Hurricanes start right where they finished

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 11, 2002

No. 1 in the postseason. No. 1 in the preseason.

Little has changed for the Miami Hurricanes since winning the national championship with a perfect record at the Rose Bowl earlier this year.

They're atop the rankings in The Associated Press preseason poll released Saturday, hoping to become the first team to repeat as champions since Nebraska in 1994-95.

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Despite the return of only 10 starters, Miami edged Oklahoma for the top spot by 14 points in voting by the 74 sports writers and broadcasters on the AP panel.

Miami had 27 first-place votes and 1,746 points to Oklahoma's 21 first-place votes and 1,732 points.

''Being voted No. 1 is always a great honor,'' Miami coach Larry Coker said. ''Having the media recognize our program and our returning players as the preseason No. 1 team not only acknowledges our potential but also gives us another reason to try and repeat as national champions.''

Rounding out the Top 10 were Florida State at No. 3 with 10 first-place votes, followed by Texas (13 first-place votes), Tennessee (three first-place votes), Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Washington and Nebraska. The Big 12 Conference has four Top-10 teams -- Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Miami also was the No. 1 preseason pick in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, released last week.

Oklahoma, which finished 11-2 after winning the 2000 national title, is looking for a big year from quarterback Jason White. The defense is led by tackle Tommie Harris and end Jimmy Wilkerson.

Oklahoma does not play Nebraska this year, but it does play Texas in Dallas on Oct. 12, and there's a home game against Colorado on Nov. 2.

The first regular-season AP poll will be released on Monday, Aug. 26.

Twice before, Miami was No. 1 in the preseason poll -- in 1990 and 1992. Both times the Hurricanes were unable to win the title, but they have won five national crowns, the first in 1983.

Miami might have to replace many of its starters, but with the return of quarterback Ken Dorsey there shouldn't be much dropoff. The lanky 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior is among the top Heisman Trophy contenders.

He's been perfect in almost every way.

''The only thing I can think of for him to improve on is to eat more,'' center Brett Romberg said.

Dorsey is 26-1 as a starter and has the Hurricanes on a 22-game winning streak -- longest among major schools -- entering the opener Aug. 31 against Florida A&M.

''We are the defending national champions, and we are Miami,'' Dorsey said. ''With those two factors, teams are going to love to give us their best game.''

Whether it will be good enough to knock off the 'Canes is the big question. Miami certainly will be tested, if not by Big East Conference opponents then by non-league games against Florida State, Tennessee and Florida.

''We're going to use that as a positive,'' Coker said. ''The schedule really got the guys' attention this summer, and got them focused. They know this is serious.''

On offense, Miami is coming off its highest-scoring season ever -- 475 points, a 43.2 points-a-game average. But there are holes to be filled.

At running back, Willis McGahee replaces Clinton Portis until Frank Gore (knee) recovers. At tight end, Kellen Winslow Jr. -- son of NFL Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow -- steps in for Jeremy Shockey. And at the tackles, Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey move in for All-American Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez.

Wide receivers are led by Andre Johnson, co-MVP of Miami's Rose Bowl win over Nebraska. He'll need help from Kevin Beard and Ethenic Sands.

On defense, the secondary is completely new following the departure of All-American safety Ed Reed and his mates James Lewis, Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon. But look for hard-hitting linebacker Jonathan Vilma, ends Jamaal Green and Jerome McDougle and tackle William Joseph to pick up the slack.

The kicking game is superb, with Todd Sievers (21 of 26 field goals) and punter Freddie Capshaw (41.8-yard average) returning. The Associated Press