Big East Preview, Part 2

This is the second in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at the defending Big East champion Miami Hurricanes. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Larry Coker was on the verge of greatness.  Undefeated at 24-0 as the second year head coach of the mighty Miami Hurricanes, Coker already sported the best start of any college coach in modern history.  With a victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Coker would have become the first coach to win back-to-back national in his inaugural seasons.  Despite losing a talented crop of players to the NFL, Miami's talent level still outclassed every program in the nation.  Coker's 2001 team, deprived of a national championship game appearance by a computer too illogical to conclude Miami belonged, was highly motivated and loaded with leaders.  Coker's 2002 team was younger and less mature.  The 2002 Canes needed discipline and motivation.  They didn't get enough of either.  After coasting through their schedule with too many unjustifiably close calls, the cocky Canes were punched in the mouth by a tough Ohio State team.  Miami blinked, losing 31-24 in double OT after some controversial pass interference calls benefited Ohio State.  Miami fans have been howling for seven months.  Enough already.  These same Miami fans had no problem with the way officials allowed former WR Andre Johnson to rag doll Nebraska CBs in Miami's 2001 national championship victory.  Call it karma.  Say it was bad calls evening out.  Just stop whining. 

Coker and Miami enter the 2003 campaign looking to redeem themselves.  Miami lost yet another crop of starters, some early, to the NFL.  Nine starters, plus two kickers, are gone.  Eight were drafted by the NFL.  Only two starters remain from the 2001 national champs.  But, as usual, the Canes are still loaded with talent.  Miami again is favored to win the Big East championship and again will contend for a national championship berth in the Sugar Bowl.  Here's a look at the three-time defending Big East champions. 


Miami lost 5 starters from a unit that recorded impressive statistics last season:

  • 41 points per game (#1 in the Big East and #4 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 467 yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #6 in Division 1A)
  • 183 rushing yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #40 in Division 1A)
  • 284 passing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #16 in Division 1A)

Miami lost two starters off of an OLine that was among the best in college football.  Consensus All-American, Rimington Award winner, and three-time First Team All-Big East C Brett Romberg and two-time All-Big LG Sherko Haji-Rasouli (First Team last year) have departed.   None of the starters from the 2001 championship team – each an All-Big East selection – remain.  Valuable backup RG Ed Wilkins is also gone.  Second Team All-Big East RS Jr LT Carlos Joseph, converted from a DL just last year, is the leader of the OLine.  Massive RS Sr RT Vernon Carey returns to anchor the opposite end of the line.  Miami is vulnerable in the interior, where only RS Jr RG Chris Myers returns as a starter.  RS Jr C Joel Rodriguez and RS Sr LG Joe McGrath are the likely replacements for Romberg and Haji-Rasouli.  With the exception of RS So OL Tony Tella and converted TE So Eric Winston, the backups lack experience.  Art Kehoe, the best OLine coach in the nation, nonetheless should have this unit performing at Miami standards very quickly. 

The loss of three-year starter, two-time Big East Offensive Co-Player of the Year, and three-time First Team All-Big East QB Ken Dorsey (222 of 393 for 3,369 yards, 28 TDs, and 12 INTs) could have been devastating considering how little his backups played.  However, the arrival of Florida transfer RS Jr QB Brock Berlin (53 of 87 for 653 yards, 11 TD, and 2 INT in two years at Florida) should ease the transition from the Dorsey era.  Berlin, who was Rex Grossman's backup at Florida under the mercurial Steve Spurrier, won the starting QB job in spring camp.  Berlin last played in 2001 Orange Bowl, starting and leading the Gators to a victory over Maryland.  RS Jr QB Derrick Crudup (15 of 26 for 226 yards and 2 TDs) returns as the backup.  Crudup created headlines after Coker named Berlin the starter, alleging that race was the primary consideration in Berlin's selection.  Coker quickly quelled the controversy but the effect upon team chemistry and leadership is unknown.  Dorsey's shoes are not as big to fill as one might think.  His senior season did not meet the standards he set as a sophomore and junior.  Dorsey's play was steady if not spectacular, reflected in his 7th round NFL selection.  The talent Miami possesses at the skill positions will make the transition much easier for Berlin, as will his experience at Florida. 

