The entire sports nation understands that the Miami Hurricanes have been the class of college football for the past three seasons. A 35-2 record over this span, that included a 2001 National Championship, a 34-game win streak and a record 13 NFL first round picks, has resulted in extremely high expectations for Hurricane football. Nothing short of a National Championship will be tolerated.
Although many experts are counting the ‘Canes out in 2003, I refuse to. Miami will be in the title hunt for a fourth consecutive season.
The ‘Canes face the biggest challenge since their turnaround three seasons ago. Miami must rebound from a devastating and questionable defeat thanks in part to Ohio State and a certain official named Terry Porter. If sobering up from this horrible hangover is not enough of a battle, Miami must produce after losing the bulk of their potent offensive attack from a year ago.
Gone are quarterback Ken Dorsey, running back Willis McGahee, wide receiver Andre Johnson…to name a few. However, to no surprise, the ‘Canes have restocked and reloaded with more than capable replacements. At the very least, Miami will be an exciting team once again. An exciting team that just may march its way back to the title game.
“We have a new quarterback, some new offensive lineman, and new defensive ends,” head coach Larry Coker said. “We have some veteran injuries we have to deal with so there will be some young faces out there. It is going to be an exciting time for us.”
Junior UF transfer Brock Berlin finally returns to the field in attempt to match his much heralded high school career. In addition, tailback Frank Gore returns from injury after producing big numbers as a back up two seasons ago.
Teammates say Berlin has more of an attitude and fight in him…the kind of personality that a head coach loves in a signal caller.
“Brock is like the anti-Dorsey in terms of his demeanor,” center Joel Rodriguez said. “Brock will get in your face. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets in a fight or two this season. He has more of a mean streak than Ken.”
Coker probably wouldn’t want his star quarterback getting in any altercations. Coker feels Berlin just needs to fit into the offense and to simply trust his talented teammates. The transition for Berlin is a bit cozier knowing that Heisman Trophy candidate and All-American tight end Kellen Winslow II will be his main target.
“He (Berlin) just needs to make good decisions and be efficient because we have players like Kellen Winslow and Frank Gore and other guys that are going to be important,” Coker said. “I’ve heard people say that if Brock Berlin can perform as good as a second year Ken Dorsey then Miami is going to be pretty good, and I think that may be a fair statement. Brock seems to perform better in big situations.”
Coker’s sentiments on Berlin are on par with my prediction for the Hurricanes in 2003. If Berlin performs in big situations, then Miami should be in great shape. Defensively, the Hurricanes have the best linebacker unit and secondary in the nation. That, along with a potent offensive attack, should result in nothing but success.
Their schedule has two tough home contests and three testy road games that will clearly determine where the ‘Canes stand. Home games against Florida and Tennessee will both be victories. October 11 at FSU, November 1 at Virginia Tech, and a season ending November 29 game at Pittsburgh could be troublesome.
FSU will play the ‘Canes tough as they always do at Doak Campbell Stadium, but the ‘Canes will be victorious. Now for my not so bold prediction: The winner of the Nov. 1 showdown at Virginia Tech will play in and win the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Yes, the Big East will have a National Champion…a champion who will run to the ACC next season. Should Miami beat the Hokies, they will then proceed to finish off the season strong and convincingly beat Pittsburgh. Yes, the Panthers are an extremely talented team and the cold weather will help their chances. However, if Miami enters the season finale undefeated, there is no way the inexperienced and less talented Panthers will ruin Miami’s quest for a second National Championship in three years.
“We will not lose a game this year,” Winslow proclaimed. “We don’t care about a Big East Championship or being ranked No. 2 or 3. We are only playing to win the whole thing.”
Well my optimistic thinking is at least consistent with Miami’s star player. There is a lot of football to be played. Only time will tell, but I am ready to make an early January reservation for New Orleans.
Brian Poliakoff can be reached at