the year missed 2015 with a torn ACL and announced last December he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He said in May he was cancer-free. He wasn’t at the ACC Kickoff, but has designs on playing this fall.

“Just seeing his work ethic while he still had cancer and was beating it, as well as fighting to be the best player he can still be while he’s got cancer, to now where he’s completely recovered, trying to get back in shape, it’s been awesome to witness that,” Peterman said. “I know it will be a special moment once he gets that first touch, and for all of us to get inspiration from him that first day, really throughout the summer with how great a competitor he is.”

Coach Pat Narduzzi, on the challenge of visiting Miami: “Brand-new team. Same players. We know Brad can throw the ball, all those things, but different reads. How are they going to set him up in that offense?”

at Virginia (Nov. 12)

Tough situation for new coach Bronco Mendenhall, who inherits a program that has two winning seasons in the last decade. The Cavaliers were picked to finish last in the Coastal by the media (including me). They were the only program not to earn a first-place Coastal vote on the 191 ballots cast.

Center Jackson Matteo espoused the program’s new mantras (“earned not given,” “will before skill”), while linebacker Micah Kiser said the Hoos will attack despite switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.  “We’re going to have a great defense this year,” he said.

Mendenhall (99-43 in 11 years at BYU) said he became friends with Richt “through Nike,” the sponsor of their former respective schools. “There are good people that aren’t good coaches and there are good coaches that aren’t good people,” he said. “From what I’ve seen in my short time in the league, it looks like we have both. It’s challenging, which is great.”

at North Carolina State (Nov. 19)

Coach Dave Doeren believes he has the toughest schedule in the ACC, an assessment that might be correct. From Oct. 8 on, the Pack go: Notre Dame, at Clemson, at Louisville, Boston College (expected to be frisky in the Atlantic), Florida State, at Syracuse (OK, there’s a respite), Miami, at UNC. That’s three potential top-10 teams and three more who could easily spend most or all of the season ranked. The Pack was picked fourth in the Atlantic by the media.

Also, while football conventional wisdom dictates that if a coach has multiple quarterbacks, he has none … Doeren thinks his situation is a positive. He and new coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz (Boise State) are still searching for Jacoby Brissett’s replacement.

“I’m excited to have three options, first of all, because we haven’t had that yet,” he said. “Jalan McClendon has the most experience. Jakobi Meyers redshirted last year and got better as the spring went on. He can do some things with his feet that are really special.” Boise transfer Ryan Finley “knows the offense, he doesn’t have to learn it,” Doeren said. “He’s played in a game.”

“I wanted the summer to be a time when they could relearn the system. When we go into the fall camp, see where we’re at. There may be a lot of separation when we come into camp, there may not.”

Duke (Nov. 26)

Quarterback Thomas Sirk said he isn’t 100 percent now, but expects to be ready for the season-opener. Cornerback/return specialist DeVon Edwards earned one vote for preseason player of the year.

By this week, Miami hopes it will be playing to lock up the ACC Coastal title.

“That’s the plan as of right now,” Kaaya said. “Right now it’s a Coastal and ACC championship. You can say all the things you want about Miami and all the championships we’ve won getting back to years past. One thing we’ve never done is won an ACC championship and a Coastal championship. That’s our goal for the season.”

Richt said he’s not stressing over his team’s goals.

“I mean, to me, there’s pressure and there’s stress. There’s pressure in this job of head coach,” he said. “There’s certain deadlines you have to meet, certain things you’re responsible for. A lot of things have to happen. There’s pressure to get the job done, so to speak.

“I think whether you stress out about it is up to you. I’ve tried not to stress out about not much of anything. I have a solid faith that the Lord is going to take care of me. All I can really control is what I can control. That’s how hard we work, how do we prepare, how do we treat our players, how do we go about our business in recruiting, are we doing the things in the right way.

“I focus more on the process of doing things right. I feel like the results will come.”

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