Athlon's Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Miami

Athlon's 2003 College Football Preseason Top 25 Countdown continues with No. 2 Miami.

No. 2 Miami

Florida transfer Brock Berlin was brought in to take over at quarterback in 2003 when Ken Dorsey left, and that day has come. Derrick Crudup, Dorsey's backup the last two years, acquitted himself nicely in a brief Fiesta Bowl appearance in place of a dinged-up Dorsey and has declared himself the front-runner, but at the close of spring practice it was too close to call.

Frank Gore was the projected 2002 tailback starter, having run for 565 yards at 8.8 per carry as a 2001 backup. He sat out the entire í02 campaign to rehab a knee and is back full-strength. The receiving corps is blessed with more talent, speed and depth than ought to be legal, and Kellen Winslow, Jr. is the nation's premier tight end.

Tackles Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey anchor a dominating offensive line, and just try to run up the middle against the Canes with Vince Wilfork and Santonio Thomas stationed at defensive tackle. The secondary was stocked with four new starters last fall and still led the nation in pass defense by a whopping 33 yards per game. Linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams make much unpleasantness for opponents.

Dominant: Miami has won 24 straight Big East games, a conference record, dating back to 1999.

24ñ1: Hurricane mentor Larry Coker won the first 24 games of his head coaching career before losing one.

Lighting it up: Miami's 527 points in 2002 are a school and Big East record.

2002 results: 12-1 (7-0 Big East)

2002 Bowl Game: Lost to Ohio State 31-24 in the Fiesta Bowl

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, no kickers

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 at Louisiana Tech
S. 6 Florida
S. 13 East Carolina
S. 20 at Boston College
O. 2 West Virginia
O. 11 at Florida State
O. 18 Temple
N. 1 at Virginia Tech
N. 8 Tennessee
N. 15 Syracuse
N. 22 Rutgers
N. 29 at Pittsburgh

Schedule Analysis: The big home games are Florida and Tennessee. The big road games are Florida State, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. Any five of those schools could pull off an upset. Miami gets two weeks to prepare for Virginia Tech, but following that up by hosting Tennessee is no easy task. Miami will be tested early (Florida), middle (Florida State) and late (Pittsburgh), but as good as Miami has been in recent years, it usually doesn't matter.

Final Word: Defensively, Miami could be scary. The Canes led the nation in pass defense, and the back seven returns in tact. On the defensive line, Miami usually finds some NFL-quality performers somewhere in the depth chart. Brock Berlin is the X-factor for this team. He has some raw receivers and a running back returning from injury behind him. If he is able to give Miami immediate production out of the position, the Canes could be in their third straight national title game.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Eastern edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Eastern and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#2 Miami

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