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AP poll makes it unanimous

But finishing No. 1 will be difficult for the Hurricanes and others thanks to tough schedules.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 11, 2002

But finishing No. 1 will be difficult for the Hurricanes and others thanks to tough schedules.

So Miami lost most of its offense, including mammoth tackle Bryant McKinnie, tight end Jeremy Shockey and tailback Clinton Portis. So its defense must replace the entire secondary, including Edward Reed and Mike Rumph.

So what?

Personnel changes haven't changed expectations.

An Associated Press panel of writers believes the Hurricanes should be able to defend their national title, tabbing them preseason No. 1, edging 2000 national champ Oklahoma by six first-place votes (27-21) and 14 points (1,746-1,732). The Hurricanes last started the season atop the AP poll in 1992.

Florida State, looking to rebound from its worst season since 1986, is third (10 first-place votes, 1,683 points) followed by Texas (13, 1,682), Tennessee (3, 1,601), Florida (1,313), Colorado (1,291), Georgia (1,179), Washington (1,133) and Nebraska (1,131).

"Being voted No.1 is always a great honor," said Miami's Larry Coker, who enters his second season 12-0 as a coach. "Having the media recognize our program and our returning players as the preseason No.1 team acknowledges our potential but also gives us another reason to try to repeat as national champions."

Aug. 1, the coaches of the ESPN/USA Today poll voted Miami the preseason team to beat.

Why not?

Despite losing 12 starters, the Hurricanes have quarterback Ken Dorsey, a Heisman Trophy contender after finishing third last season, receiver Andre Johnson (199 yards, two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl rout of Nebraska) and four candidates for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best interior lineman: center Brett Romberg, guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli and defensive tackles William Joseph and Matt Walters.

That's the nucleus that could deliver the program's sixth title if it survives, perhaps, the nation's most arduous schedule, including games at Florida on Sept. 7, FSU on Oct. 12, at Tennessee on Nov. 9 and No. 16 Virginia Tech on Nov. 30.

If Miami falters, Oklahoma and former Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops have an even more experienced group (15 starters) to land in Tempe, Ariz., and the Bowl Championship Series title game, the Fiesta Bowl.

That's assuming the Sooners can get through the Big 12. In addition to Oct.12 against Texas in Dallas, they host Colorado on Nov. 2 and travel to No. 22 Texas A&M on Nov.9 before a potential conference title game.

No one is counting out the Seminoles, either. Although their unprecedented streaks of 10-win seasons and Top 5 finishes (14 in a row) ended last season, they are more experienced and far healthier.

"You're visible if you're in the Top 10; the Top 5, you're more visible," said coach Bobby Bowden, who needs one victory to pass Paul "Bear" Bryant for second on the Division I-A coaching list. "That means if anybody slips above you and you don't (you've got a chance). In the course of the year, people slip."

FSU, which reached the BCS title game for the first three seasons before last season, is the only AP preseason No. 1 to finish No. 1, doing it in 1999.

The Seminoles have a daunting schedule with games at No. 21 Maryland on Sept. 14, at No. 17 Louisville on Sept. 26, at Miami and, of course, the regular-season finale against Florida on Nov. 30.

Speaking of the Gators, even without 12 starters and Steve Spurrier, they figure to be in the mix thanks to the return of quarterback Rex Grossman, second in the Heisman balloting last season.

Not that new coach Ron Zook puts much credence in preseason prognostications.

"Obviously, it's where you end the season (that counts)," he said. "Obviously, there is nothing you can do about where you're picked anyway. The one thing I've tried to do since I've gotten here is live in the moment.

"And there's nothing I can do about (preseason polls) anyway. I don't know that it makes a lot of difference right now one way or the other."

Not given the schedule he inherited. In addition to Miami and FSU, the Gators visit Tennessee on Sept. 21, host No. 14 LSU on Oct. 12, play Georgia on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville and host No. 22 South Carolina on Nov. 16.

-- Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.

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