That reversal of fortune won't come easy. Neither Collins nor Costa has proved he can command the field under pressure. Erickson has shaken things this spring, handing over control of the offense to new coordinator Rich Olson and promoting Greg McMackin to defensive coordinator to replace Tommy Tuberville, who left for Texas A&M. Quietly, he landed two of the nation's top passers in Scott Covington of Dana Hills, Calif., and Ryan Clement of Denver, and the nation's No. 2 receiver in local Omar Rolle. But aside from replacing two defensive ends, two cornerbacks, a safety and a middle linebacker, firming up a porous offensive line, teaching his receivers how to hold on to the ball and revitalizing his anemic special teams, Erickson also must keep the peace and anoint a quarterback.
And despite the insistence of players and staff that the bad days are over, fence-mending is needed. Costa, for his part, never recovered from being blamed for the Florida State loss; his benching the next week, he says, began a downward spiral that resulted in "the worst year of my life." He considered transferring for his senior season—the threat remains if the more mobile Collins gets the nod when spring practice ends this week. "Our relationship never got where I hated Erickson; I hate what he did," Costa says.
Collins knows how Costa felt; he, too, failed to move the offense, in the West Virginia game, then found himself benched in favor of Costa after one quarter in the Fiesta. The two roomed together on the road and spoke about the situation—sparingly. "He was saying it was hard to be looking over his shoulder," Collins says. "And I started doing the same thing after the West Virginia game. You can't play the game like that."
Meanwhile, the Pell Grant investigation left this sticky residue: Twan Russell is Tony Russell's son. He stood with his dad in court just days before spring practice opened and listened to the judge hand down a three-year prison sentence. He listened as Costa, his teammate, testified that Tony Russell kept urging him to sign up for the illegal money. "You think I was happy? I didn't want that," says Costa, who says he repaid the money.
"I just hope he realizes that I didn't want to go up there," Costa says of Twan. "I hope he realizes that they called me. I had to tell the truth because if you don't, you go to jail."
The scandal broke long before Twan got to Miami; he says he never knew what was going on. "My dad never put me in that situation," Twan says. "I've been to court with him a couple times, and that's the extent of it. He just told me, 'Twan, what happened, happened. You're my son. You go play football.' It's over. I wish they would leave him alone and leave me alone. Talk to me about football and not about my father."
Asked how he will respond to Costa, Twan loses his smile for the only time in the conversation. "I have no comment," he says. Later, asked if he thinks the situation will cause friction, he says in a whisper, "No.... Frank's a teammate.... Why would it be a problem?" He doesn't grin again until the subject changes.
But as to football, Twan says, all is well. "Now everyone wants to know each other," he says. "We eat together, we throw picnics. I've never seen so much jelling." To a man, the players insist the Fiesta Bowl was a deserved slap, resulting in fewer egos, new unity. Everyone speaks of a new appetite.
"I'm hungrier right now than I've ever been in my life," Erickson says. "People better get ready to play us because we're going to come after their ass."
Of course, the prospect of facing a Miami team looking for redemption once guaranteed a most unpleasant Saturday. Not anymore. "They're still in the elite, but they're not up there like they were," Brooks says. "In the past they set themselves apart from everybody: 'We're up on a different level.' Now, nobody is above the rest." Now a new era begins. The old one collapsed in the sun, chasing what it could not catch.