The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Talking Canes Football

Random thoughts and rumblings about Miami Hurricanes Football and some final thoughts about last week’s Miami – Florida State game:

Rix Couldn't Start in High School?
The latest rumor making the rounds is that Florida State quarterback Chris Rix wasn’t even good enough to start on his own high school football team. This rumor is substantiated by this article, which quotes Rix’s high school coach and also states that Rix’s replacement is now the quarterback at San Diego State. The notion that the quarterback at one of the nation’s elite college programs could have been benched as a senior at his high school is almost laughable, but it appears to be true. Check it out and judge for yourself.

Berlin's Record Outshines Heisman Trophy Winner
Miami, like Florida State, has a much maligned senior, starting quarterback in Brock Berlin. Although Berlin has a flare for the dramatic, as seen in Friday night’s come from behind win against the Seminoles, he also has a flare for making the dramatic necessary, much to the dismay of Canes fans. What is often overlooked though is Berlin’s record. Sure, this is partially due to the talent that surrounds him, particularly on the defensive side of the ball (and particularly last year, when the defense propelled the Canes to many of their eleven wins). Still, Berlin enters this weekend’s action with the fourth best winning percentage of all returning starters. His 12 – 2 mark (.857 winning percentage) exceeds reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White (17 – 3, .850). It would be hard to argue that Berlin is surrounded by a better cast than White – it’s probably pretty close to equal – but Berlin’s winning percentage, if not overall numbers, stack up pretty favorably to White’s.

Can Anyone Catch the Ball?
Much was made coming into this season about Miami’s lack of established players at the wide receiver position. Going back through the years, like at many other “skill” positions, Miami has churned out wide receivers at a rate that makes NFL scouts flock to the Coral Gables campus in the spring. Over the years the likes of Michael Irvin, Randall Hill, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, and many others have gone straight from the Canes starting lineup to your television on Sunday afternoons.

Although it wasn’t clear who would do that for the Canes this year, it was expected that someone would. Most observers found Ryan Moore to be the most likely target, as Moore combines the blend of speed and size that is rare, but that Canes fans have come to expect after watching Michael Irvin and Andre Johnson develop into legitimate college superstars (it remains to be seen if Johnson will develop into the pro that Irvin was).

However, through one game of the 2004 season, Ryan Moore does not appear to be that guy for the Canes this year. Moore dropped at least four catchable passes on Friday night, most of which hit him in the hands or the shoulder pads. Those are not the signs of a star in waiting.

The real star in the making could be Sinorice Moss. He’s the younger brother of Canes great, and NFL star, Santana Moss and he appears to have his brother’s speed, play-making ability (as evidenced by his break-away, game tying touchdown run last week), and lack of size. With a few more performances like he had against Florida State, Moss will remove any concern about his lack of size.

Another star-in-waiting, or at least in some observers eyes, is Roscoe Parrish. Like Moss, Parrish lacks size, but he possesses game-breaking speed. Whether or not he can control his fumbles, which have been costly in games against Florida State and Virginia Tech, will determine how far Roscoe’s game goes.

Beyond Moss, Parrish, and Moore, Miami also has a plethora of speedy, and tall receivers, but at this point it isn’t clear if they’re speedsters or actual wide receivers and football players. Devin Hester, Darnell Jenkins, Lance Leggett and Aikeem Jolla lead this group, and for Miami to play at a championship level this season, at least one of these receivers must step-up and emerge as a go-to guy.

Can anyone catch the ball, and block?
Tight end is another position of question to some coming into this season, but many of those questions were answered in Friday night’s game. In recent years Miami lost Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey to the NFL, and both went on to almost immediately become Pro Bowlers at their positions. Last year, Kellen Winslow II left Miami early to take his skills to the next level, and many feared this ended the Canes run of play-making tight ends. So far though it appears it hasn’t.

Although Kevin Everett is most well-known to this point for dropping a sure touchdown in the end zone against Virginia Tech in last year’s loss in Blacksburg, coaches rave that he is both bigger, faster, and a better pass catcher than Winslow. If that’s true, watch out, because, in addition to excellent blocking, Winslow changed the defense’s game plan purely because of his receiving skills.

The tight end position is also much deeper than just Everett. Redshirt freshman Greg Olson looked comfortable on Friday and was extremely productive. Coming out of high school in 2002, Olson was one of the most highly regarded tight end prospects in the country. He looked like it on Friday.

The wildcard at the tight end position is converted quarterback/linebacker/special teams stand-out Buck Ortega. Buck is noted to be a good pass catcher and a solid blocker, but a key drop at the goal line against Florida State last week has observers asking questions. On the play before that though, he made a key block, which Brock Berlin mis-read, which could have made the next play moot, as Berlin may have been able to score had he read Ortega’s block correctly.

What were those draft picks worth?
Nearly everyone has heard the gaudy numbers bantied about regarding how many Miami players have gone on to the NFL in recent years. Last year six players were drafted in the first round. This established a new NFL record for the most number of players selected in the first round from one school, and all six Canes were taken in the first twenty picks of the draft, so the expansion of the NFL did not really play a role in the establishing of this record. Making Larry Coker’s job even more difficult is that the loss of the six first round draft picks came on the heels of losing four first-rounders after the 2002 seasons and five (a then NFL draft record) following the 2001 campaign.

To help put that loss of talent into perspective, it’s interesting to see what the NFL valued those six first round picks (Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams, and Vernon Carey, as being worth. To simply sign those six players, the NFL teams that drafted them had to guarantee $92 million in contracts.

Larry Coker’s task was to replace that talent with equally gifted players as quickly as possible, so as not to lose out on a chance for another national championship. When other organizations value your talent so highly, it’s easy to see how the recruiting process gets out of hand so quickly and easily.

Can a six-game win streak be luck?
Many of the recent Miami – Florida State games have been decided at the very end of the game. In fact, last week’s game, the 2002 game, and the 2000 game were all decided on the game’s final play. Both of last year’s games were decided by less than ten points. Only the 2001 game, which Miami won 49 – 27, and it wasn’t really even that close, was not close. The regularity of close games has caused some to feel that Miami is simply lucky and that Florida State is not. Miami’s Art Kehoe, who has coached in this series for twenty years and participated as a player before that (his tenure in this series is only exceeded by Bobby Bowden), disagrees: "We're better than them," Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "That's why we beat them. I don't care what anyone says. We're better than them, and we're tougher than them."

From the other perspective, I suppose if you throw out enough variables, like being dominated in 2001, the rain in the regular season 2003 matchup, an inability of your team to make field goals and to block field goal rushers, being outmanned at the quarterback position, being outcoached, outrecruited, and out-adjusted, it does come down to luck. But you really can't exclude all of those things, because that's football and that's what wins and loses football games.

Improprieties in College Football (other sports too)
This will come as a shock to all of you, I'm sure, but not everything in college football is on the up-and-up. It's now come to light, courtesy of an investigation done by The Washington Post that some schools offer for-credit classes to their varsity athletes for participating in their scholarship sport. This is very different from the traditional physical education courses that colleges offer, which are designed to teach the theory of the sport, coaching strategies, and to prepare students to teach and coach various sports at various levels. These courses usually only require the student-athlete to show up to practices and games. There is no course work, papers to write, or tests to take, so essentially the athletes get credit for something they have to do anyway (it's kind of like all those credits you got for your extra-curriculars and off-campus jobs... oh, wait - you didn't get those either? Me too).

If you don't believe this could possibly be happening, check out this article. If that's still not good enough for you, check out Florida State's course guide, available to anyone online, which lists the courses that are offered exclusively to varsity athletes.


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