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Miami Set to Flex Muscles Again

Miami Set to Flex Muscles Again

Aug. 16, 2000

AP Football Writer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Butch Davis says he has his best team since taking over as coach of the Miami Hurricanes in 1995.

Translation? Miami is back, convinced it will win the Big East despite the presence of Michael Vick and Virginia Tech, and make a run at the national championship – just like the ‘Canes did in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

The return to Top 10 prominence has been a long time coming for the Hurricanes, who enter the season ranked No. 5 and free of NCAA sanctions that limited scholarships since Davis replaced Dennis Erickson.

“I think we’re at the stage now where it’s legitimate to say we can make our season just about what we like,” Davis said. “This is the first time since 1994 that we’ve been at full scholarships.”

And what talent Miami has, starting with wide receiver Santana Moss, a bevy of running backs and a defense returning eight starters from last season, including linebacker Dan Morgan and free safety Al Blades.

While Davis has turned around Miami’s image as a band of renegades, the players still have a strut in their step.

“It may not always show, but we have that old Miami swagger back,” said Moss, who caught 54 passes for 899 yards and six TDs in the Hurricanes’ 9-4 season. “With Butch here, though, we have a lot more discipline.”

Sophomore Ken Dorsey takes over at quarterback for Kenny Kelly, who left the team in February to pursue a pro baseball career. Dorsey put up solid numbers in his three starts (718 yards, nine TDs), but still has a lot to prove since those games were against Big East weaklings Rutgers and Temple and a struggling Syracuse.

He does, however, have the luxury of perhaps the best running backs and receivers in the nation.

Clinton Portis set a freshman school rushing record with 838 yards after taking over for injured starters James Jackson (782 yards before a leg injury) and Najeh Davenport (knee injury in the season opener). Jackson and Davenport are healthy. And for good measure, there’s Jarrett Payton, son of the late NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton.

Moss, Miami’s fastest player with a 40-yard dash time around 4.3 seconds, and Reggie Wayne (40 catches, 486 yards, four TDs) are Dorsey’s main targets. Moss also returns kickoffs and punts. He had two punt returns for TDs last season.

“We want to make this a season to remember,” Moss said. “Look, everyone knows Miami can talk a big game. This year we’ll leave the talk to the fans and we’ll go out on the field and do it.”

On defense, Miami returns its entire secondary. Blades is the big hitter with 75 tackles in ’99.

Morgan moves from weakside to middle linebacker after Nate Webster surprisingly declared for the NFL draft. And look for freshman D.J. Williams, USA Today’s defensive player of the year, to make his presence felt. The front line is anchored by tackle Damione Lewis, who had 57 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks in ’99.

The schedule is favorable, with two of the three major hurdles at home against defending national champion Florida State on Oct. 7 and Virginia Tech on Nov. 4. The first test comes at Washington on Sept. 9.

The Hokies may have Heisman Trophy-favorite Vick and wide receiver Andre Davis, but coach Frank Beamer has to replace eight starters on defense, including All-American Corey Moore.

“It’s a new year with a lot of new players,” Beamer, beginning his 14th season, said, “and we can’t let Michael or anyone else get tied up into what people expect. … I want to deal in reality – not in what’s happened last year and what’s going to happen in the next few years.”

Vick threw for 1,840 yards and 12 TDs and ran for 585 yards and eight TDs in leading the Hokies to an 11-0 record before their 46-29 loss to Florida State in the national title game at the Sugar Bowl.

The 6-foot-1, 214-pound lefty says a year of experience will make him even better, but his supporting cast will make it tough for the Hokies to repeat last year’s sensational season.

Davis is back with his 27.5-yards per catch average, but 1,000-yard rusher Shyrone Stith is gone. Lee Suggs and Andre Kendrick are the top running backs from an offense that led the nation in scoring with 41.4 points per game in ’99.

On defense, linebacker Ben Taylor returns and Nick Sorensen moves from free safety to linebacker. Cory Bird is back at rover.

The Hokies always have one of the nation’s top special teams, but freshmen may end up with the kicking and punting chores this year.

Vick isn’t bothered that the Hokies were not picked to repeat as Big East champs.

“Every year we’re picked not to win the Big East, and every year we’re ranked 10th or 11th,” he said. “But that motivates me and every man on our football team. We like it like that.”

Pittsburgh, in coach Walt Harris’ fourth year, appears on the upswing with all-Big East wide receiver Latef Grim and Antonio Bryant returning to catch passes from either John Turman or David Priestley. Free safety Ramon Walker (131 tackles) is back to spearhead a defense that must improve if the Panthers want to play in the postseason.

Syracuse opened at 5-1 and finished 7-5 in ’99, including a 62-0 loss to Virginia Tech – the school’s worst beating since 1912 – and an embarrassing loss to Rutgers.

Troy Nunes and Madei Williams split the quarterbacking chores last season, and coach Paul Pasqualoni says “transition at quarterback was more difficult than we anticipated.”

Pasqualoni has four quarterbacks to choose from now – Nunes, Williams, R.J. Anderson and Chad Elliott. Look for tailback Dee Brown (741 yards) to play a big role in the offense.

Boston College, coming off its first bowl season since 1994, will be loaded at running back with Cedric Washington (1,122 yards) and sophomore speedster William Green (251 yards). Tim Hasselbeck returns at quarterback to throw to wide receivers Dedrick Dewalt and DuJuan Daniels.

West Virginia hopes to rebound from just its fourth losing season in Don Nehlen’s 20 years as the Mountaineers’ coach. Brad Lewis replaces Marc Bulger at quarterback, and tailback Avon Cobourne returns after leading the nation’s freshman in rushing with 1,139 yards.

Temple and Rutgers should bring up the rear once again.

Bobby Wallace begins his third season at Temple with Devin Scott (1,815 yards, 12 TDs) at quarterback, although Mac DeVito and junior college transfer Mike Frost are in the mix, too. The Owls, who have four wins in the past two seasons, play six homes games for the first time since 1984. Temple was 6-5 that year.

In four years, Rutgers has eight wins. Another losing season and coaching Terry Shea is probably out. Mike McMahon is a capable quarterback, but he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast.