QUARTERBACK – TIE
One year after facing the brunt of Hurricane fans’ ire, a newly bearded Brock Berlin returns as Miami’s field general. Monday night will tell whether or not Berlin’s ability to avoid throwing interceptions has grown as much as his facial hair. If Berlin starts to approach last year’s 17 interceptions, Derrick Crudup and Kyle Wright are ready to pounce.
Chris Rix has never beaten Miami; in fact no one on FSU’s roster has ever beaten Miami. Rix, who has seen more criticism than Berlin in his career, would love to finally get the big win, but he always seems to make a fatal mistake against the ‘Canes. Rix has a ton of athletic ability, but upstairs he has failed to put it all together.
RUNNING BACK – FSU
No one on the ‘Canes has had a tougher road the past couple of years than Frank Gore. After shredding the ACLs in both his knees he finally looks fully recovered, confident and ready to show off his incredible talent. Tyrone Moss showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman last year and has matured physically and mentally.
Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker provide one of the country’s most formidable one-two punches. Washington, a junior, averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year while Booker who is only a sophomore, averaged 5.3 ypc.
WIDE RECEIVER – UM
Miami returns top receiver Ryan Moore, who claims he is 100 percent healthy after suffering from a pulled hamstring and a shoulder injury. Roscoe Parrish will start opposite Moore, but look for Darnell Jenkins to explode onto the scene this year. Kevin Everett will start at tight end with freshman Greg Olson sharing minutes.
Craphonso Thorpe is FSU’s biggest playmaker but he is coming off of a broken leg suffered last season. If Thorpe is healthy, and he claims he is faster now, he could give UM fits. Chauncey Stovall and sophomore Chris Davis can also provide fireworks but FSU lacks a playmaking tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINE – FSU
Starting right tackle Rashad Butler is out with a fractured bone and left guard Tony Tella is just returning after suffering from back problems. If Tella comes back at right tackle, the line will start pre-season All-American Eric Winston at left tackle, a slimmed down (well, 334 lbs.) Andrew Bain next to him, veteran Joel Rodriguez at center, and Chris Myers at right guard.
Alex Barron and Ray Willis provide All-American talent at the bookends for FSU. The rest of the line returns experienced players as well, with Bobby Meeks and Matt Meinrod at the guard spots and David Castillo at center. Injuries have hampered Meeks and Castillo but they should be okay by game time.
DEFENSIVE LINE – UM
Orien Harris anchors a fast, deep line that lost only Vince Wilfork to the NFL. Harris should fill Wilfork’s shoes well with his 6-4, 300 pound frame. Speed rusher Javon Nanton now weighs 240 pounds, as he and Baraka Atkins will start at the ends. Starting d-tackle Santonio Thomas pulled a muscle but should play.
Seniors Eric Moore and Chauncey Davis provide speed off of the edge while junior Brodrick Bunckley will plug up the middle as the nose guard. UM’s offensive line will have to neutralize this line’s speed if they hope to give Berlin time to make throws.
LINEBACKERS – TIE
Jon Vilma, the defense’s field general for three years, is gone to the NFL with fellow first-rounder D.J. Williams. Enter Rocky McIntosh, Leon Williams and Tavares Gooden, who have patiently waited their turns and are ready to continue UM’s linebacker tradition. McIntosh is the only one with extensive starting experience.
All the hype coming out of Tallahassee is over Ernie Sims and A.J Nicholson being hailed as the best thing since the Metrorail. Sam Mcgrew will man the middle of the field with considerably less fanfare than his inexperienced teammates. Buster Davis will also see time in the middle.
SECONDARY – UM
Antrel Rolle returns for his senior year with vengeance. Hailed as the best cornerback in the country, Rolle will lead a secondary that features emerging star Greg Threat, who played his best game against FSU last season, Brandon Meriweather at free safety, and the always-polite Kelly Jennings at the other corner spot.
Three of the four starters are seniors, with the one exception being Pat Watkins, the playmaking junior free safety. Leroy Smith and Bryant McFadden will start at the corners but nickel back Antonio Cromartie, just a sophomore, may have the best playmaking ability of this unit.
SPECIAL TEAMS – UM
Kicker Jon Peattie was rock solid last year and the reason why the ‘Canes didn’t lose a couple of close games, including the Orange Bowl. Punter Brian Monroe has the leg but needs Peattie’s mind set to improve on last year’s poor performance. Devin Hester and Roscoe Parrish are dynamite on kickoff and punt returns, respectively.
Oh, the history. Senior Xavier Beitia has continued FSU’s tradition by missing two end-of-the-game field goals, wide-left in 2002, and wide right in last year’s Orange Bowl, which could have won FSU both games. Beitia might sleep on Sunday night, but I doubt it. Chris Hall is new at punter and running back Leon Washington will return kicks and punts.