By 8:30 Saturday night, or there abouts, the race for the national championship could have a clear-cut leader and college football aficionados in Gainesville and Coral Gables will either be partying into the wee hours or lamenting what went wrong.

Much will be at stake Sept. 6 when the top-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes ride into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field to collide with the No. 6 Gators for the first time in the regular season since 1987.

The longest winning streak in the country (23) will be up for grabs as the Hurricanes attempt to continue something they started Sept. 23, 2000. Miami has yet to taste defeat since Washington left a sour taste on their mouths Sept. 9, 2000.

The right for the respective teams to brag- at least until next year- about having the ‘best' team in the state of Florida will also be there for the taking. And that claim travels a long way in both cities considering the animosity among the team's fans. If that wasn't enough incentive the all-time series, which started in 1938, is deadlocked at 25 apiece.

But there could also be something else at stake- even if the recipient won't be able to pick up his prize until December. And no matter what is coming out of the mouths of both Ken Dorsey and Rex Grossman this week.

It may not be locked down by Dorsey or Grossman a few days from now, but there is a good chance those responsible for the Heisman Trophy voting will be keeping a close tabs on how both starting quarterbacks perform on the big stage this coming Saturday.

Like it or not.

By the time the Hurricanes and Gators finish conducting business there could also be a frontrunner for the award as a result. And Dorsey and Grossman, considered the two best quarterbacks in the game, are both legitimate candidates for the award that goes to the top collegiate football player in the nation.

Dorsey, who last week became the winningest quarterback in UM history with a 27-1 all-time record, finished third last season in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind Grossman and award-winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska. Grossman became only the fifth sophomore to finish second in the balloting in the history of the award.

And although many observers are pinning the UM-UF tilt to be a Dorsey-Grossman battle, the right-hander from Orinda, Calif. wants no part of it.

"I'm not going in there thinking it's me against Grossman. It's the Miami Hurricanes against the Florida Gators," said Dorsey, who threw for 110 yards and three touchdowns in a little less than two quarters to lead Miami 63-17 over Florida A&M in the season-opener. "I'm focused on the task at hand and that's finding a way to walk out of Gainesville with a victory. That is the only thing on my mind."

"Like I've said before it's not something that really concerns me. This is more than just Rex Grossman and Kenny Dorsey. All I'm doing is preparing myself the best way possible and trying to win a football game. I'm not worried about all that other stuff."

UM head coach Larry Coker also erased the notion that the upcoming contest is as much for an award than it is for a victory.

"You know, Ken Dorsey doesn't have anything to prove," said Coker, who was vividly upset by a question concerning his quarterback's run at the award. "We all know what he means to this program. That young man isn't about stats, personal glorification or any of that stuff. Ken is the ultimate team player. He doesn't care about that stuff."

Dorsey reaffirmed his status for being a team-oriented player as opposed to being one who worries about the ‘stat sheet' after watching the second half of the Rattlers-Hurricanes game out of shoulder pads.

"We had the game well in hand," said Dorsey. "It wasn't a big deal because it was the right time to get Derrick (Crudup) some reps."

Grossman is also downplaying the prospect of a stellar outing against the Hurricanes bumping his Heisman hopes from very good to excellent. The 6-1, 215-pounder from Bloomington, Ind., indicated that dealing with Miami's star-studded defensive line will be enough of a dilemma to put any thoughts of winning the award on hold.

"I'd be lying if I said I've never thought about winning the Heisman," said Grossman, who as a sophomore in 2001 became the first quarterback since BYU"s Steve Young to lead the country in passing effiency (170.8) and total offense per game (354.9) in the same season. "It was a great honor last year to be asked to participate in the ceremony and be a part of everything. But if I go into Saturday's game thinking what I can do t beat Ken for the Heisman we're going to be in trouble. This isn't about two guys slugging it out. This is about two great football teams." Although Dorsey and Grossman aren't the best of friends, both hold a mutual respect for each other that grew last year at the Heisman Trophy event. Both players struck up a long conversation after getting stuck in the elevator together. "It was kind of neat. We got to know each other a little bit," said Grossman, a left-hander.

