LOS ANGELES Let’s say goodbye to another unforgettable college football season with a few final thoughts:
First, we must bid a sad adieu to Florida’s Steve Spurrier, the most creative offensive mind college football has ever seen. Coach visor always hated recruiting, so he should be a perfect fit for the NFL if his players’ egos can handle his rarely misguided criticism. Spurrier loves golf almost as much as drawing up ball plays, so he’ll end up in San Diego, not Minnesota.
Who do you think sent the biggest bottle of farewell champagne to Spurrier, Phil Fulmer or Bobby Bowden?
By the way, we’re betting Oregon’s Mike Bellotti will be the Gators’ next coach.
Next, another congratulatory nod to Miami for its perfect season. Was anybody really surprised that the Hurricanes boot-heeled Nebraska (37-14) in the Rose Bowl? Does anybody seriously think they wouldn’t have done the same to Oregon?
After all, this Miami team deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time greats. According to longtime Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope, who has attended each of Miami’s five title games, “this is definitely the best Miami team ever.”
That’s major praise considering the Hurricanes’ complete domination of the ‘80s.
The Hurricanes (12-0) featured two units among the best in history their offensive line and secondary. And no team in recent memory could claim to be better balanced. The ‘Canes could beat you with the pass. Quarterback Ken Dorsey, who routinely had a several decades to run through his progressions in the pocket, proved he was a Heisman-caliber quarterback with his career-best 362-yard passing performance against Nebraska. And his corps of receivers included All-American tight end Jeremy Shockey and Rose Bowl co-MVP Andre Johnson, a 6-foot-3 burner.
They could beat you with tailback Clinton Portis, who gained 1,200 yards during the season and 104 in just 20 carries against Nebraska. Or if Portis was having an off night, they could send three other Parade All-Americans off the bench to tote the leather.
And they could beat you with their defense. The ‘Canes held Nebraska to a season-low 259 yards and shut them out in the decisive first half. Miami also forced three Nebraska turnovers, effectively icing the game with a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter which raised Miami’s national-best total for takeaways to 48. They recorded 15 tackles for loss against the vaunted Nebraska rushing attack, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma delivered the three most memorable hits of the game.
“I don’t know if we’re the best Miami team ever, which would put us right up there overall,” said Vilma afterwards. “But I do know we didn’t lose, and it’s impossible to improve on perfection. As far as comparing other teams, let’s put it this way, I would pick us over any college team I’ve ever seen.”
Said veteran broadcaster Ron Franklin: “I just didn’t see any weaknesses. And then there’s all that speed.”
Ah yes, speed. If you were asked to name the six fastest teams in the nation before the season, you would have picked Miami, Florida, Tennessee, Florida State, Texas and LSU. Not coincidentally, all six finished in the top-15 and Miami, Florida and Tennessee sprinted home as Nos. 1, 3 and 4.
Just as the Big Ten and Maryland were exposed for the complete lack of team speed against Southern teams in bowl games, Nebraska just didn’t have the quickness to hang with Miami. Part of this is by design. Nebraska, like many of its Big Ten neighbors, was designed as a cold-weather power team. Until they start playing bowl games in Ann Arbor or Lincoln, these teams will always be at a disadvantage against the SEC and Florida schools.
That brings us to the question of what happened to Nebraska’s speed. The Cornhuskers were unquestionably one of the most athletic squads in the land in the mid-90s under Tom Osborne see Trev Alberts, Jared Tomich, Tommie Frazier, Lawrence Phillips, Grant Wistrom, Scott Frost and Jason Peters. And those types of talents are crucial to the success of the option. This season, however, the Cornhuskers had just one such talent. You aren’t going to beat Miami when Eric Crouch is the only option.
In fact, Nebraska has had very few extraordinary talents under Frank Solich, who took over for Osborne after the 1997 season. In fact, Solich’s teams haven’t produced one first-round draft choice. And that’s not really that hard to understand when you consider the circumstances.
In spite of the tradition, why would the nation’s top prep talents want to go to the forgettable, frosty outpost that is Lincoln, risk their million-dollar knees on turf and learn an option offense that nobody uses or values at the next level? It’s simple with Osborne gone those kids are no longer choosing Nebraska. Most of them are going South, primarily to the state of Florida.
But don’t think that trend and Miami’s victory means the Sunshine state trio is back on top to stay. Spurrier’s departure strips Florida of its identity. Florida State and aging master Bobby Bowden lost four times this season the team’s worst performance in 15 years. And Miami might have already reached it’s zenith under Coker.
The Nosferatu lookalike is sure to get a big contract sometime later this month, but what has he really proved? Great, so he can roll the ball out for the most talented and mature team in the nation. The Hurricanes pretty much governed themselves this year. After all, the team’s players’ council is basically responsible for getting the career assistant his first head-coaching job. Ed Reed, Joaquin Gonzalez and Ken Dorsey were as responsible for running the Hurricanes this season as Coker, who is about as charismatic as a cinderblock.
Next year, the ‘Canes lose 12 starters, including their entire offensive line and secondary, the cornerstones of this season’s run. And presumably, Portis is also headed to the NFL a year early. Plus, Miami adds trips to Florida and Tennessee to its schedule next season. Now, if Coker steers the ‘Canes through that minefield, then we’ll be ready to once again recognize Coral Gables as the undisputed capital of college football.