For all the chips

The University of Miami football team posses a 34-game winning streak, a starting quarterback who has lost one game in four seasons, a head coach that has a 1.000 winning percentage next to his name and a handful of players that have NFL executives losing sleep in anticipation of next year's draft.

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Since the start of the winning streak at West Virginia September 23, 2000, there have only been four opponents that have come within single-digits of beating the Hurricanes. Among those Florida State came the closest, falling to Miami 28-27 after a failed last-second field goal earlier this season. Another four teams have not even scored a point on Miami during the streak. UM quarterback Ken Dorsey and running back Willis McGahee are fresh off top-five finishes in the Heisman Trophy voting after impressive single seasons, respectively. Yet there is something missing, according to most of the Hurricanes. And its not the heavy-bronzed statue.

"I don't think this team has gotten the respect it deserves," says McGahee "I can't really explain it because I don't know why. Maybe another national championship will get everybody on the bandwagon."

The Hurricanes, which last tasted defeat at Washington in September of 2000, are 60 minutes away from capturing a second consecutive title (sixth in 19 years) and perhaps getting some of that respect as they face the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0) in the national championship Fiesta Bowl, Friday, Jan. 3, in Tempe, Arizona. Miami could become the first repeat national champion since Nebraska in 1995-96.

Miami will be attempting to win back-to-back national titles for the second time in a little more than a decade. After capturing the 1991 national championship with a victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl the Hurricanes went down to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl the following season. Overall, the Hurricanes are 5-3 in bowl games with national championship implications, winning crowns in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2001.

"We're at the top at the ladder with one more step to go," said McGahee, who rushed for a single-season record 1,686 yards and scored 27 touchdowns in the regular season. "We have an opportunity of making some history. It would mean a lot to be remembered as one of the greatest teams around here."

And there is an overwhelming perception that the Hurricanes will do just that.

Miami has been installed as a 12.5 point favorite and most observers believe that the Hurricanes would have to be at their absolute worse, with the Buckeyes at their best in order for UM not to come out victorious. The teams have split two previous meetings.

But at least on paper this has the makings of a mismatch.

Led by Dorsey (3,073, 26 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions) and McGahee the Hurricanes quick-strike offense averaged 41.9 points a game during the regular season and seemed to score at the most critical of moments. Miami has scored 40 or more points in seven of 12 games this year. Miami's lowest offensive output of the season came in a 26-3 victory over Tennessee in November.

Unlike the Buckeyes, the Hurricanes were rarely challenged in 2002. Aside from the last-second thriller against the Seminoles, Miami had to withstand a last gasp pass in a 28-21 win over Pittsburgh last month.

In perhaps the most important point of the season, Dorsey threw a touchdown pass and McGahee scored another to rally Miami from a 27-13 deficit with less than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter against Florida State to pull out a one-point victory.

The Hurricanes defense, which ranks 70th in the nation against the run and is allowing 167 yards per game, also seems to be a good fit for a OSU offense that struggled scoring points in games against Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Cincinnati. Although OSU averaged 372 yards a game on offense most of that production came on the legs of freshman running back Maurice Clarett. Clarett finished the regular season with 1,190 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Ohio State had plenty of close calls during the season, including a 14-9 victory over Michigan and 23-19 a triumph over Cincinnati. Six of Ohio State's 13 games were decided by seven points or less.

"If we play our game there is nobody that is going to beat us-and that includes Ohio State," said Miami sophomore defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "We just have too much talent on this team."

With Dorsey, 38-1 as a starter since arriving in 1999, the Hurricanes have an experienced leader that probably won't be affected by the big-game atmosphere. Ohio State Craig Krenzel (1,988 passing yards, 12 touchdown passes) will be playing in the national title game for the first time.

"I would think that gives us a little edge," said UM junior Jonathan Vilma, who had a team-high 119 tackles.

OSU coach Jim Tressel isn't buying into the facts. Tressel discounts the notion that his team has no chance of pulling off the upset.

"Hopefully, you don't pay attention to any labels," said Tressel, when asked about Ohio State being underdogs. "If you are a great favorite or an underdog, you should not pay attention to it. What you have to concentrate on is what you have to do to win the game."

That would include a solid running effort from Clarett and an even better one from an Ohio State defensive unit that did not allow more than 21 points all season and finished ranked 20th in the nation. The OSU coaching staff has made very few comments about their intentions against Miami. But Tressel would no doubt enjoy a time-of-possession advantage over Miami in order to keep Dorsey and friends off the field.

Tressel also downplayed the theory that Miami has more team speed than the Buckeyes.

"We have good team speed," said Tressel. "Would we like to be faster in some areas? Sure. We would not have been successful at all without team speed."

The Buckeyes leaned on strong defense, special teams play and Clarett for a good portion of the season, while the Hurricanes posted an average of 472.93 yards on offense. But Ohio State sophomore Chris Gamble, second on the team with 29 receptions, maintains that the Buckeyes have big-play capabilities as well.

"We have guys that can make some plays here," said Gamble. "We didn't win 13 games by accident."

The Hurricanes hope to keep a sound OSU defense off balance with a mixture of running and passing plays. And that includes making sure junior receiver Andre Johnson plays a role in the process. Johnson, who led the Hurricanes with 48 receptions and 1,038 yards, at times goes unnoticed in Miami's offensive. Dorsey plans to change that against Ohio State.

"Andre is a special player and special players come to play in big games," said Dorsey. "I expect Andre to do the same."

Miami also intends to make full use of sophomore tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Winslow (46 receptions, 604 yards, seven touchdowns) will be going up against undersized OSU linebackers.

"That's something we could look at," said UM coach Larry Coker.

Still, the Ohio State run defense ranks fourth nationally, giving up an average of 78.7 yards per game and likely providing a challenge for McGahee. The Buckeyes are also hoping that Clarett can do for them what McGahee won't for the Hurricanes.

"Obviously if Willis gets off that might be a problem," said Tressel.

For as much as he tried, Krenzel could find nothing negative to say about the Hurricanes and expects a war from the reigning champions.

"They have a tremendous amount of speed. They have big-play capabilities, great athletes and defensively run to the ball very well," said Krenzel. "They are physical and their speed really stands out."

Ohio State, who closed out the regular season with a victory over arch-rival Michigan, will be competing in a national title contest for the first time since the 1980 Rose Bowl and attempting to win the title for the first time in 34 years. The Buckeyes, 4-3 in bowl games with a national title was on the line, have lost three of their last four appearances in national championship games.

The Hurricanes will be looking for better results in their fourth trip out to the desert. UM is winless in three Fiesta Bowl games, including setbacks to Arizona (29-0, 1994), Penn State (1987, 14-10) and UCLA (1985, 39-37). Ohio State is 1-1 all-time in the Fiesta Bowl, defeating Pittsburgh in 1984 and losing to Penn State in 1980.

"This is where we wanted to be," said McGahee. "We have to do whatever it takes and shut the door on them."

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