Though Dorsey received much of the spotlight, he was clearly part of the supporting cast to consensus All-American and fellow Big East Offensive Co-Player TB Willis McGahee.  McGahee established Miami records for rushing (1,753 yards and 28 TDs) and all-purpose yardage (2,108 yards) last season.  He was the workhorse for the Hurricane offense.  His exceptional play compensated for a subpar season by Dorsey.  Although McGahee suffered a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, he nonetheless left Miami early for the NFL (as a 1st round pick).  RS So TB Frank Gore, the player that McGahee was supposed to backup last season, returns after rehabilitating an ACL injury suffered during spring camp in 2002.  Gore was the heir apparent to the departed Clinton Portis after a surprising freshmen season (62 carries for 575 yards and 5 TDs).  With the departure of McGahee, Gore can now reclaim his starting job.  RS Sr TB Jarrett Payton (50 carries for 223 yards) returns as backup TB but has been unimpressive in that role.  Don't be surprised to see Fr TB Tyrone Moss emerge as Gore's backup.  Or see Sr WR Jason Geathers (68 carries for 398 yards and 3 TDs) switched back to TB yet again.  RS So FB Quadtrine Hill (15 receptions for 192 yards) returns after starting every game last season and gives Coker another weapon out of the backfield.  Sr FB Talib Humphrey returns as Hill's backup. 

Miami lost All-American and First Team All-Big East WR Andre Johnson (52 receptions for 1,092 yards and 9 TDs) to the NFL as a 1st round pick and also lost backup WR Ethenic Sands (21 receptions for 312 yards and 4 TDs).  Johnson was Miami's big play receiver, with the ability to go deep as well as break a short run long.  All-American and First Team All-Big East Jr TE Kellen Winslow (57 receptions for 726 yards and 8 TDs) was Miami's leading receiver last season and again will be the primary target for the new QB with inexperienced players at WR.  JC transfer TE Kevin Everett will backup Winslow at TE.  RS So Roscoe Parrish (19 receptions for 340 yards and 2 TDs) started three games last year in place of the injured starter and likely will maintain his grip on the starting job.  Sr Jason Geathers (8 receptions for 103 yards and 2 TDs) will likely start opposite Parrish.  Geathers is a tremendously versatile player, contributing at both backup TB and backup WR last season.  Sr Kevin Beard (23 for 262 yards and 4 TDs) will try to reclaim his starting job after injuring his ACL late last season.  Highly touted Fr WR Devin Hester will also likely contribute on the two-deep if he doesn't seize a starting job outright. 


Miami lost 4 starters from a squad that surprised (passing defense) and disappointed (rushing defense):

  • 19 points per game (#3 in the Big East and #22 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 289 yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #7 in Division 1A)
  • 169 rushing yards per game (#6 in the Big East and #79 in Division 1A)
  • 120 passing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #1 in Division 1A)

Miami returns intact the entire two-deep from the best secondary in the nation.  Replacing the nation's best secondary from 2001, the young and inexperienced Miami defensive backfield was supposed to be the defense's Achilles heel.  Instead, the secondary was the strength of the defense.  First Team All-Big East RS Sr SS Maurice Sikes (80 tackles and 3 INTs), First Team All-Big East So FS Sean Taylor (85 tackles and 4 INTs), and First Team All-Big East So CB Antrel Rolle (66 tackles and 5.5 TFLs) grew up real fast.  RS So CB Kelly Jennings (25 tackles) also returns opposite Rolle.  Sr CB Alfonso Marshall, So CB Glenn Sharpe, So FS Greg Threat, and RS So FS Marcus Maxey will be the backups. With an extra year of experience, this secondary should be even better in 2003. 

Miami only lost backup SLB Howard Clark (23 tackles) from an outstanding LB unit.  Two-time First Team All-Big East Sr MLB Jonathan Vilma (133 tackles and 7 TFLs) and Second Team All-Big East Sr WLB DJ Williams (108 tackles, 14 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 2 FF) were the leading tacklers last season.  RS So SLB Rocky McIntosh (43 tackles and 6.5 TFLs), who displaced Clark and started the last five games of the 2002 season, also returns.  Sr WLB Darrell McClover and RS So MLB Leon Williams return as backups.  RS Sr SLB Jarrell Weaver will likely backup McIntosh.  Miami clearly possesses the best and deepest LB corps in the Big East. 

