On most mornings this summer, Miami junior running back James
Jackson would wake around three and go for a 60-minute jog or do
calisthenics for an hour before settling back to sleep. The
sessions would grow more intense when he thought about what
players on opposing teams were doing while he labored through
his wee-hour workouts. "People are sleeping on me, but they
better wake up because there's going to be a nightmare," says
Jackson, nearly jumping out of his seat on a July afternoon. "We
haven't been the typical Miami team lately, and people don't
know what to expect from us, but they better be ready. It's
about to get serious."
Such bravado hasn't been seen or heard at Miami since 1995, when
the Hurricanes were saddled by NCAA sanctions that cost them 24
scholarships over two years and, in the words of coach Butch
Davis, turned his team from a perennial national championship
contender to "a junior college team." In 1997, playing with 34
freshmen, Miami hit rock bottom, enduring its first losing
season (5-6) since 1979. But with 17 starters back this season
from a 9-3 team, and with a scholarship base that will be near
the 85-player limit for the first time in five years, Miami has
cause for optimism.
Davis maintains that this year's team is the most talented he
has had since taking over for Dennis Erickson in 1995. "We're
not there yet, but we're getting close," he says. "It's been a
long process. But because we had no choice but to play guys
right away, we now have experience to go along with the numbers
we haven't had. I'm eager to see if we're close to being at the
level we once were."
To make that leap the Hurricanes will have to prove they are
more like the team that knocked off third-ranked UCLA last
season than the one that was embarrassed by Syracuse, 66-13, the
week before. Addressing the need to improve a defense that
yielded 374.0 yards per game, Davis hired Chicago Bears
assistant Greg Schiano as his defensive coordinator. Schiano,
who inherits 10 starters, has installed an attacking 4-3 scheme
that gives junior linebackers Dan Morgan and Nate Webster room
Jackson should help fill the void left by Edgerrin James, who
bolted for the NFL after rushing for 1,416 yards and 17
touchdowns. Last fall the 5'11", 215-pound Jackson ran for 545
yards--6.6 a carry.
If sophomore quarterback Kenny Kelly, who threw for a
state-record 7,949 yards at Tampa Catholic High, lives up to his
billing, the offense could be dangerous. He has a pair of
big-time targets in Santana Moss (631 yards, eight touchdowns in
'98) and Reggie Wayne (629 yards, four TDs).
The Hurricanes will get tested early. They open with Ohio State
in the Kickoff Classic and follow that with games against Penn
State at home and Florida State in Tallahassee. "We'll be
ready," says Jackson. "This is something we've been dreaming
about for a long time. We've been through some tough times, but
now times have changed. We're out to show that Miami is back."
1998 record: 9-3 (5-2, tied for 2nd in Big East)
Final ranking: No. 20 AP, No. 21 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 36.5 202.9 248.5 451.5
DEFENSE 25.0 135.6 238.4 374.0
Schedule strength: 32nd of 114
Sept. 18 vs. Penn State
The Hurricanes could still be smarting from their Aug. 29
Kickoff Classic opener against Ohio State.
Oct. 9 at Florida State
The sting hasn't worn off from the 47-0 whipping Miami endured
two years ago in Tallahassee.
The Bottom Line
The schedule is challenging, but the Hurricanes have the talent
and depth to compete. A New Year's Day bowl may be in the cards.