It didn’t matter if the Oregon Ducks were on the other sideline.
Or even the Colorado Buffaloes.
What about Nebraska? Obviously not.
When the 2001 college football season was all said and done, it was perfectly clear that Miami was the best team on the field – regardless of the opponent.
The Hurricanes capped off a 12-0 perfect season and their fifth national championship with a 37-14 shellacking of the Cornhuskers in the Rose Bowl. While many teams were vying for an elusive spot in the Jan. 3 game, the Hurricanes had already secured theirs with an undefeated regular season.
Under the direction of new Head Coach Larry Coker, the ‘Canes absolutely dominated opponents, scoring a school and Big East record 475 points. Coker, Miami’s offensive coordinator from 1995-2000, became the first rookie head coach to win a national title since Michigan’s Bennie Oosterbaan in 1948.
The 2001 season started with Coker facing coaching legend Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions. A crowd of 109,313 – the largest ever for a Miami game – watched the Hurricanes open the season with a resounding statement. Miami raced to a 30-0 halftime lead on the way to a 33-7 victory before a national television audience. Quarterback Ken Dorsey opened his Heisman Trophy campaign with a 344-yard passing performance and the Hurricanes were stifling on defense in the victory.
Victories over Rutgers (61-0), Pittsburgh (43-21) and Troy State (38-7) followed before the annual clash with Florida State. The Seminoles were riding a 54-game home unbeaten streak (37 straight wins), having not lost on their home turf since a UM victory in 1991. Miami’s mission to “Break History and Make History” was accomplished in spectacular fashion with a 49-27 defeat of the Seminoles. Another national television audience watched the Hurricanes’ defense cause six FSU turnovers. Miami scored via offense, defense and special teams en route to its largest points total ever against the Seminoles, a victory that returned UM to the top of the rankings.
Resounding wins over West Virginia (45-3) and Temple (38-0) followed before a heart-pounding game at Boston College. Miami weathered five turnovers and was clinging to a 12-7 lead late in the game on the strength of four Todd Sievers field goals when BC marched to the shadow of the UM end zone. With less than 20 seconds remaining, cornerback Mike Rumph deflected a BC pass into the arms of defensive tackle Matt Walters at the UM nine-yard line.
Walters cradled the ball tightly as he returned it to the 20-yard line before All-America free safety Edward Reed took the ball from Walters and set sail on an 80-yard interception for a touchdown to clinch an 18-7 victory.
The Hurricanes were hitting on all cylinders in their next two home games, laying shocking defeats on nationally ranked Syracuse (59-0) and and Washington (65-7). Those victories were the largest consecutive blowouts over ranked opponents in modern NCAA history. But just when it seemed this Miami team was invincible, and a lock for a Rose Bowl berth, a final test remained.
Miami already had clinched the Big East title and was looking to reserved its place in the National Championship Game in Pasadena, but the Virginia Tech Hokies would not go down quietly as UM’s 11th victim. Miami built a 24-7 lead well into the fourth quarter as tailback Clinton Portis, who rushed for 1,200 yards in the regular season, scored one touchdown and Dorsey connected with tight end Jeremy Shockey for another score. Three Todd Sievers field goals also contributed to the lead and, when he added a fourth midway through the period to give UM a 26-14 lead, it appeared only a miracle finish could deprive the Hurricanes of their goal.
Tech’s miracle would have been Miami’s nightmare – and it almost happened. A blocked punt was returned for a touchdown, drawing Tech to within two points at 26-24. The Hokies then went for two points on a pass play, but the pass fell incomplete. The UM defense held off Tech on two late possessions and Miami survived its closest call of the season, setting up Miami’s Rose Bowl berth for the right to play Nebraska for the national championship.
The Rose Bowl game hosted the Bowl Championship Series title game for the first time, the first time in 56 years that teams from conferences other than the Pacific Ten Conference and the Big Ten Conference were competing in the game. Miami left little doubt about which team was college football’s best, racing to a 34-0 halftime lead behind a huge first half performance by Co-Most Valuable Players Dorsey and Andre Johnson. Dorsey and Johnson connected for two touchdowns and 199 yards in the game with Dorsey throwing for a career-best 362 yards. Portis added another score on a brilliant 39-yard touchdown run and the Hurricanes were able to enjoy the second half of their national title victory.