Big East Preview, Part 1

This is the first in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll begin with the defending conference and national champion Miami Hurricanes.

 

MIAMI HURRICANES PREVIEW

 

On January 3, 2002, a heretofore-unwitnessed hurricane slammed into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California as the University of Miami demolished the University of Nebraska 37-14 to win its fifth national championship.  Well, the eastern seaboard and parts of the mid-south are bracing themselves in the face of a comparable hurricane warning as Head Coach Larry Coker reloads his juggernaut for another national championship run.  Although Miami lost 12 starters, including 3 juniors, off of its national championship team, years of outstanding recruiting have left the pipeline full of talent.  The Canes should replace their losses without a substantial drop in performance.  Miami is a runaway favorite to win their third consecutive Big East championship and is also a contender for a Fiesta Bowl national championship berth.  Here's a look at the defending national champions.   

 

OFFENSE

Miami lost 7 starters from a unit that recorded impressive statistics last season: 

  • 43 points per game (#1 in the Big East and #3 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 455 yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #8 in Division 1A)
  • 205 rushing yards per game (#2 in the Big East and #21 in Division 1A)
  • 250 passing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #35 in Division 1A)

Miami lost three starters off of the best OLine in college football – consensus All-American and Outland Trophy winner LT Bryant McKinnie, First Team All-Big East RT Joaquin Gonzalez, and First Team All-Big East RG Martin Bibla.  But the Canes still return First Team All-Big East Sr C Brett Romberg and Second Team All-Big East Sr LG Sherko Haji-Rasouli.  That is a solid core around which to build.  Furthermore, Sr OG Ed Wilkins started 4 games last season in the absence of the injured Haji-Rasouli.  He likely will start opposite Haji-Rasouli at RG.  Humungous 370-pound Jr OT Vernon Carey saw action last season behind Gonzalez and McKinnie and likely will start at RT.  So Carlos Joseph was moved from DL to OL in spring camp and likely will step into the rather large shoes of McKinnie at LT, guarding the QB's blind side.  The backups are mostly inexperienced.  The Miami OLine will likely still be among the top two in the Big East.  However, no unit could be reasonably expected to sustain its level of excellence with such huge losses of talent and experience.  The inevitable drop in performance means that Miami likely will be more vulnerable to defensive pressure and less productive overall. 

Maxwell Award winner, Big East Offensive Co-Player of the Year, and Rose Bowl Co-MVP Sr QB Ken Dorsey (184 of 318 for 2,652 yards, 23 TD, and 9 INT) is the trigger man for the Miami blitzkrieg.  So Derrick Cruddup returns as Dorsey's backup.  Dorsey led the conference in pass attempts, completions, and passing yardage.  A good decision maker and accurate passer, Dorsey uses all of the plentiful resources at his disposal to matriculate his team downfield with astonishing rapidity.  Dorsey led Miami on four TD drives in a 35-point 2nd Quarter that turned the Rose Bowl into a rout.  Dorsey is the best QB in the Big East and is a Heisman Trophy candidate.  He is used to operating unmolested in the pocket behind a veteran OLine.  With that unit broken-up, Dorsey should face more pressure this season.  Will he maintain the same level of efficiency? 

Miami lost leading receiver and First Team All-Big East Jr TE Jeremy Shockey (40 for 519 yards and 7 TDs) an Sr WR Daryl Jones (19 for 240 yards) from the most prolific receiving corps in the conference.  Second Team All-Big East and Rose Bowl Co-MVP Jr WR Andre Johnson (37 for 682 yards and 10 TDs) leads a group of returning WRs that constituted three of Miami's four top receivers last season.  Sr Ethenic Sands (26 for 385 yards and one TD) and Jr Kevin Beard (25 for 409 yards and 2 TDs) will battle for the starting WR job opposite of Johnson.  Jr Jason Geathers and RS Fr Roscoe Parrish will be the likely backups.  Sophomore Kellen Winslow will replace Shockey at TE.  Expect a big season out of him since Miami's TEs have been major contributors for the past several years. 

Miami lost its starting backfield -- First Team All-Big East Jr TB Clinton Portis (220 for 1,254 yards and 10 TDs) and FB Najeh Davenport.  An ACL injury to likely starter So TB Frank Gore (62 for 575 yards and 5 TD) in spring camp compounded the early loss of Portis.  However, RS So Willis McGahee (67 for 327 yards and 3 TDs) and RS Jr Jarrett Payton have seen action as backup TBs.  Each can also play FB, if needed or desired.  So Kyle Cobia and RS Fr Quadtrine Hill likely will share FB duties.  Don't be surprised if a true freshman emerges as a factor at TB – as Portis did three years ago and Gore did last season.  Miami has been loaded at RB for years and has struggled to find playing time for so many talented backs.   

 

DEFENSE

Miami lost 5 starters from a squad that dominated its opponents: 

  • 9 points per game (#1 in the Big East and #1 in Division 1A)
  • 271 yards per game (#2 in the Big East and #6 in Division 1A)
  • 133 rushing yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #40 in Division 1A)
  • 138 passing yards per game (#2 in the Big East and #2 in Division 1A)

Miami's defense historically has been characterized by dominant DLines that disrupt opposing running games and relentlessly harass QBs.  The Canes will field a DLine most worthy of the Miami tradition.  The entire two-deep returns intact from a unit that dismantled the formidable Cornhusker rushing attack in the Rose Bowl, recording at least 13 tackles for loss.  First Team All-Big East Sr DE Jerome McDougle (57 tackles and 7 sacks) and Second Team All-Big East DT William Joseph (59 tackles and 8.5 sacks) are the best of a deep, talented bunch.  Sr DT Matt Walters (64 tackles) and Sr DE Andrew Williams (30 tackles) are the other returning starters.  Seniors Cornelius and Jamaal Green are the backup DEs.  So Vince Wilfork is the primary backup at DT, supported by Jr Santonio Thomas. 

Miami lost second leading tackler OLB Chris Campbell, who later died in a tragic auto accident.  First Team All-Big East Jr MLB Jonathan Vilma (82 tackles) was the leading tackler last season.  Jr OLB DJ Williams (43 tackles) is the other returning starter.  Sr Howard Clark (29 tackles) is a former starter.  He will battle Jr Jarrell Weaver and RS Fr Leon Williams for the other starting OLB job.  Speed is the trait that best exemplifies the Cane LB corps. 

Besides the OLine, Miami also had the best secondary in college football last season.  Unfortunately for the Canes, the entire starting unit departed – consensus All-American FS Edward Reed, First Team All-Big East Jr CB Philip Buchanon, Second Team All-Big East CB Mike Rumph, and SS James Lewis.  In addition, reserve SS Markese Fitzgerald also departed.  The Hurricane secondary will have all new faces – talented but young inexperienced.  Sr James Scott and Jr Maurice Sikes are the most experienced returning DBs but sophomores Alfonso Marshall, Antrel Rolle, and Sean Taylor may be the players to watch.  True freshmen could also see substantial playing time in the secondary.  

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Hurricanes also featured terrific special teams that complemented dominating offensive and defensive units.  And most of the key special teams performers return.  In addition to First Team All-Big East CB honors, departed Jr PR Philip Buchanon was also honored as First Team All-Big East PR/KOR.  Either So Antrel Rolle, So Sean Taylor, or RS Fr Roscoe Parrish will likely replace Buchanon at PR.  Jr Andre Johnson will return kickoffs again this season.  First Team All-Big East PK Todd Sievers and First Team All-Big East P Freddie Capshaw both return to give the Canes a reliable kicking game.   

 

SCHEDULE

Miami has a full 12 game schedule with six home games.  The Hurricanes have a brutal non-conference schedule with trips to Gainesville and Knoxville to play SEC powerhouses Florida and Tennessee, respectively.  The Canes also host bitter rival Florida State.  Visits from Florida A&M and UConn provide the only relief.  In the Big East, Miami plays host to its two nearest challengers – Boston College and Virginia Tech.  Miami plays the four likely weakest teams on the road – Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, and West Virginia although Syracuse and West Virginia are rarely easy road wins.  The early start and late finish combine to give Miami three bye weeks during the season – one each in September, October, and November.    

August 31

Florida A&M

September 7

@ Florida

September 14

@ Temple

September 21

Boston College

October 5

Connecticut

October 12

Florida State

October 26

@ West Virginia

November 2

@ Rutgers

November 9

@ Tennessee

November 21

Pittsburgh

November 30

@ Syracuse

December 7

Virginia Tech

 

PREDICTION

I predict that Miami will finish the season with an 11-1 (7-0) record.  The Canes should go undefeated in conference with a favorable schedule that brings their most formidable opponents into the Orange Bowl.  I think the Canes will beat the Noles at home and will split road games in Gainesville (Florida) and Knoxville (Tennessee).  Florida, Tennessee, and Florida State should each be contenders for the national championship.  Therefore, Miami has a considerable portion of its fate in its own hands.  With no obvious contenders from the Big Ten or Pac Ten – and Big 12 favorites Oklahoma and Texas scheduled as intra-divisional opponents, Miami could still reach the Fiesta Bowl with a single loss.  If Miami doesn't earn a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, their opponent will be an interesting selection if the a rematch (i.e., Florida State, Florida, or Tennessee) is undesirable.  Perhaps the Big 12 or SEC runner-up.  Texas is my guess.  In the Orange Bowl.  But I expect Miami to play (and beat) Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. 

 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 2.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at perennial powerhouse Virginia Tech.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to bump86@earthlink.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


Scarlet Report Top Stories