Miami's defense historically has been characterized by dominant DLines that disrupt opposing running games and relentlessly harass QBs.  Last season, the Canes returned intact the entire two-deep, which they sorely needed compensate for an extremely green secondary.  Contrary to expectations, the DLine was surprisingly soft, as evidenced by the rushing statistics.  Compounding the curiously disappointing play of the DLine, six of eight players off the two deep – including all four starters – have departed.  Five of the six were NFL draft picks, including two 1st round selections.  Two-time First Team All-Big East DE Jerome McDougle (55 tackles, 14 TFLs, and 6.5 sacks) and two-time All-Big East (First Team last year) DT William Joseph (51 tackles, 15 TFLs, and 5 sacks) were the foremost (both were and 1st round NFL picks), but by no means the only, losses.  Second Team All-Big East (and 4th round NFL pick) DE Jamaal Green (52 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, and 2 FF), two-year starter (and 5th round NFL pick) DT Matt Walters (64 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks), backup DE (and 3rd round NFL pick) Andrew Williams (38 tackles, 9 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 3 FF), and backup DE Cornelius Green (35 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and 5.5 sacks) have also departed.  Mammoth Jr DT Vince Wilfork (43 tackles, 13 TFLs, and 6 sacks) will anchor the rebuilt DLine.  RS Sr DT Santonio Thomas, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, will likely start alongside Wilfork.  RS So DT Orien Harris (36 tackles) will be one backup if he doesn't beat Thomas for a starting job.  RS Sr DT Larry Anderson or RS So DT Kareem Brown will vie for the other backup job.  JC transfer Jr DE Alton Wright likely will fill one of the vacated starting slots on the edge.  RS So DE Thomas Carroll and RS Jr DE John Square will vie for the other starting job.  RS Fr DE Baraka Atkins likely will be the other backup. 


The kicking game will obviously be a concern for Miami as it lost two experienced and outstanding kickers.  Two-time First Team All-Big East PK Todd Sievers (13 of 22 FGAs and 66 of 69 XPAs) and former two-time First Team All-Big East P Freddie Capshaw (41 yards per punt) departed.  RS So PK Mark Gent will replace Sievers and RS Fr P Jon Peattie will replace Capshaw.  RS So WR Roscoe Parrish (15 yards per return) again will return punts while Sr WR Jason Geathers (22 yards per return) likely will return kickoffs.  Either RS So TB Frank Gore or Fr WR Devin Hester also could return kickoffs. 


Miami has a full 12 game schedule with 7 home games.  The Hurricanes have a very challenging non-conference schedule with a trip to Tallahassee to play bitter rival Florida State, in addition to hosting SEC powerhouses Florida and Tennessee.  A visit to Shreveport to face Louisiana Tech and a visit from East Carolina provide the only relief in the non-conference schedule.  The Big East schedule is also challenging as Miami visits to its two nearest challengers – Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.  Miami also visits Boston College, which has proven to be a difficult game the prior two visits.  Miami plays the four of the five likely weakest teams at home – Rutgers, Temple, Syracuse, and West Virginia.  Miami has two bye weeks that break up the season nicely season – September 27 and October 25.  Miami also has two Thursday night games – August 28 and October 2 – neither of which will result in a short week.   

August 28

@ Louisiana Tech

September 6


September 13

East Carolina

September 20

@ Boston College

October 2

West Virginia

October 11

@ Florida State

October 18


November 1

@ Virginia Tech

November 8


November 15


November 22


November 29

@ Pittsburgh



I predict that Miami will finish the season with a 10-2 (6-1) record.  The Canes have five very difficult games that will determine their post-season seeding.  Miami will pound Florida again, as they did last year in Gainesville, behind a big game from Florida transfer QB Brock Berlin.  And Miami will beat Tennessee, who will unsuccessfully seek to avenge an embarrassing home loss to Miami last year.  But the Canes will lose to the Seminoles on the road in a close game unless Bobby Bowden truly has lost control of his beloved program.  Miami won't go undefeated in conference play, either, with November road trips to Blacksburg and Pittsburgh.  Virginia Tech will prove too physical at home but Miami will find away against Pittsburgh, as it usually does.  Miami's late season win at Pittsburgh will create a three-way tie for first place.  Virginia Tech will be crowned Big East champion by virtue of a better ranking with an 11-1 record.  Just as Virgnia's weak schedule will cost them a Sugar Bowl bid for the national championship, Miami's poor traveling attendance will cost the Hurricanes an at-large BCS bid.  Miami will have to settle for a Gator Bowl appearance, where they will face the ACC co-champion Maryland Terrapins. 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 3.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at resurgent Pittsburgh.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

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