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The case for the 'Canes has holes

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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001

NEW ORLEANS -- They wanted to persuade you. They wanted there to be no doubt in your mind, no lingering questions about meeting their burden of proof.

The Miami Hurricanes have been fighting the system for weeks, claiming that they deserve to be considered for the national championship. They delivered their final arguments Tuesday night in a 37-20 win in the Sugar Bowl.

So, is everybody convinced?

We, of course, really don't have a say in the matter. It's really up to the Associated Press voters and the outcome of tonight's Orange Bowl. But, in terms of simply stating its case, Miami won, but don't be surprised if it didn't hold up under appeal.

Miami coach Butch Davis will probably swear that winning big was never part of the plan, that there was no room in his team's Sugar Bowl preparation for margin of victory.

He simply wanted to win. Whether it was by one point or 100, he really didn't care as long as his team got the win.

And he would be kidding himself.

Of course the 'Canes needed to win big. Oh, they didn't need to be perfect, but something a little more impressive than what we saw Tuesday night, when it took a second-half rally to get past the Gators.

That would have gone a long way in fortifying their case for at least a piece of the national title they could end up sharing with Florida State if FSU beats Oklahoma tonight.

As it is, the AP voters likely will vault Miami from No. 2 to No. 1 anyway if FSU wins and is crowned the Bowl Championship Series national champion. But with so many holes in Miami's case, wouldn't you have liked to have seen it deliver the smoking gun against Florida?

Wouldn't you have wanted it to twist a confession out of the Gators? Beat them so thoroughly that they would feel compelled to admit the 'Canes are championship material?

Instead, Miami left us with more questions and few answers.

Did its win over Virginia Tech have more to do with quarterback Michael Vick being hurt than we originally thought? Or would it have really beaten FSU if quarterback Chris Weinke had been 100 percent?

For nearly three quarters, Florida looked better than Miami. Come on, admit it.

The Gators had the 'Canes off balance, hitting them with the run when they expected the pass, and passing when they expected the run.

Late in the second quarter and early in the third, the Gators just about put the 'Canes on their heels. Miami led 13-10 but UF seemed on the verge of getting at least a field goal from the Miami 26-yard line with 13 seconds left in the first half.

But Rex Grossman was picked off, taking away Florida's scoring chance.

As it was, the Gators led 17-13 early in the third quarter on Earnest Graham's 36-yard touchdown run. If Grossman hadn't thrown that interception, the Gators might have scored and led 20-13, maybe 24-13.

Yes, Miami responded in a big way, scoring on its next possession to keep the game, not to mention its title hopes, from getting completely away. But even that was suspect.

If it weren't for a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Florida on second and 22 from the Florida 34-yard line (Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey got pulled down, not hit), Miami might not have scored the go-ahead touchdown for a 20-17 lead.

"That was a crucial penalty," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said.

I know, I know. That's just nit-picking, right? After all, it's not as if Miami was playing Slippery Rock. Anyone who points out those things is being too hard on Miami, right? I mean, who's to say any of that would have changed the outcome? Miami still might have won. The 'Canes certainly turned on the juice late in the third quarter, outscoring the Gators 24-3 the rest of the way.

But you know what? Miami was the one whining about deserving a shot at the national title. Hey, don't go there unless you're prepared to back it up. All that yakking about deserving to be ahead of the Seminoles because the 'Canes beat them got old, especially in light of Miami's loss to Washington.

Said Spurrier when asked after the Sugar Bowl if Miami deserved at least a share of the national title: "They need to go play each other at a neutral site and then decide."

Sure, and women's sports needs to get the same respect as men's sports, but that isn't going to happen, either.

And frankly, if the 'Canes played the way they did Tuesday night, I'm not sure they should want to.

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