No more cupcake games like Marshall and Charleston Southern to open the season.
The Canes will have no room for early error as they open their 2009 campaign facing four straight top 25 teams, arguably the toughest schedule amongst any of the 120 Division I college football programs.
The Hurricanes also have been picked to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal Division behind Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina respectively.
But none of that matters to the Miami players as they are set out to prove the nation wrong.
“I don’t really pay attention to that,” sophomore linebacker Sean Spence said. “People are going to predict what they want to predict, but when two teams get on the field, that’s when it’s settled to me.”
The Hurricanes do not mind having their opponents being the favorites against them.
“It’s all about motivation,” sophomore wide receiver LaRon Byrd said. “It always starts with the underdog. The underdog always wants to be on top. I feel that’s going to drive our players more and more. They’re disrespecting Miami, so after this season they better respect Miami.”
For the first time in three years, the Hurricanes will open the season on the road in Tallahassee against nemesis Florida State. Last year, the Seminoles defeated the Canes in soggy conditions, 41- 39, at the old Dolphin Stadium.
Miami then plays ACC foes Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Miami gave up an embarrassing 472 rushing yards against the Yellow Jackets last season while Virginia Tech is the two time reigning ACC Champion.
In their fourth game, the Canes will host Oklahoma, which returns to Land Shark Stadium after losing to Florida in the BCS National Championship game. Two years ago Oklahoma throttled Miami, 51-13 in Heisman winner Sam Bradford’s second collegiate game.
“They’re all going to be tough,” senior safety Randy Phillips said, who only played two games last year due to a left knee injury. “Those teams made noise last year. It’s a great opportunity for me to show what I got, and every defensive guy on our team is thinking like that.”
Now, Miami is lead by sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris and head coach Randy Shannon is in his third season.
“It’s time for us to win the ACC,” Harris said.
The Canes will welcome back three former starters. Phillips will return to safety, senior Eric Moncur will slide back into rotation at defensive end, and linebacker Colin McCarthy will be back in the heart of the defense. If all three stay healthy, each of them will see signifcant time on the field.
“Everyone is working hard and we’re just excited,” McCarthy said. “An ACC and a national championship, that’s what we play for. Anything less is frowned upon.”
Byrd echoed the same sentiments.
“We feel good about ourselves. This is definitely the year we have to make a point that says ‘Hey, Miami’s back.”
Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at email@example.com.