It'll be David vs. Goliath in Week 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta when No. 14 Miami (FL) aims to knock down No. 1 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. At least, that's what oddsmakers believe. Caesars Sportsbook lists the defending national champion Crimson Tide as 19.5-point favorites over the Hurricanes, so the public clearly feels this will be a blowout -- like so many of Bama's previous season-openers -- no matter which side of the spread you invest in.
Should Alabama be favored by nearly three touchdowns, though? Forget covering, does Miami have a chance to win on Saturday?
The Canes aren't some scrub opponent with no talent and horrible coaching. This isn't Bishop Sycamore High School facing IMG Academy. Miami has plenty of tools to at least make this interesting into the fourth quarter.
Super-senior quarterback D'Eriq King is back at 100% after suffering a torn ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl at the end of last season, which should concern Alabama's defense in a big way. King had 2,686 yards passing, 729 yards rushing and totaled 27 touchdowns in 11 games last year. It's no secret that Alabama's defense has struggled against mobile quarterbacks at various times during coach Nick Saban's tenure.
Yes, this Alabama defense is going to be filthy. After all, it has superstar linebackers Will Anderson Jr and Christian Harris along with an ultra-experienced defensive backfield. The Tide literally have more talent than any team in the country, according to 247Sports. But King vs. Bama's defense is a true strength vs. strength heavyweight fight. Both sides will land their fair share of haymakers.
King is one of 10 offensive starters returning for the Hurricanes. Others include running back Cam'Ron Harris and wide receiver Michael Harley, both of whom led the team in their respective categories in 2020, plus a veteran offensive line. The lone newcomer is former Oklahoma star Charleston Rambo, a potential playmaker in his own right. What's more, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is back for his second year and can claim success against a Saban-coached defense from his time in this role at Auburn -- particularly from 2013-14.
If King and Lashlee can pop a few big plays, especially early, it'll put a ton of pressure on the young and inexperienced Tide offense to play catch-up.
Speaking of "young," sophomore quarterback Bryce Young is set to take over in Alabama's new-look offense ... but he won't be the only fresh face. This group is also breaking in a new offensive coordinator (Bill O'Brien) and two new offensive linemen. Meanwhile, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and wide receiver (John Metchie III) have to slide into bigger roles. Are they ready?
History says Saban will be able to plug-and-play athletic freaks on either side of the ball, but this isn't the best opponent to get them up to speed. Why? Other than the absences of edge rushers Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips, this Miami defense is ready to go, especially on the back end.
Coach Manny Diaz took over defensive play-calling duties after last season wrapped up, so this defense should look much different. Diaz relied more on man-to-man coverage back in 2018 when he was the defensive coordinator at "The U," and that philosophy has shifted more toward zone schemes since he got the head coaching gig. Cornerbacks DJ Ivey, Tyrique Stevenson and Te'Cory Couch, along with star safeties Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall, Jr, all have been key contributors. All were rated five- or four-star prospects out of high school. They aren't going to be intimidated by anybody in one-on-one situations, even Metchie and Co.
Miami's front seven will have its share of success against an Alabama offensive line that is still a work-in-progress. Diaz said at ACC Media Day that his players have adjusted well to the new scheme.
"It's fun to talk about the coaches and the play calling, this, that and the other," he said. "But great defense is ultimately about the connection between the players on the field, the trust and the accountability. That's where I felt like, a year ago, we didn't quite have that. We take a lot of pride in how we play defense at Miami. We took a step back in that regard -- it was not to our standard.
"Guys have a chip on their shoulder. We have new coaches. That took all of our players ... took every one of those guys out of their comfort zone. Here comes a new set of eyes, a guy that's going to challenge you in a different way."
The point? Don't sleep on these Canes. Their ceiling might not be as high as that of the Tide, but if they bring their A-game, it'll be on Young to make smart decisions and keep the chains moving.
If it turns into a shootout, which is a distinct possibility, Miami absolutely has a chance to do the unthinkable and pull the upset over Alabama.