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The Best Damn Team... Win The Big One
Austin Murphy
January 13, 2003
Underdog Ohio State stunned mighty Miami in a two-overtime thriller to win its first national championship since 1968
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January 13, 2003

The Best Damn Team... Win The Big One

Underdog Ohio State stunned mighty Miami in a two-overtime thriller to win its first national championship since 1968

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AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD

Who will contend for the title in 2003? Here's our pre-preseason Top 10.

TEAM, RECORD

RETURNING STARTERS

SKINNY

1. Ohio State (14-0)

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Why not? Three veterans from a hard-hitting defensive front are ready to take over as team leaders from departing linebacker Matt Wilhelm and safety Mike Doss. On offense the Buckeyes will be dangerous, with all II starters returning, including steely quarterback Craig Krenzel and dazzling running back Maurice Clarett. Expect a team of equal talent and-with the passing attack likely to improve with experience-better offensive balance.

2. Oklahoma (12-2)

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Injuries set the Sooners back this season, but they're ready to make a title run. Ten members of the late-blooming defense return, including standout linebackers Teddy Lehman and Lance Mitchell and tackle Tommie Harris. The continuing concern is whether Oklahoma can win a title with Nate Hybl behind center.

3. Miami (12-1)

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So the Hurricanes stand to lose a dozen or so players to the NFL-since when did that suck the wind from their sails? The offense will still be potent. Florida transfer Brock Berlin should ably replace quarterback Ken Dorsey. Tailback options runneth over: Even if Willis McGahee is still on the mend from knee surgery, Frank Gore, the sophomore who sat out this season with an ACL tear, could bring every bit as much to the table. Defensively, the secondary should be the nation's best.

4. Georgia (13-1)

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Quarterback David Greene loses only Terrence Edwards from a deep receiving group, and while the departure of offensive linemen Jon Stinchcomb and Kevin Breedlove could leave the team vulnerable early, their successors have studied under the best. The defense, led by end David Pollack, should be a dominating unit.

5. Texas (11-2)

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End Cory Redding and cornerback Rod Babers leave, but the rest of a stingy defense remains. There will be a heated battle to replace Chris Simms, but whoever starts at quarterback will have the luxury of throwing to Roy Williams and handing off to Cedric Benson.

6. Kansas State (11-2)

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With the team's best player, cornerback Terence Newman, gone, linebacker Terry Pierce will anchor a young but talented defense. The offense will lean on the rushing game as run-threat quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles return.

7. Virginia Tech (10-4)

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The offense will be stronger. Quarterback Bryan Randall will get a push from Michael Vick's little brother, Marcus, and tailback Kevin Jones will be the Man after sharing the ball with Lee Suggs. A swarming, athletic defense returns nine.

8. USC (11-2)

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This ranking is a nod to the momentum that seems to be building under coach Pete Carroll. The Trojans must contend with the loss of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer, two stellar running backs and safety Troy Polamalu. But USC has a star in receiver Mike Williams and an abundance of young talent.

9. Florida State (9-5)

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With an older, hopefully wiser Chris Rix at quarterback and returnees like top receiver Anquan Boldin and star linebackers Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope, the Seminoles still have plenty of talent. The big question is whether coach Bobby Bowden can instill more spirit and drive than this year's team showed.

10. Virginia (9-5)

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The Cavaliers boast an abundance of young talent that came of age at the end of the season. Eleven freshmen earned starting positions, led by Darryl Blackstock (LB), D'Brickashaw Ferguson (OT) and Heath Miller (TE).

Others to look out for: Maryland (11-3), Notre Dame (10-3), Auburn (9-4), Washington (7-6), N.C. State (11-3), Penn State (9-4), Pittsburgh (9-4) and Oregon (7-6).
Kelley King

If you listened closely, you could hear it calling out: Pop my cork—you've earned it! Someone had left a bottle of Moët in the ice bucket in Room 6414 of the Princess Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. Even as the hundreds of Ohio State fans at the hotel—and the rest of the red-clad horde that had descended by the tens of thousands on the Valley of the Sun for the Fiesta Bowl—swung into full party mode, neither Will Smith nor Darrion Scott seemed much interested in champagne.

"It hurts to move," Smith said. Like Scott, he is a starting defensive end for the Buckeyes. Like Scott, he was too banged-up and exhausted, physically and emotionally, to celebrate Ohio State's 31-24 victory over heavily favored Miami in the most dramatic title game in the five-year history of the Bowl Championship Series. So the two teammates remained in attitudes of abject fatigue—Smith sprawled on the sofa, Scott curled up on his bed, watching a comedian named Cocoa Brown on BET—casting their minds back several hours to the goal line stand that had ended one of college football's greatest games.

Six feet stood between the Hurricanes and a chance to extend the game to a third overtime, their winning streak to 35 games and their reign as national champions to two years. It was first-and-goal at the two, and Miami must have liked its chances. In Ken Dorsey the Hurricanes had a senior quarterback with a 38-1 record. In Andre Johnson and Roscoe Parrish they had two wideouts ticketed for the NFL. In Kellen Winslow they had a tight end who had outplayed everyone else on the field. On top of all that, they had an offensive line touted as among the finest in the land. But the Hurricanes also had this small problem. "Their offensive line was overrated," said Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

"They couldn't move the ball on the ground against us," said Scott after the game. "We knew it, and they knew we knew it."

The Buckeyes' defense disrupts by sending players at unexpected angles. They slant, they cross-blitz and they zone-blitz, running defensive backs and linebackers at the quarterback while dropping linemen into coverage. "A lot of teams do that," said Hurricanes center Brett Romberg before the game, "but not as much as Ohio State."

At a meeting of the Hurricanes' linemen and receivers four days before the Fiesta Bowl, they seemed acutely aware of the dangers they faced. "The key is on the back side," said offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as the players watched video of themselves working against their scout team, which was running the Buckeyes' schemes. The Christmas tree standing next to the screen somehow failed to lend the room a festive atmosphere. "Somewhere along the line we've got to seal off the back side."

"If that guy slants," said offensive line coach Art Kehoe, pointing at a defensive end, "that's who you get, right, 'Los?" Starting left tackle Carlos Joseph nodded uncertainly. The session went on in that vein for half an hour.

"If we can get a body on a body, the ball will get through the line," said Romberg after the meeting, "but if people are tentative and second-guess, those guys will wipe right over the top of us."

And so it came to pass. It wasn't as if the Hurricanes didn't know what was coming. They were simply powerless to stop it. Smith sacked Dorsey on Miami's first play from scrimmage. The Buckeyes got him three more times and knocked him down on 10 other occasions. (Dorsey, who left the field for one play during the final overtime after a hard hit from Wilhelm, vomited on the Hurricanes' bus after the game and was hospitalized for several hours with dehydration and a possible concussion.) By the middle of the second quarter Miami had abandoned its man-blocking schemes on passing downs and resorted to slide-protection. This was a stunning concession to a defensive line that it could not handle.

Nor could the Hurricanes get anything going on the ground. Before he left the game in the fourth quarter with torn ligaments in his left knee, Miami tailback Willis McGahee—who rushed for 1,686 yards and averaged 6.4 per attempt during the season—had carried 20 times for just 67 yards. Now, on first-and-goal in the second overtime, his replacement, Jarrett Payton (son of the late Walter Payton), scratched out a yard. On second down Dorsey had tight end Eric Winston open in the end zone, but, feeling pressure from his left, rushed the throw. Incomplete. On third down the Hurricanes ran fullback Quadtrine Hill into the line. No imagination, no gain.

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