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Hurricanes Hope To Keep Title Hopes Alive Against Gators In Sugar Bowl

Dec. 29, 2000

AP MegaSports Writer

The Sugar Bowl combatants were fighting as soon as they got off theplane inNew Orleans. Now Miami likely needs to beat up on Florida to have any shotoftaking the national championship.

Snubbed by the Bowl Championship Series for a spot in the Orange Bowl,theHurricanes hope to stake their claim to the national title Tuesday when theybring their Bourbon Street battle with the Gators to the Superdome.

Miami (10-1) is ranked second in the polls, but sits third in the BCSbehindthird-ranked Florida State. Despite beating then-No. 1 Florida State 27-24onOct. 7, the Hurricanes missed out on the BCS national title game while theSeminoles were given the chance to face Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

“Regardless of how it turned out, it can’t take anything away from ourgreat season,” Miami coach Butch Davis said. “We had some great games,against Florida State and then Virginia Tech. We’ve won nine in a row anddideverything we think we could have.”

The victory over FSU, along with a 41-21 win over Virginia Tech a monthlater, gave Miami wins over No. 1 and No. 2 teams, but that was not enoughtoturn the BCS rankings in its favor.

The Hurricanes’ only loss came in their second game of the season,34-29 atWashington.

“You could say if the BCS didn’t exist, there’s a good chance we couldbeplaying in the national championship game,” Davis added.

The winner of the Orange Bowl is automatically the No. 1 team in thefinalcoaches’ poll, but Miami can still gain a share of the title if Oklahomalosesand the Hurricanes are voted No. 1 in The Associated Press media poll.

Even Gators coach Steve Spurrier feels Miami may have gotten the shortendof the stick.

“I don’t think the BCS is what it should be,” he said. “If we hadscoredonce more against FSU would that have put Miami into the championship? Idon’tknow.”

“If this wasn’t a rivalry, it’s a rivalry now,” Florida offensivelinemanKenyatta Walker said. “It’s going to be a good game. We’ve got to go getthem.”

This is the 50th matchup between these in-state rivals, but they havenotmet since Miami posted a 31-4 victory in 1987. Florida opted out of theseriesthat year, but the teams will renew their rivalry in the regular season in2002.

Spurrier’s teams are known for their offense, but it’s Miami thatenters asthe superior squad offensively. The Hurricanes put up 42.6 points and 460.8yards per game, more than five points and 42 yards better than Florida’sseasonaverages.

The running game is where the big difference lies, with Miami averagingnearly 195 yards on the ground compared to 110.5 for the Gators.

James Jackson gets the bulk of the carries for the Hurricanes, havingrushedfor 933 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Gators defense, however, must bewarebig-play receiver Santana Moss, who led Miami with 45 catches but alsoaverageda whopping 33.5 yards on his six carries and ran for two scores.

The Hurricanes’ biggest weapon on offense has been sophomorequarterback KenDorsey, who completed over 58 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,737yards and 25 touchdowns.

Seventh-ranked Florida (10-2) has an opportunistic defense, havingforced anation-best 40 turnovers this season. However, Dorsey was picked off justfivetimes all season and his offensive line gave up just eight sacks.

The Miami defense will be putting the heat on freshman Rex Grossman,whogets the start over Jesse Palmer after his phenomenal performance in the SECchampionship. Grossman, who split time with Palmer most of the season, threwfor 238 yards and four touchdowns in the 28-6 win over Auburn.

Regardless of who is under center, the favorite target of Floridaquarterbacks this season has clearly been Jabar Gaffney. The freshmanwideouthad 71 receptions for 1,184 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Davis has gone 3-0 in bowl games since taking over the reins in Miami,whileSpurrier has gone just 5-5 in his head coaching career.

While Florida is gunning for its fourth 11-win campaign, Miami issomehowhoping to sneak into its fifth national championship and first since 1991.

“We can’t go out there and be nice,” Walker said. “We have to go outandplay hard. If you can’t get up for this game, you shouldn’t be playinghere.”