Five Minute Guide to '99
The Hurricanes are stoked for the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Florida State
Such bravado hasn't been seen or heard at Miami since 1995, when the Hurricanes were saddled by NCAA sanctions that cost them 24 scholarships over two years and, in the words of coach Butch Davis, turned his team from a perennial national championship contender to "a junior college team." In 1997, playing with 34 freshmen, Miami hit rock bottom, enduring its first losing season (5-6) since 1979. But with 17 starters back this season from a 9-3 team, and with a scholarship base that will be near the 85-player limit for the first time in five years, Miami has cause for optimism.
Davis maintains that this year's team is the most talented he has had since taking over for Dennis Erickson in 1995. "We're not there yet, but we're getting close," he says. "It's been a long process. But because we had no choice but to play guys right away, we now have experience to go along with the numbers we haven't had. I'm eager to see if we're close to being at the level we once were."
To make that leap the Hurricanes will have to prove they are more like the team that knocked off third-ranked UCLA last season than the one that was embarrassed by Syracuse, 66-13, the week before. Addressing the need to improve a defense that yielded 374.0 yards per game, Davis hired Chicago Bears assistant Greg Schiano as his defensive coordinator. Schiano, who inherits 10 starters, has installed an attacking 4-3 scheme that gives junior linebackers Dan Morgan and Nate Webster room to maneuver.
Jackson should help fill the void left by Edgerrin James, who bolted for the NFL after rushing for 1,416 yards and 17 touchdowns. Last fall the 5'11", 215-pound Jackson ran for 545 yards -- 6.6 a carry.
If sophomore quarterback Kenny Kelly, who threw for a state-record 7,949 yards at Tampa Catholic High, lives up to his billing, the offense could be dangerous. He has a pair of big-time targets in Santana Moss (631 yards, eight touchdowns in '98) and Reggie Wayne (629 yards, four TDs).
The Hurricanes will get tested early. They open with Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic and follow that with games against Penn State at home and Florida State in Tallahassee. "We'll be ready," says Jackson. "This is something we've been dreaming about for a long time. We've been through some tough times, but now times have changed. We're out to show that Miami is back."
-- B.J. Schecter
1998 record: 9-3 (5-2, tied for 2nd in Big East)
Sept. 18 vs. Penn State
Oct. 9 at Florida State
The schedule is challenging, but the Hurricanes have the talent and depth to compete. A New Year's Day bowl may be in the cards.
Five Minute Guide to '99
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