Hurricanes' 2003 Schedule Backloaded

Rarely in the last 20 years has a college football season kicked off without the University of Miami Hurricanes being played up as a National Championship contender. And rarely have the Hurricanes disappointed with five national titles since 1983.

But as Miami gets ready to open the 2003 season, and begin a journey they hope will conclude in celebratory mood in the Super Dome in New Orleans, Louisiana, the defending national runner-up Hurricanes will go about it with a new quarterback, a revamped offensive line, a running back returning from injury, a young set of receivers, an untested defensive line and a rash of minor bumps and bruises.

Which brings to mind their opponents this season.

Should Miami go on to make a serious run at a National Championship this season, they might look back next January and point to the maturation process of a talented but unproven offense and defensive line. Something that the Hurricanes' 2003 schedule might allow them to do before stiffening in the latter months of the season.

Ready for the ride? Here's a closer look:

GAME 1, @ Louisiana Tech, (Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.): The Hurricanes head for Shreveport, Louisiana as starting quarterback Brock Berlin, who grew up miles away, will officially take over UM's offense in front of a large contengent of family and friends. It will also be a chance for the entire country to see if running back Frank Gore's right knee is completely heeled like he says it is. Louisiana Tech QB Luke McCown, who has thrown for 9,420 yards in his career as a Bulldog, should give the Miami defense a workout out of the box. But UM will have an easy time with a La. Tech defense that has allowed 19 of their last 24 opponents to score more than 30 points. Berlin will have a happy homecoming.

GAME 2, VS. FLORIDA, (Sept. 6, 8 p.m.): The Brock Berlin Tour continues as the former University of Florida quarterback takes on the Gators in front of a national audience and a jam-packed Orange Bowl. Berlin has been downplaying going up against the Gators for a while now, but he will certainly have to overcome the emotional barrier that will come with the endless request for interviews before the game. Once the game starts though, the Hurricanes will no doubt have too much going on their side for a Florida team that is still years from competing for anything meaningful. If Miami plays a solid, error-free game they likely will get past the Gators with little problem. But things never seem to go as planned in these big rivalries. Still, Miami at 2-0 sounds right.

GAME 3, VS. EAST CAROLINA, (Sept. 13, 7 p.m.): The Pirates have scored two consecutive victories over the Hurricanes, but their last one came in 1999 before Miami started its current string of National Championship game appearances. Gone is Steve Logan, who did a masterful job of dissecting those UM teams of the past on the way to victory. In is John Thompson, whose Gator defense was shredded by UM last year. East Carolina will come in with an erratic quarterback (Paul Troth) that will have a tough time getting anything done against a stingy UM secondary. Canes in a walk away.

GAME 4, @ Boston College (Sept. 20, TBA): Miami leads the all-time series 21-3 although the Eagles have played the Hurricanes relatively tough over the last decade. One of the reasons is Eagles coach Tom O'Brien usually gets the most out of his team and has them prepared for all occasions. This is a wearisome game for the Hurricanes considering it will be Berlin's first real exam on the road and the Eagles are a solid home team. This one could go down to the wire if Boston College QB Quincy Porter limits his mistakes and RB Derrick Knight has a big day. An upset would not be surprising.

GAME 5, VS WEST VIRGINIA (Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.): Everybody seems to be high on the Mountaineers after a nine-win season in 2002, but its hard to imagine that a rebuilt defense and young offense will be able to stay up with the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. Miami will likely score plenty of points in this one and have the subs in midway through the third quarter.

GAME 6, @ Florida State (Oct. 11, TBA): This is when the real season begins. For all of Florida State's off-the-field problems lately they have the talent on both sides of the ball to send the Hurricanes home in pain. Take a look at last year when Miami, who reached the national title game, escaped thanks to a last-second field goal miss by Xavier Beitia. A year later the Seminoles have Chris Rix back, a trio of star running backs and a defense that will only be missing one player from last year's squad. The Seminoles are playing with a chip on their shoulders. That might be enough to get past the Hurricanes.

GAME 7, VS. TEMPLE (Oct. 18, TBA): This will be no more than a four-quarter scrimmage for the Hurricanes. Temple is on the way out of the Big East and there is little chance they will do anything before departing the conference. Second-tier junior college players have replaced most of last year's starters on offense and defense. Ouch! Not exactly the bunch you want to bring into the OB.

GAME 8, @ Virginia Tech (Nov. 1, TBA): A tough spot for the Hurricanes with Tennessee next in the Orange Bowl so Miami should be at full attention here. The Hokies are a talented group on offense with two quarterbacks and a solid running back in Kevin Jones. The Hokies defense fell apart late last season, but if they hold here Miami could be in trouble.

GAME 9, VS. TENNESSEE (Nov. 8, TBA): The Volunteers could be in the running for the national title when they arrive in the OB. With a Heisman candidate at quarterback (Casey Clausen), a strong running back (Cedric Houston) and a monster offensive line, led by left tackle Michael Munoz, the Volunteers won't be a push over no matter where this game is played. The longer Miami lets Tennessee stay in the game, the longer they will be in trouble.

GAME 10 VS. SYRACUSE (Nov. 15, TBA): For the last four seasons the Hurricanes have apparently been paying the Orangemen for spanking UM back in 1998. And that will continue this year as Syracuse appears to be headed on the way down quickly.

GAME 11 VS. RUTGERS (Nov. 22, TBA): The Scarlet Knights are winless in the Big east since Greg Schiano took over in 2001. Whether or not they get a victory this season, don't look for them to make Miami a victim. Miami has just too much for the Scarlet Knights to deal with, especially at home.

GAME 12 @ Pittsburgh (Nov. 29): It could all come down to this one at Heinz Field. The Panthers are loaded on offense and have a solid defensive front that should give UM trouble. At the end of the day, whomever makes the least mistakes here will walk away with a victory. These two are evenly matched, especially with Pitt at home.

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