Key stretch: Miami

Key stretch: at Ohio State, at Pittsburgh, at Clemson, Florida State (Sept. 11-Oct. 9)

Analysis: None of these are Coastal Division opponents, but this stretch will reveal two things about the Hurricanes: 1. Where they are nationally and 2. If they’re capable of winning the ACC title. The opportunity to beat a national title contender in Week 2 could push Miami into the national championship conversation, and a win over Florida State would mean that the Canes just beat the best the Atlantic Division has to offer. If Miami starts the season that hot, then the November stretch against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will pale in comparison. If Miami flops early, and loses in Death Valley and to the Noles, two conference losses will be devastating to their chances of the ACC race, even though they didn’t come against Coastal Division opponents. This stretch isn’t meant to diminish the importance of the Coastal Division games, but how Miami starts this season will go a long way in determining how the Canes finish.

Prediction: This is one of the most unforgiving stretches in college football this year. I don’t care who Clemson’s quarterback will be. A road win against the Buckeyes isn’t impossible, but it’s unlikely. Miami seems to be one year away from reaching that level, and until the Canes prove they can win their own division, I’m not ready to predict a win over the Buckeyes. Beating Pitt seems more realistic, especially with the bye week heading into that game. Home field advantage could help against the Noles, but Florida State will likely be looking for some revenge after the way last year’s game ended. Of these four games, a 2-2 record seems the most realistic, but 3-1 is definitely conceivable.

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