An early look: Miami

The Tigers return to South Florida for the first time since 2004 Saturday afternoon.

HEAD COACH: Randy Shannon (17-14 overall and at Miami)

STARTERS RETURNING IN 2009: 13 (6 – offense, 6 – defense, 1- kicker)

KEY PLAYERS: QB Jacory Harris (6-4,190), RB Graig Cooper (6-0,202), WR Aldarius Johnson (6-2,205), DL Allen Bailey (6-4,290), LB Sean Spence (6-0, 211)

LAST MEETING: Miami 36 Clemson 30 3 OT (2005)

It's hard to believe four years have passed since the Tigers and Hurricanes have squared off on the gridiron, but it has- and certainly a good bit has changed since Miami's triple overtime win inside of Death Valley in 2005.

For starters, Tommy Bowden is no longer the head coach at Clemson and Larry Coker no longer calls the shots for the Hurricanes.

However, if the 2009 matchup of these two teams comes anywhere close to the only two conference games played in 2004 and '05, college football fans will be in for a real treat.

Remember, it was 2004 when Clemson travelled to the Orange Bowl as heavy underdogs to face a top 10 Miami squad, only to beat the ‘Canes 24-17 in overtime. It was Reggie Merriweather running for over 110 yards and three touchdowns, a brilliant fake field goal call deep in Miami territory and a fourth-down pass defended by future first round draft pick Tye Hill in the end zone that sealed the upset win.

The following season, Miami returned the favor inside of Death Valley, winning 36-31 in triple overtime in one of the loudest games if even witnessed in the league, if not the country. Trailing by six, the Hurricanes locked up the hard-earned victory when Kenny Phillips intercepted Charlie Whitehurst on second down to the end the game.

Saturday, the Tigers return to South Florida in what should be a matchup of teams trying to rebuild their reputation as two of the top programs in the ACC.

Of course for the ‘Canes have gotten off to one of the most surprising starts in the country this year, beating Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma while climbing the national polls all the way to No. 9.

Miami's quick rise has been credited to QB Jacory Harris and his partner in crime, new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who seems to call the exact right play at the exact right time.

Harris, a dynamic playmaker who may be the best the ACC has to offer this season at quarterback, has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including a host of receivers who all seem to have big-play ability.

Running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James give the ‘Canes reliable options in the backfield and three starters are also back on an offensive line which has been one of the top units in the league so far in 2009.

But the early key for Miami has been Harris and Whipple. Whipple has brought an NFL mentality back to the 'Canes having served as an offensive assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers the last four seasons.

Defensively, the ‘Canes also return six starters from last year's squad, led by last year's ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Sean Spence. In addition, seven of the top nine defensive linemen are back in a front four that is still young but talented.

While Miami's team stats don't really blow you away (86th rushing offense, 56th total offense, 38th scoring defense), its a young team with speed to burn and plenty of talent stockpiled all over the field.

DID YOU KNOW? Randy Shannon was a four-year letterman at linebacker at Miami and played on the ‘Canes 1987 National Championship team. He went on to be an 11th round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys and was the first rookie to start at outside linebacker for America's Team since 1963.

RECRUITING IMPLICATIONS: Major. There's enough FCS talent in Dade and Broward counties in south Florida to build three college football programs. A win over Miami helps pave the way for the Clemson coaching staff to attack those talent-rich areas harder than ever before. Top Stories