After a disappointing two-loss season, the 2004 Miami Hurricanes are looking to return to the national title game. They will have to get through the Atlantic Coast Conference to get there.
However, the Hurricanes plan to enter their first season of ACC play with a bang. They are the pre-season No. 5 team in the nation and fully expect to be playing for the title in front of their home crowd at the Orange Bowl in January.
“This team is very confident and expects to compete for a national championship.” cornerback Kelly Jennings said. “We go out to win every game and we want to stay at a high level.”
The theme of the summer practices has been position battles. Frank Gore appears to be fully recovered from knee surgery, but sophomore Tyrone Moss was impressive last season. The two backs figure to split the carries. The tight ends have enjoyed an interesting battle between Kevin Everett and Greg Olsen. Both have been formidable thus far for the Hurricanes.
“This is the best group of tight ends I have ever been around,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “They are outstanding. Everett and Olsen are tough and are tremendously hard workers.”
Of course, the offense’s success will rely on quarterback Brock Berlin. With Derrick Crudup still around and young Kyle Wright pushing him, Berlin will have to be at the top of his game. So far, he has been pleasing the coaches in practice. Berlin will be the starter on Labor Day against the Seminoles.
The offensive line will be anchored by Chris Myers and Eric Winston, who figure to be two of the best in the nation. However, the rest of the offensive line is a question mark, but mastermind Art Kehoe seems to always have his linemen at the top of their games.
Defensively, the Hurricanes have to make up for lost talent. With Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vince Wilfork, and Sean Taylor leaving last year for the NFL, the defense will be looking for its younger guys to step up.
“We have great coaches and they will put guys in positions to make plays. We have lost guys in the past and we always reload,” Jennings said. “The younger guys have learned from the veterans and people will have to step up and make plays.”
Freshman Willie Williams, the Carol City high school recruit, was admitted to the University of Miami. However, do not look for Williams to step in and help replace Vilma at linebacker right away. Williams has suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery last week. In addition, he is suspended for the first four games regardless of his off-field problems.
“Willie has had surgery, but his spirits are good and his surgery went well,” Coker said. “Red shirting him will take care of itself based on his injury and how well he heals.”
Overall, the Hurricanes have much talent to replace and are in a new conference. However, this is the University of Miami and the team is expected to contend every year.
“I feel very good about the team,” Coker said. “The attitude has been great, and I like our athleticism. I think we are ahead of where we were a year ago.”
This year’s team faces some added pressure from last year’s disappointment. Plus, there are a bunch of unknowns on the schedule. Gone from the schedule are familiar rivals Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Instead, the Hurricanes play an ACC schedule featuring Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State, and Virginia, along with old friends FSU and Virginia Tech.
However, this year’s schedule is favorable. If the Hurricanes beat FSU on Sept. 6, the road to the national title could be clear. The Hurricanes play Virginia Tech and Clemson at home, and the road schedule is relatively easy. Be wary of a late season road trip to Virginia though, as the Cavaliers could ruin the Hurricanes national title hopes.
“It is always hard to win a national championship because you have to be flawless in every game to put yourself in that position,” Jennings said. “The ACC is a different conference so we have to watch what those teams are doing and be ready for the new challenges every week.”
Darren Grossman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.