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Taking a stand

'Canes out to prove they still belong among the elite

Posted: Thursday September 1, 2005 1:05PM; Updated: Monday September 5, 2005 8:14PM
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Kyle Wright
Starting quarterback Kyle Wright could hold the keys to success at Miami this season.
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For a team that's won 89 percent of its games this decade, Miami finds itself on the defensive these days. Coming off their first three-loss season in five years, the Hurricanes -- kings of the college football world just a couple years ago -- are receiving considerably less adulation this preseason than USC, Texas or any number of other teams. And they don't seem particularly happy about it.

In an updated chapter written this spring for the paperback release of Bruce Feldman's book 'Cane Mutiny, longtime Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe lashes out at those who suggest the program is slipping. "If people think Miami is going downhill, bring it on. That's all I got to say, bring it on! Go ahead, doubt us. Think you can whip our ass, because it ain't happening."

Strength coach Andreu Swasey takes it one step further, saying he'd be "shocked" if the 'Canes don't reach the national-title game. Some might call that a bold prediction for a team that lost to 6-5 Clemson and 6-6 North Carolina last season and blew a chance at the ACC title by losing its regular-season finale at home to Virginia Tech.

Was Miami's 9-3, 2004 season a mere bump in the road or a sign of further trouble ahead? We'll begin to find out Monday night when the No. 9 'Canes -- sporting their lowest preseason ranking in six years -- visit 14th-ranked Florida State for the teams' now-annual, season-opening grudge match. "It's a very short distance from the White House to the outhouse," Miami coach Larry Coker, the man with a 44-6 record at Miami, joked Wednesday. "We're underneath the radar a little bit right now, though not far. I think our players would much rather read about us than some of those other teams, and it's going to be a little bit of a motivating factor."

Swasey uses the word "embarrassed" in 'Cane Mutiny to describe the players' reaction to last season. It's not that the 'Canes lost three games (after all, so, too, did the rival Seminoles), it's the way they played throughout the season. Since when does Miami -- the former home of Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee -- rush for 131 yards per game? Since when does a 'Canes defense rank near the bottom 40 percent nationally against the run? Since when does the team that once set an NCAA record with 58 straight home victories lose twice at the Orange Bowl in the same season? "We didn't fall very far -- we lost one game [to UNC] by a field goal, lost another [to Clemson] in overtime," said Coker. "But our coaches and players were not satisfied with the season by any means. That's the expectation we have."

There are, of course, several reasonable explanations for what happened. In the three years prior to last season, Miami lost eight underclassmen that went on to become first-round NFL draft picks. It was bound to catch up at some point "Last year we could have had [safety Sean] Taylor, [tight end Kellen] Winslow, [defensive tackle Vince] Wilfork and McGahee," said Coker. "I don't know, does that win you a game in overtime or erase a six-point deficit [against Virginia Tech?]"