||Thursday, January 3
Updated: January 4, 4:04 AM ET
This year's 'Canes Miami's best ever
By Bruce Feldman
ESPN The Magazine
PASADENA, Calif. -- OK, now the Miami Hurricanes can call themselves the best squad in school history. And they're exactly right.
These 'Canes are better, much better, than any of the four previous UM national championship teams -- and yes, better than that loaded 11-1 squad that lost in the '87 Fiesta Bowl. None of the earlier versions had any more talent -- the next four NFL drafts will prove that out -- and none played any better or played better as a team than this one does.
A big reason if you talk to the leaders of this team -- DB Ed Reed, RT Joaquin Gonzalez, FB Najeh Davenport, WR Daryl Jones -- is that the character of the program was forged back in the probation-strapped, let's-whup-Miami-while-they're-down days. "That's where it started," says Gonzalez.
"This is a great team because it has character," says coach Larry Coker.
No matter, skinny Ken Dorsey merely developed into an All-American QB; "undersized scatback" Clinton Portis, the one who everyone else wanted as a DB, grew into a 1,200-yard runner; small-potatoes TE Jeremy Shockey showed he was big money in the spotlight and Reed, the gridiron savant who no else offered, proved to be the smartest football player in the country and keyed the nation's most opportunistic D.
Statistically, this group matches up with any of their predecessors on both sides of the ball, and the 34-point per game victory margin illustrates just how consistently dominant they were. But since this is all speculative, look up and down the roster of the 2001 team and see who's best. Like we said, it's really not even close.
Quarterback: Dorsey is smart and poised and pretty accurate. He's an overhand Bernie Kosar -- with a good nose.
Running back: Portis slashes through defenses, and his cutback style suits this offense perfectly. Alonzo Highsmith might've been a better all-around back -- he certainly was bigger -- but he hasn't been any more productive.
Receivers: Potentially, Miami insiders have been saying sophomore Andre Johnson has as much talent as any wideout UM's ever had. Until Thursday night, though, you had to say he was nowhere near Michael Irvin's class. Now go ask the Husker DBs how good he is. (You can find them about five yards behind Johnson.) Meanwhile, Shockey -- the swiftest TE Miami's ever had -- is Dorsey's go-to guy.
Offensive line: Again, not even close. Bryant McKinnie and Co. allowed an NCAA-low four sacks this season. All five O-linemen will someday being playing in the NFL. Aside from nasty Leon Searcy (the '91 team), none of the other Miami squads featured an All-American guy on its front five.
Defensive line: This group might not be the most talented, but they are the deepest. The '89 team's DT rotation of Jimmie Jones, Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy was awesome, but William Joseph, Matt Walters and "Baby Sapp," Vince Wilfork, aren't bad. Neither is having all-around ends like Jerome McDougle, Andrew Williams and Jamaal Green to come off the edges.
Linebackers: Ah, the weak link. Sophomore Jon Vilma isn't as far along as Jay Brophy ('83) or Bernard Clark ('89) were, but he's still All-Big East and has some Ed Reed-instincts in him. And no, D.J. Williams doesn't make as many plays as Darrin Smith ('91) did either.
Defensive backs: Bennie Blades ('86-'87) was tremendous. So was Darryl Williams ('91), but Reed is every bit the play-maker they were. His personality also fits in perfectly to make him the ideal quarterback of a secondary that could have, if you ask some UM coaches, six potential first-rounders.
"Offense, defense, special teams, this team is loaded," says UM line coach Art Kehoe, the lone link to all five Miami national title teams. "It's the best one I've ever seen, and I think we could line up and play with any college team that's ever been."
Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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