Over the next few weeks, we'll be chatting with each ACC football coach to go over the highs and lows of 2017 and take a look at what's in store for spring practice and the season ahead.
Next up, Miami coach Mark Richt, whose Hurricanes won their first Coastal Division but face a 2018 season with questions about depth and quarterback play.
You opened the season with 10 straight wins. You lost three in a row to finish. What's the takeaway from last season: the great start or the struggles at the end?
Richt: If you look at it overall, we accomplished some things we set out to do. We won the Coastal. Of course, we wanted to win when we got there, and we realized we were a little ways off of that one. I'm not sure our roster was ready to go toe-to-toe with [Clemson] yet. But that's why we're recruiting. The bowl game, we certainly had our chances, but we didn't take advantage. We played a really good team. If we won, we'd have finished in the top 10. Are we progressing? Yes. Are we getting better? Yes. Are we getting closer to a championship-caliber team? Yes. Are we there yet? We proved we're not quite ready to be champions yet. But I think we got a chance to smell. We didn't get a chance to taste it.
Before last season started, I thought depth would be the biggest limitation for you. It certainly seemed to catch up with you by year's end. How much does a strong recruiting class and some valuable playing time for young guys last year help address that going into 2018?
Richt: It could be a huge boost. We know we're still going to need true freshmen to help us win. They're playing all over America, so it's not like you're ever in a position where true freshmen can't make an impact for you, but we were probably at 73 scholarships or something like that at the end of the year. And you have attrition for a lot of reasons: guys turning pro, guys, unfortunately, Malek Young gets hurt. We're not quite at our numbers that will give us the full 85, but we're getting closer. And you want guys that can play at a level that will help you win a championship. You want guys who can play at a high level, and that's what we're working on.
You mentioned Malek's injury, which is awful. Is the secondary a big area where those freshmen might step in right away?
Richt: They're going to get their chance to play, for sure. Malek played a lot for us and played well for us. When you lose a guy like that, it's just opportunity for someone.
So Malik Rosier. Is he your quarterback? Is there a competition? How secure is that job?
Richt: Malik is the starting quarterback, for sure. Someone's got to dethrone him. Someone's got to beat him out if that's going to happen. It's not like -- to say it's wide open, every position is wide open because we want a competition at every level. Every player that comes back talks about the greatest competition they had was on the practice field. And I also want to go into this season with a sort of first-year mentality. Let's go compete. Show us you're ready to take somebody's job. But Malik is the starting quarterback, and he's going to be unless somebody knocks him off the perch.
The way the year ended looked bad for him, for sure, but he did make some big plays along the way, too.
Richt: I go back and watch TV copies of the games, and we don't win a bunch of those games without him making some plays. Was he consistent every game, every series? Probably not, but the guy made some plays that were game-winning plays. The Notre Dame and Virginia Tech games, those were less dramatic than five other games we played. Plays just had to be made.
What about N'Kosi Perry? We didn't get to see him last season, which probably surprised some fans. Was he making real progress behind the scenes?
Richt: A lot. He got a lot better. He's learning what to do. He's got a great skill set, but you can't compete until you really know what to do. He came in the summer, and he wasn't as ready as he might've been if he was a midyear enrollee. If he'd had all spring and summer and fall, maybe he makes a bigger push toward the job. But on the flip side, Malik played his tail off. I've said it a bunch of times: The guy earned it in practice. He practiced better than everybody and by a clear margin. But does N'Kosi have a skill set that's going to be fun to watch one day? No doubt about it.