Next Stop: Morgantown, WV

Alright Canes, enough of the nonsense. It is the halfway point of the 2002 season and while the 6-0 record is respected and appreciated – it is time to kick things into high gear. Word on the streets is that this current incarnation of the Canes isn't quite as stellar as last year's bunch. Hardly expected as Miami lost 11 starters to April's NFL Draft.

While the Canes have more than reloaded, we are all still waiting on the boys to bring it all together and execute that perfect game.

Excitement? There's been loads of it in this halfway-completed season. Anticipation alone was enough to have fans tuned in for the season opener against Florida A&M. Forget the 63-17 blowout – it was a treat just to see the Canes suiting up for the first time since claiming the National Championship.

The fireworks came the following week in Gainesville when the 3-point underdog Canes took the road show up to The Swamp and slapped the Gators silly by a tune of 41-16. While not the prettiest of games, Miami outplayed Florida and capitalized on big plays to push the contest out of reach. Gator Nation was left limping while the Canes were just getting their engines started.

Set on cruise control the following week the Canes played an average game at Temple, picked up the 44-21 win and rolled back home to prepare for a 2001 nemesis that needed to be put in check.

From their attitude and actions, you'd almost think that Boston College beat Miami last season. The pegged the Canes as vulnerable and truly believed that a win in the Orange Bowl was doable. Forget the 18-year drought in South Florida, the Eagles came to Miami anticipating an upset. While they kept the contest respectable for the better part of the evening, they couldn't withstand a 4th quarter Hurricanes' assault. The 17-6 advantage became 38-6 in a matter of minutes. The defense awoke and put to rest any notions of an Eagles' upset while confirming the 18-7 scare of 2001 was nothing more than a fluke.

Next up was UConn, providing Miami with that "tune up" game before that annual October meeting with the boys from Tallahassee. The first-string Canes put together 30 good minutes against the Huskies, sporting a 42-0 lead before giving way to the "B" team. Complacency and sloppiness took over and UConn would outscore Miami 14-6 in the second half. Penalties, special teams breakdowns and lackadaisical play took over and instead of sheer and utter confidence going into the season's biggest game, the Canes had still yet to experience that breakout game.

October 12th, 2002 earned its page in the history books. Miami vs. Florida State was not supposed to come down to a field goal. Not this season. Fresh off of last year's 49-27, the Canes were and still are the better team. The Noles limped in with bruised egos due to the overtime loss at Louisville. Aside from questions about their quarterback play, there were issues about this team's heart. While no one expected Florida State to just rollover, there was anticipation the 12-½ point underdogs would wilt in the South Florida heat.

Instead, FSU gave UM their biggest scare in two years. While Boston College had a chance to take the lead against the Canes – Florida State held the advantage over Miami halfway through the second quarter right up until the game's final five minutes. Hurricane nerves were frayed nationwide and there was some anticipation that many dreams were about to be shattered. No Miami fan went into that Saturday prepared to lose yet most of the afternoon was spent wondering how this historical 60 minutes would come to an end.

As has happened so many times before, the Canes ignored logic and found a way to retake the lead. The defense shut down the once high-powered Florida State running game and the game would once again come down to a field goal. To mix things up a little, kicker Xavier Beitia bucked the trend and sent his shot at glory wide left. Beitia became an instant basket case while the Canes have had two weeks to rejoice.

The time to celebrate Florida State's heartbreak has come to an end.

We all loved the happy ending, but there is still a lot of football left to be played. Just as Florida State must put the loss behind them to focus on the rest of their season – Miami must do the same with the win. That day has come and gone and the only thing on any Canes' mind should be West Virginia and running back Avon Coburne.

There are six one-game seasons left between this Saturday and a trip to Tempe. Cliché and elementary as hell – still 100% true. The BCS computers have already stated their case and the verdict came back #2 for the Canes. Three other polls have Miami ranked as low as #6. Forget what UM faithful consider to be the Canes' toughest schedule in recent memory – there are already cracks being made about scheduling a I-AA opponent in FAMU. Again it is apparent that nothing is going to come easy for the Canes.

At the same time, Miami controls its own destiny yet again. Win out and you can start making hotel reservations for Tempe. A 12-0 season will send the Canes back to the championship game. A loss equals elimination, not to mention a collective uproar from the rest of the college football world who loathes Miami's recent dominance. (Something tells me a certain crew of ACC officials would be cheering the loudest.)

This weekend a somewhat improved West Virginia team awaits the visiting Canes. Chops are being licked as the latest knock is against Miami's "inability" to stop the run. Greg Jones got his yards – why can't the Mountaineers' Avon Coburne? Boston College showed the world how to slow Miami down for three quarters while Florida State showed everyone how to almost beat the Canes. While no one has quite put together or executed the perfect game plan, word on the street is that Miami is not invincible.

There is a way to shut up all that chatter, though.

Beat the ever-loving hell out of the Mountaineers. Stomp them so far into the dirt that they don't crawl out until next week. This week is THE TIME for that perfect game. Ken Dorsey needs to be laser sharp. Willis McGahee must roll over the opposing defense en route to a 250-yard day. The defensive line needs to knock Coburne into next week. Hold little man to about 50-yards and get him to cough up a few fumbles. Freddie Capshaw needs to boot every put and drop ‘em dead on the ½ yard line. The secondary needs to take control of the game and pull Rasheed Marshall passes out of the sky all afternoon long.

Nothing short of perfection will have the world believing that Miami is the best team in the nation. College football is looking for a new bunch to lay the crown on. Oklahoma is the current favorite. The "best" defense in the land since Pittsburgh's 1976 Steel Curtain and a "genius" that would rival Einstein in head coach Bob Stoops – OU are the anti-Hurricanes. For some reason lackluster wins over Tulsa, South Florida and Missouri were impressive to BCS computers. An 11-point victory against overrated Texas was as amazing as New England knocking off the Rams in last year's Super Bowl. Last week's 49-3 beating of Iowa State sealed the deal – OU is #1… for now.

Deep down isn't this the way the Canes like it? Underestimated and disrespected? Hard to go out and make a statement every week when the world is on your side and expects your best. So much more fun when you're being told that someone else is better. Someone else deserves your glory. You've been surpassed. Has-been status waits around the next corner. One big play away from being dethroned and the first stone will be cast.

From hero to zero overnight. That's what they want.

Damned if we give it to them.

Florida State and Greg Jones bruised several Miami egos. The lack of defense against the run has caused many questions the past week. Enter Avon Coburne and his chatter that WVU is one of the best teams in the land. They are physical and Miami best not come in thinking otherwise. Coburne and his bunch will be looking for the upset. The Canes will be in search of the complete game.

One at a time. It starts this weekend. A rout of West Virginia will have many doubters changing their tunes, but who really cares? Let them doubt. Continue to hate. Pour it on – we don't care. The streak is at 27 and the goal is to get to 35. Six more in the regular season and one under the desert sky come January. Still, that will be nothing more than a pipe dream if business isn't taken care of this weekend.

West Virginia will attempt to dethrone a champion but must do so while hosting an angry bunch stinging from 14 days of doubt and scrutiny. Everyone knows what's at hand and come high noon in Morgantown, the Mountaineers will see just how "complete" the Canes can be.

Let's bag this one and get one step closer to a Fiesta.

Miami 48 West Virginia 17

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at chris@grassy.com


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