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College Football is changing so rapidly these days that before you reach the end of this story, the chances are good that three big-name coaches will have jumped to new schools, 49 outstanding juniors will have declared for the NFL draft and the Southeastern Conference will have added Hawaii to its new Pacific division. See what happens when Bo Schembechler retires? All hell breaks loose. Next thing you know, NBC will announce that, in order to strengthen two of its top programs, Lou Holtz and David Letterman will switch jobs.
All of this confusion makes it more difficult than usual to sort out the contenders for the national championship. Who knows if Michigan will still be Michigan under Gary Moeller? Or if Houston will continue to average a zillion points a game without Andre Ware? Or if Notre Dame has enough talent to handle a schedule that's as strong as NBC's prime-time lineup? There's so much uncertainty that the smart thing to do is declare that Miami, the defending champion, is No. 1 until some team proves otherwise.
It's possible, of course, that an Auburn or a Colorado or another team from a major conference could explode for a monster season. Possible, but not likely. It has been five years since a Big Eight team won the consensus championship (Oklahoma), 10 for the SEC (Georgia), 18 for the Pac 10 (Southern Cal), 21 for the Southwest (Texas) and—amazingly—22 for the proud Big Ten (Ohio State). So this season's rankings and bowl matchups are likely to revolve around two games: Florida State's Oct. 6 visit to Miami and the Hurricanes' Oct. 20 trip to South Bend for the game against Team Peacock.
At the end of last season, you may recall, Notre Dame and Florida State were the teams that protested the loudest when the national championship was awarded to Miami, the school's third title in seven years. In both cases the talk was sour grapes. Miami deserved the honor because it thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame 27-10, and because its only loss, 24-10 to Florida State, came when Hurricane quarterback Craig Erickson was out with a broken index finger.
Although no team has won back-to-back consensus titles since Oklahoma did it in 1955-56, Miami has the horses to win this season, a feat that would assure the Hurricanes a special place in the record book. Besides their national titles in 1983, '87 and '89, the Hurricanes were the national runners-up in 1986 and '88, which means that the Miami dynasty is comparable to those of Notre Dame and Army in the 1940s, Oklahoma in the early '50s and Alabama in the early '60s.
Unlike last season's team, which was built around the nation's most intimidating defense, the 1990 Hurricanes will try to live up to their nickname offensively. Although a starter for less than a season, Erickson has thrown 24 touchdown passes; this season—out of Miami's one-back set—he will throw even more often, mainly to big-play receivers Wesley Carroll and Randal Hill.
On defense, Miami will blitz more and implement more man-to-man coverage to compensate for the departure of four linemen. However, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who is so valuable that coach Dennis Erickson asked him to sit out spring practice rather than risk an injury (Maryland refused), and outside linebacker Maurice Crum (page 67), the team's leading tackler for the past two seasons, are still around to raise cane, Miami-style.
At Notre Dame, on the other hand, the emphasis will be on defense. Or, as Coach Holtz told a Quarterback Club audience last spring, "Next fall, if you are inclined to go to the rest room or buy a hot dog, do it when we have the ball and you won't miss a thing." Replacing Tony Rice at quarterback will be sophomore Rick Mirer, a stand-up-and-throw type who should be feeling lots of pressure now that his backup, Jake Kelchner, has been tossed out of school for academic reasons.
Mirer is nowhere near the running threat that Rice was, but he's such a promising passer that some people are making early comparisons with an Irish alum named Joe Montana. Mirer's adjustment will be eased by such talented receivers as Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and tight end Derek Brown. The swift Ismail will also operate out of the backfield, as will Ricky Watters, who averaged 6.7 yards a carry last season after playing flanker the previous year. Tailback Tony Brooks, defensive tackle George (Boo) Williams and linebacker Michael Stonebreaker—all of whom missed last season because of off-the-field problems—are back in good standing. By winning the most valuable defensive player award in the spring game, Stonebreaker proved that he has recovered from hip and knee injuries suffered in a February 1989 car accident.