What next? There wasn't a day, it seemed, that coach Butch Davis didn't walk into the home or high school of a recruit only to be asked, "Your team's going to get the death penalty, isn't it? Miami is going to become another SMU, right?" During the summer, junior defensive end Kenny Holmes would return home to Vero Beach, Fla., where his friends would gleefully mock, " Florida State and Florida have passed by y'all." One buddy dropped him a copy of a magazine that ranked the Hurricanes No. 20 in its preseason poll. "Number 20?" says Holmes now. "They might as well have told us we belong in Division II. Where's the respect?"
No school has been louder or more brazen in victory than Miami, which won four national titles between 1983 and '91 but has lost its last three bowl games. Conversely, no program's decline has offered greater cause for celebration. Nationwide. Heck, after this past off-season, you could've penalized the entire country for excessive taunting of Miami. "We've lost," says Hurricane center K.C. Jones. "And when you lose, the old Miami image, the dancing, the trash talking, doesn't work. It's time for a new image."
Davis, who replaced Dennis Erickson as coach on Jan. 24, has vowed to clean up his team's antics. In other words, no more doing the lambada after a three-yard run. But larger, off-the-field concerns linger. Already facing NCAA sanctions for Pell Grant fraud and the Luther Campbell pay-for-big-plays scandal, Miami was confronted with allegations last spring that Erickson had hidden the results of several drug tests administered to Hurricane players. The NCAA will probably not decide the program's fate until late fall.
On the field, however, the whiff of decline has been more subtle. At quarterback, popular senior Ryan Collins will likely be the starter, though he'll face a challenge from sophomore Ryan Clement and redshirt freshman Scott Covington. And the defense is young in the secondary and on the line.
Still, there are encouraging signs. The offense seems reinvigorated under Davis's two-back set. And receivers Jammi German and Yatil Green should provide the big-play threat that has been conspicuously absent of late. "Things have changed," says Jones.
Other things, though, have not. That unmistakable Miami defiance remains. "Two off years don't kill a mystique," says linebacker Ray Lewis. "Everybody still envies Miami."
Defiance has even spawned bold talk of a run at the national title-this year. Fat chance, but if Miami beats UCLA on the road to open the season, and Florida State develops its usual Hurricane-induced case of vertigo on Oct. 7 in Tallahassee, well.... This much is clear: It's still Miami against the world.