Dorsey was probably more cordial in the elevator than he was in the 2001 Sugar Bowl. Then, Dorsey completed 22-of-40 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes to a 37-20 victory over the Gators. Grossman, a freshman at the time, had a pass intercepted late in the fourth quarter as the Gators attempted a comeback. "It just wasn't our night," said Grossman. "There were a lot of things that went wrong and you can't make too many mistakes against a team like Miami."

Said Dorsey about that night in the Sugar Bowl: "It was a lot of fun just being in New Orleans and taking part in such a big game. A lot of things have happened in the last year and a half."

Whatever transpires both quarterbacks probably won't disappoint.

Grossman, who passed for 337 yards and two touchdowns in Florida's 51-3 victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham to open the 2002 season, has tremendous arm strength and accuracy. He already is being mentioned in the same breath with NFL quarterbacks Brett Favre and Mark Brunell. And could be a top-three selection in next year's NFL draft.

Grossman's current career pass effiency of 167.63 stands as the best rating in NCAA Division I history for a quarterback who has completed at least 325 passes. His 55 touchdown passes as a freshman and sophomore combined is also a NCAA Div. I record.

Last season, Grossman, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, started all 11 regular season games on his way to 259 pass completions, 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns. He finished the season with a pass effiency of 170.75.

As a redshirt freshman in 2000, Grossman threw for 1,866 yards and 21 touchdown passes in 11 games. He completed 18-of-41 passes for 252 yards against Miami in the Sugar Bowl. For all the gaudy numbers that Grossman has placed in the record books for the last two seasons, he knows the type of challenge that awaits him against the Hurricanes. "They have the best defensive line in the nation," said Grossman. "What else is there to say." So, how does Grossman plan to overcome that NFL-touted Miami D-Line?

"I'm not about to give anybody inside information, but obviously our guys up front have to come through and I'm confident they will," said Grossman

Besides being a proven winner, Dorsey has made quite a dent in the UM record books. Coming into the 2002 season, Dorsey was fourth in school career completion percentage (59.1), first in touchdown passes thrown (now 61), second in career passing yards (now 6,306), and second in total offense (6,266 yards).

Dorsey has the anchor last year of a UM offense that averaged more than 43 points and 400 yards of offense. He passed for 2,652 yards and 23 touchdowns, including a career-high 362 passing yards in the national championship game against Nebraska.

Any secrets on Florida's defense from Dorsey? "We'll go to whatever is going to get us a W," said Dorsey.

Even if it means missing out on the Heisman.

WHAT: No. 1 Miami (1-0) @ No. 6 Florida (1-0)

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 7; 5:15 p.m.

WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field

LINE: Florida 1

ON THE AIR: Ch. 4; WQAM (560), WVUM (90.5), WRFX (940-AM), WNMA (1210-AM) Spanish

SERIES HISTORY: Tied 25-25; Both teams have not met in the regular season since 1987. Miami defeated Florida 37-20 in the 2001 Sugar Bowl behind 270 yards and three touchdown passes from quarterback Ken Dorsey

LAST GAME: UM 37, UF 20; Jan. 2, 2001


NOTEWORTHY: Of 50 previous meeting between both schools 24 have been decided by a touchdown or less.

OUTLOOK: After disposing of Florida A&M with ease and leaving the Orange Bowl with their secondary still untested, questions linger on just how good this University of Miami football team really is. That point could be made meaningless by a strong UM defensive front that could make life miserable for Florida quarterback Rex Grossman for about three and a half hours on Saturday. If the Hurricanes apply any kind of pressure on Grossman it will be a long day and night for Florida's Heisman hopeful- no matter how well UF running back Earnest Graham runs the ball. The Gators will have to run the ball to have any chance of winning, but if William Joseph, Vince Wilfork and Andrew Williams have their way it won't matter. The shuffling on Florida's OL could be a major problem against Miami's versatile and deep front. Miami's offensive line- with Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey- is quality, but untested in such a setting. Look for quarterback Ken Dorsey to try and exploit the Florida secondary by looking for Andre Johnson and Roscoe Parrish early- and often. This may be one of those occasions the Hurricanes pass to set up the run. Kellen Winslow and Eric Winston might also prove to be crucial in the Canes offensive game plan because the Gators linebackers are suspect. Whatever Florida does it probably won't be like 2001 in the Sugar Bowl when the ‘ball coach' abandoned the running game early. Zook will have to force the running game on the Hurricanes. Or this could get ugly.


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