Don't Expect A Drop Off

It's happened before. And there is a pretty good chance it will happen again. But losing top-notch players to the NFL, watching others graduate and having coaches bolt to the pro ranks has done little the last several years to disrupt the University of Miami's dominance of college football.

After falling just short of a berth in the national title game in 2000-01 with a record of 11-1, which included a Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators, the Hurricanes dealt with the departure to the NFL of key receivers Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Andre King and coach Butch Davis.

Several months after winning the school's fifth national title in the 2002 Rose Bowl, the Hurricanes lost five eventual first-round draft picks, including juniors, Jeremy Shockey and Phillip Buchanon (Oakland), Ed Reed (Baltimore), Mike Rumph (San Francisco) and Bryant McKinnie (Minnesota) were all chosen in the first-round with Clinton Portis (Denver) going in the second round. All Portis did in his inaugural NFL season was win the Rookie-Of-The-Year Award, while Shockey finished second in the voting.

And now the Hurricanes, on the heels of a 31-24 defeat to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, might have to prepare for life without quarterback Ken Dorsey, running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Dorsey is gone. McGahee and Johnson will decide in the coming days whether they will enter the NFL Draft or return for their final seasons at UM. Johnson is viewed as a top-10 selection if he opts to return, while McGahee's situation is a little less clear after suffering a serious injury in the Fiesta Bowl.

But no matter what players the Hurricanes have seen walk away the last three seasons one constant has remained- there is always another talented player waiting to replace the talented player that is leaving. And next season should be no different.

Even with the loss of Dorsey, the injury to McGahee and the uncertain futures of Johnson and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma the Hurricanes have enough talent returning in 2002-03, including nine reserves from this year's squad, to potentially make a run at another national championship. And with the incoming recruiting class that includes running back Tyrone Moss and quarterback Kyle Wright many insiders believe that the Hurricanes could challenge for a national title well into the decade.

"I can't say enough about the future of the program," said UM coach Larry Coker. "I'm really looking forward to next season and beyond."

Who can blame him?

Although the coaching staff has remained tight-lipped about who will replace Dorsey at quarterback the overwhelming feeling with those close to the program is that Brock Berlin will emerge as the starter. Berlin, who transferred from Florida last year and sat out the 2002-03 season, will head into the spring along with Derrick Crudup as the front-runners for the job.

But his potential is so that Berlin is already being touted as the next great quarterback out of the university. Berlin played in 12 games at Florida, throwing for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns with two interceptions while completing 53-of-87 passes.

Plenty of eyes will also be on returning running back Frank Gore who was forced to miss the 2002-03 season after suffering a knee injury last spring. Gore, who rushed for 562 yards on just 62 carries as a freshman, is being looked as the first-team back after the knee injury to McGahee. Several coaches, including running backs coach Don Soldinger, think that if healthy Gore has the ability to match or surpass McGahee's accomplishments.

Another spot should open up with the likely departure of Johnson. Ready to set up in: Roscoe Parrish, Kevin Beard or Jason Geathers. Parrish has exceptional quickness and posses the game-breaking skills that is synonymous with so many UM receivers of the past. Geathers is big and quick, which can give the Hurricanes a physical presence at receiver. But perhaps the most talented offensive players of all the Hurricanes next season is tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

Winslow, who stepped in for departed Jeremy Shockey, didn't take long to impress the coaching staff and has establish himself as one of best tight ends in college football. The most glaring loss along the offensive line is at center were Joel Rodriguez will replace Brett Romberg.

"We have a lot of talent coming back," said Winslow. "There shouldn't be that much of a drop off."

The defense could be the Hurricanes biggest question heading into the season. With William Joseph, Andrew Williams, Cornelius Green and Jamaal Green all moving on the Hurricanes will have to replace most of their defensive line. One bright spot is the return of Vince Wilfork. Wilfork was one of the most consistent pass rushers for the Hurricanes all season long.

Miami hits the road for the season-opener against Louisiana Tech (Aug. 30) and a Oct. 11 clash against Florida State, while hosting Florida and Tennessee at the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes will also travel to Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The Sugar Bowl will host the national championship game next season. And its not far-fetched to think the Hurricanes can be in Bourbon Street for New Year's.

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