Virginia Tech Miami Football

Miami head coach Manny Diaz watches during the second half of his team's game against Virginia Tech on Saturday in Miami Gardens, Florida. Virginia Tech won, 42-35. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Friday night’s ACC Coastal Division matchup between Virginia and Miami looks like a mismatch at first glance.

The Cavaliers enter this week’s game ranked 20th in the AP poll. They’ve earned four quality victories, including a road win at Pittsburgh and a come-from-behind home triumph over Florida State. They led No. 9 Notre Dame 17-14 at halftime on the road. They’re also coming off a bye heading into Friday night.

Miami looks the part of an overhyped national brand. The Hurricanes gave Florida and North Carolina all they could handle, but they ultimately fell short in both contests. Since those two weeks and a 63-0 win over Bethune-Cookman the following week, Miami seems out of sorts.

The Hurricanes knocked off a mediocre Central Michigan team, but the final score of 17-12 turned heads around the ACC. After a bye week, the Hurricanes laid an egg in the first half against Virginia Tech, falling behind 28-0. Miami rallied to tie the game at 35, but it ultimately fell short and lost 42-35.

Despite these recent performances and a 0-2 ACC record that has seen the Hurricanes allow 35 points per conference game, there’s significant support for Miami this week among analytical models. ESPN’s Football Power Index lists Miami at 30th, four spots better than UVa’s ranking. The metric gives Miami a 60% chance of winning Friday night.

Las Vegas likes the Hurricanes, too.

Betting lines all have the Hurricanes as the favorite, with most spreads listing them as roughly a two-point favorite. Playing at home impacts that spread, but the Hurricanes just lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that showed little reason for optimism prior to that upset victory.

Miami is now 0-3 against Power 5 teams, and its two ACC opponents are a combined 4-5 against teams that aren’t Miami. N’Kosi Perry earns the starting nod this week for the Hurricanes, meaning they’ll also be using their backup quarterback with regular starter Jarren Williams banged up.

That begs the question: Why is Miami favored in this game?

It’s a challenging question to answer given how the Hurricanes have looked. The team’s talent is undeniable, but Miami is below .500 through five games.

“I have always said this, I do believe this will be our greatest challenge of the year defensively,” Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae said.

Linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are among the best in the conference, and cornerback Travan Bandy adds exceptional athleticism and playmaking ability to the secondary. The Hurricanes are talented on defense, and they have the players to test Virginia.

The team’s offense also includes a handful of dangerous players. Perry started six games last season and threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns in relief against Virginia Tech. Running back DeeJay Dallas is among the better backs in the conference, and Jeff Thomas is an elite receiver. Tight end Brevin Thomas offers yet another pass catcher with good athleticism.

“They’ve got great skill, and I think they’re really capable of putting up points at any time just like they showed in the fourth quarter of that Virginia Tech game,” co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said. “I think they put 21 points up in like 10 minutes. We’re going to have to be very sound in our defense.”

Poppinga’s estimation was a bit conservative. Miami scored 21 points in a four-minute span in the fourth quarter to tie Virginia Tech at 35. While the Hurricanes come in 16th nationally in time of possession per game, they’re more than capable of breaking off quick-strike touchdowns. It’s a dangerous offense.

There’s no denying Miami’s talent. The Hurricanes boast athleticism at every position, and there’s highly touted recruits across the two-deep. Miami enters this game as a favorite because its roster is better than its record indicates. Miami can be one of the best teams in the ACC when it plays to its potential. We saw that in its season-opening loss to Florida when it held a late lead over the Gators.

Miami is talented, but the team’s inability to consistently live up to that talent has been the issue this year.

The analytics say Miami stands a good chance of winning Friday night. The eye test tells a slightly different story.

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