Coker: Canes Playing For Respect

The groans from University of Miami football supporters could be heard all over South Florida when the Hurricanes were tabbed to play Florida State in the Orange Bowl Jan.1. Even some Miami players expressed discontent at having to play the Seminoles a second time this season.

After all the Canes will face the Seminoles on Labor Day 2004 to open the season in its first game ever as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. But don't tell that to UM coach Larry Coker.

Surprisingly, Coker, who coached Miami to 24 consecutive victories including a National Championship in his first two seasons at the helm, believes the Hurricanes need a victory over the Seminoles in the worst way. Maybe its just Coker's method of motivating the Hurricanes for a game that will have no baring on the National Championship outcome.

But despite a fourth straight Bowl Championship Series berth after a 10-2 regular season and Big East championship, Coker still thinks the Hurricanes have plenty to prove against the Seminoles on New Year's Day.

"I think we're the bottom two-loss team in America right now," Coker said recently at Pro Player Stadium, the site of the Orange Bowl game. "We're at the bottom of all the two-loss teams in the country. We're looking for respect and to get us back where we hoped to be. We're not going to where we ultimately wanted to be, but we'd certainly be moving in the right direction."

Hard to believe that Coker is adamant about the Hurricanes having to beat the Seminoles to earn back some of the respect they've garnered over the last 20 years. But a win over their state-rival would certainly help UM move up the ladder in terms of national perception.

The difference between an 11-2 or 10-3 finish might not be a big deal in other parts of the country. But it is here. Although the Hurricanes closed the regular season with three consecutive wins - after losses to Virginia Tech and Tennessee - to ensure another conference title and Miami's fourth straight 10-win season, fans have filled the local airwaves with criticism ranging from a lack of offensive creativity to a drop in overall talent.

Those reactions were not shocking considering the Hurricanes entered the 2003 season having posted 12-0 and 12-1 records in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Still the fact is the Hurricanes are ranked #10 nationally and won't be playing for the national title for the first time in three seasons. UM is behind No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Texas, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 9 Florida State, all two-loss teams.

And that's why Coker insists this one is crucial.

"We have a chance to be a top-five team again if we win this game," says Coker. "It's not for the (national) title, but there's a lot at stake for us."

The Seminoles are in the same position. A win against Miami would give FSU its best season since 2000 when they fell in the title game against Oklahoma. The Seminoles have dropped four straight games to the Hurricanes.

But Coker is hoping it's his team that finishes 2003 on a high note.

"Winning the game would do a lot for us right now," said Coker.

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