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The Perfect Storm

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2001 season saw the return of the Miami Hurricanes to the pinnacle of the college football world, as Larry Coker's debut campaign ended with a thorough whipping of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, capping off a perfect season with the team's fifth national championship.

Going 12-0 last season certainly wasn't easy, as the team was taken to the limit by conference foes Boston College (18-7) and Virginia Tech (26-24), but when all was said and done, the Hurricanes ran the table, highlighted by a 37-14 pasting of Nebraska in Pasadena.

Larry Coker's debut campaign ended with a thorough whipping of Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl.
Can the 2002 team stay the course? Can Coker avoid a sophomore slump as coach? That remains to be seen, but don't count the Hurricanes out just yet.

Yes, Miami detractors will point to the number of losses on both sides of the football (only four starters returning on offense and six on defense), but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings to keep Miami in the national title picture in 2002.

The offense has the most losses (in terms of numbers). The Hurricanes certainly benefited from the nation's top offensive line in 2001 and perhaps one of the top units in college football history. The play up front kept Heisman candidate Ken Dorsey out of trouble, as the line allowed just four sacks all season long, while paving the way for 5.3 yards per carry.

This unit will undoubtedly take a step back, as there is just no way to replace All-Americans Bryant McKinnie (First-Team AA and Outland Trophy winner), Joaquin Gonzalez (First-Team AA) and Martin Bibla (Third-Team AA). Senior center Brett Romberg will run the revamped line from the pivot position, while senior guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli returns from a knee injury last season to help solidify things up front.

The ground game suffered some losses as well, as talented back Clinton Portis moved onto the NFL, after rushing for over 1,300 yards (5.4 ypc) in 2001. Further woes in the backfield surfaced when sophomore sensation Frank Gore (9.1 ypc in 2001) tore his ACL in the spring. He was expected to make it back early on this year, but a recent infection in the knee will keep him sidelined through the middle of the season. That means, that sophomore Willis McGahee will take the lion's share of the carriers. Last season, the 6-1, 220 pound bruiser averaged 4.7 yards per carry in limited action (69 carries).

Ken Dorsey
Ken Dorsey completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 3,014 yards and 26 TDs.
Ken Dorsey won't have unlimited time in the pocket this year, but it won't matter, because he won't need it. The receiving corps could be one of the best units in the country, with three of the team's top four pass catchers returning this season. Sure, superb relief valve Jeremy Shockey took his act to the NFL, but explosive downfield threats Andre Johnson (44 receptions, for 881 yards and 12 TDs in 2001), Kevin Beard (29 receptions, for 450 yards and two TDs last year) and Ethenic Sands (26 receptions, for 385 yards and one TD in 2001) will find the open seams in a defense, and rest assured, Dorsey will deliver the ball on time. Last season, Dorsey completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 3,014 yards and 26 TDs, compared to just 10 interceptions. Those numbers should all increase this year (with the exception of the INTs).

While the offense will still be one of the most potent units in the country this season, the defense may take a step back. Although that side of the ball took less of a hit in terms of numbers, the losses might be more severe. The Hurricanes had the advantage of the best secondary in the country and that in and of itself made the whole defense better. Gone are first-round draft picks Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph -- losses that can simply not be minimized.

The good news is that the front seven will pick up the slack for an unproven secondary this season. The defensive line is explosive and caught a break with the return of defensive tackle William Joseph, who turned down the opportunity to turn pro last season to return to Coral Gables for one more season. Joseph is the complete package at 6-5, 300 pounds and is coming off a 10-sack campaign in 2001, en route to All-American honors (Third-Team). Joining him in the trenches will be seniors Jerome McDougle (an amazing 48 QB hurries in 2001), Jamaal Green (six sacks in 2001) and Matt Walters (67 tackles, three sacks in 2001), as well as former starter Cornelius Green, who missed 10 games last year. Also in the mix is sophomore sensation Vince Wilfork (6-2, 350), who reminds a lot of Miami faithful of Warren Sapp.

The linebacking unit will be anchored by last season's top tackler Jonathan Vilma (87 tackles in 2001) and fellow junior D.J. Williams (47 tackles last year).

Looking at the schedule, the defending champions catch a break in that they get tough opponents like Florida State, Boston College and Virginia Tech all in the friendly confines of the Orange Bowl. The 'Canes will get a tough test in early September, as they must travel to Gainesville to take on the Gators, but Florida will still be trying to find its feet under new head coach Ron Zook and that should give Miami an advantage there.

The game on the schedule that is the one circled as the toughest of the year is November 9th's clash with Tennessee in Knoxville. It's refreshing to see two top programs in the midst of conference play take time out to play a national title type game in the middle of the season, but both teams will put a lot at risk in that contest.

The Hurricanes certainly had things break right for them in 2001, as the team posted that elusive perfect season.

While repeating that campaign might be more than should be expected, the weather in the Sunshine State could very well be inclement again in 2002.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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