Clay Ferraro breaks down 2016 Hurricanes schedule

FSU, Notre Dame aside, Miami has good shot at winning division

Miami head coach Mark Richt speaks to his players during the 2016 spring game in Fort Lauderdale.
Miami head coach Mark Richt speaks to his players during the 2016 spring game in Fort Lauderdale. (Miami Athletics)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Mark Richt era finally kicks off Saturday when the Hurricanes take on FAMU. With a new coaching staff and one of the best returning quarterbacks in college football, hopes are high that this could be the year the Hurricanes finally make it to Charlotte for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

But is that realistic? We've broken down the schedule and ranked each game from toughest to easiest. We've also broken it into tiers: probable losses, toss-ups and probable wins.

Probable losses:

1. Florida State: Even with the Seminoles breaking in a new starting QB in Deondre Francois, FSU is still the most formidable foe on UM's schedule. Plus, remember the last time the Seminoles started a redshirt freshman at QB?

2. at Notre Dame: An old rivalry is renewed in South Bend and the Irish are beginning to stockpile talent once again. It appears Notre Dame is set on two quarterbacks for now, but expect one of DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire to step forward by the time the 'Canes roll into town.


3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels are the media pick to repeat in the Coastal Division, but, just like FSU, they'll have to navigate their schedule with a new starting QB. Still, Mitch Trubisky is surrounded by a ton of talented skill players, and the Heels will be tough to stop on offense.

4. at Appalachian State: Surprised to see this one so high? Don't be. The Mountaineers went 11-2 in 2015, including a bowl win, and this is arguably the biggest home game in their history. Plus, they won't be intimidated after kicking off the season at Tennessee.

5. at Virginia Tech: The Hokies are as big a mystery as you'll find in the ACC. With Justin Fuente replacing Frank Beamer and bringing an up-tempo, spread attack to town, Virginia Tech could finally have an offense to pair with Bud Foster's defense. Still, that will all take time to come together. Blacksburg is always a tough place to play.

6. Pittsburgh: The 'Canes pulled off an impressive road win at Pitt in 2015. This year, however, the Panthers bring back running back and 2014 ACC player of the year James Conner, who missed last season battling cancer. His story will be one of the best ones to follow in all of college football.

7. at Georgia Tech: This could be a make or break season for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. Are ACC teams starting to figure out how to defend that triple option? One thing that helps the 'Canes: Mark Richt's Georgia teams also faced Tech every season, so he's helped a staff prepare for that option in the past.

8. at N.C. State: I'm not buying into the Wolfpack. Wile they're improving under Dave Doeren, they still haven't beaten a power 5 team that finished a season with a winning record. They're also breaking in a new starting QB.

Expected wins:

9. Duke: The Blue Devils were devastated by the loss of starting QB Thomas Sirk to a torn Achilles. Daniel Jones steps in, but the 'Canes should have enough talent to roll at home.

10. at Virginia: The Cavaliers were bad last year. They will be bad this year.

11. FAU: The Owls hung in there against the 'Canes last season, and they are bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Travis Trickett to help jump start them on that side of the ball. Still, expect Miami's talent to take over.

12. FAMU: Consider this a nice tune-up game to start the season.

Bottom line: If the 'Canes win all the games they should win and split their other eight games, a Coastal Division title could be well within reach. Anything better than that, and the 'Canes could very well be playing in their first-ever ACC title game in December.