How often can Jimmy Johnson go to the well? How many seasons in a row can a coach use a falling-off in a game for the national championship to motivate the next year's team? The Hurricanes have a sterling 21-1 record for the last two regular seasons but have been an 0-2 bust in national title games.
The Hurricanes are not likely to parade around in paramilitary garb—as they did before last year's stunning 14-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl—and they probably won't be scoring 60-plus points against their weaker opponents. Nor will they need to. While Vinny Testaverde was winging toward the Heisman last season, the 'Cane defense was winning games by shutting down opposing offenses, including Oklahoma's. Miami beat enemy lines for 49 sacks last season. Bad news for the half-dozen pushovers on the Hurricanes' 1987 schedule: The nine starters who accounted for 44 of those sacks are back again.
At one end is Dan Stubbs, the best pass rusher Miami has had since Ted (the Mad Stork) Hendricks. The other tackle was slated to be cat-quick, 270-pound Dan Sileo, but his eligibility is in question. Miami is the 23-year-old lineman's third port of call. He was a freshman at Maryland, transferred to Cincinnati, then joined the 'Canes as a redshirt in 1985.
But during the '82-83 academic year Sileo might have been a full-time student at Maryland, not a part-timer as Miami had been led to believe. If so, he has used up his eligibility. Maryland, understandably, is dawdling on the 'Canes' request for documents to clarify Sileo's status. If it turns out he was a part-timer, the Terps would thus have had an ineligible player and might have to return some postseason money. Sileo's next stop could be the NFL.
The pride of the defensive backfield is All-America free safety Bennie Blades, who runs the 40 in 4.35, led Division I-A with 10 interceptions in '86, and "may be as good a player at his position as anyone I've coached," says Johnson.
The thankless job of following Testaverde falls to Steve Walsh, a third-year sophomore from Minnesota. No one has been comparing him with Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar or Testaverde. Pressing Walsh will be cocky freshman Craig Erickson, who signed with Miami after Jeff George announced he would transfer from Purdue. George has since moved on to Illinois.
The person taking the snap will have to know how to run: Miami's offensive line is one injury away from having to borrow bodies from the defense. A brutal spring practice left three starters hurt. Was the head-knocking a punishment for the offense's anemic efforts last Jan. 2? Not at all, says Johnson. "With this young team, that was the only way we could tell who could play.
"The thing about this year," adds Johnson, "is that when it's over, regardless of what our record is, I want us to have a smile on our face." Preferably in January, which has not been a happy month for the 'Canes in either of the last two seasons.