Miami's football program obviously has been rocked by scandal. The Hurricanes also have substandard facilities.

Those factors have conspired against recruiting efforts in recent years.

But Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com, cites a bigger-picture reason for the storied program's fall from its glory years.

"The door opened for other programs in South Florida during the early 2000s, when Larry Coker took over as head coach," Farrell said. "You saw schools like Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia really becoming a problem for Miami."

The Hurricanes last won a conference title in 2003, when they shared the Big East crown.

"The issue still hasn't been completely rectified," Farrell said. "(Current head coach) Al Golden is a good recruiter. But they're losing a lot of kids out of that area."

Golden has a record of 24-16 in three-plus seasons at the school, including 2-1 this season. He's currently absorbing ample criticism from fans and ex-players because the Hurricanes have lost five of their past nine games by 18 points or more.

Miami is a shadow of the program that in 2001 roared to the BCS national title with perhaps the greatest team of the BCS era. It had Ken Dorsey, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey. It had Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon, D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma. Nebraska fans remember all too well the 37-14 loss in the Rose Bowl national title game.

The Hurricanes' team speed and talent overwhelmed the Huskers. Speed largely define the Canes' rise years ago.

Those days are long gone. Don't necessarily buy into the notion that Miami will come to town this weekend with a decisive speed advantage over Nebraska (3-0).

"I don't think the speed differential is as big as people probably think between the two programs," Farrell said. "Nebraska doesn't have quite as much speed, but it has some quick guys who can hang with Miami."

The teams' talent levels are comparable, which is reflected in Rivals.com star rankings. In the four recruiting classes from 2011-14, Miami signed 27 four-star players and three five-star players. During the same period, Nebraska signed 26 four-star players.

After leading Miami to the 2001 national crown, Coker was fired five years later. Randy Shannon, a former Hurricane linebacker, was 28-22 as head coach from 2007-10.

Farrell probably is right: Miami hasn't recovered from the Coker years, which followed Butch Davis' six-season tenure.

"That's how long it can take to recover," Farrell said. "Davis was an amazing recruiter. Larry Coker was not an amazing recruiter. Not a dynamic personality. He started recruiting a little bit more nationally and allowed the door to open for a lot of schools that had a lot of trouble against Butch getting into Dade and Broward counties (in South Florida).

"Once you get that infestation, it's tough."

Golden always looks sort of stressed out. It's no wonder.


These games are key

The obvious: No. 22 Clemson (1-1) at No. 1 Florida State (2-0), 7 p.m. Saturday (ABC). Never mind Jameis Winston's first-half suspension (um, he said what?), there's no way Clemson goes into Doak Campbell Stadium and wins using the two-quarterback system Dabo Swinney has devised. Senior Cole Stoudt and freshman Deshaun Watson are sharing snaps. "We've got something special in No. 4, and that's easy to see," Swinney told reporters last week, referring to Watson. By the way, thumbs down to Swinney for upbraiding reporters for allegedly trying to create a QB controversy. Seems he's doing a good job of it on his own.

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The not-so-obvious: Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPNU. Pitt is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2009, including a victory against Boston College. Iowa, meanwhile, is scuffling on offense. Scuffling to the point where it averaged 2.9 yards per rush and just 4.0 yards per play in last week's home loss to Iowa State. Scuffling to the point where the offense "has flown in the face of modern-day college ball and been excruciating to watch," writes Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Heisman watch

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

QB Jameis Winston, Florida St.

RB Todd Gurley, Georgia

QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M

RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Keep an eye on: James Conner, Pittsburgh. With 544 yards (6.7 per carry), he's topped Tony Dorsett's school record for most rushing yards in the first three games of a season (Dorsett had 478 as a freshman in 1973). A 6-foot-2, 250-pound sophomore from Erie, Pennsylvania, Conner is a between-the-tackles banger in the mold of Iowa's Mark Weisman, only with much better overall skills and instincts for the position. 

Thumbs up: You want to see a show of raw strength? Re-watch Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong's stiff-arm of Fresno State safety Shannon Edwards on the second play of the touchdown drive to begin the third quarter. Armstrong — apt name, huh? — pushed the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Edwards to the ground as if Edwards were a junior-high kid. Earl Campbell would've been proud.

Thumbs down: To Illinois third-year head coach Tim Beckman. As his players passed through airport security last week in Seattle after a 44-19 loss to Washington, Beckman reminded them, one-by-one, that the Illini won the second half, 7-6. No offense, coach, but in the words of "Saturday Night Live" character Matt Foley (as played by the late Chris Farley): "Well, la dee frickin' da!"

I chuckled when ...

Wisconsin-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold, a former Husker staffer, mentioned the 15-hour bus ride his team faces this week to play the College of New Jersey. That's right, 15 hours. Leipold is a thinker, a great big-picture coach (he has led the Warhawks to five NCAA Division III titles). Heaven only knows what the former Whitewater quarterback great will be thinking about for 15 hours, other than how to get that sixth championship ring.

Five to go

Five key players from Nebraska's 1994 national championship team who may not immediately come to mind 20 years after the fact:

1. Barron Miles, cornerback. "Barron was the best corner I ever coached," former NU secondary coach George Darlington told me recently.

2. Troy Dumas, SAM linebacker. The 6-4, 220-pound player from Wyoming finished third on the team in tackles behind Ed Stewart and Christian Peter.

3. Joel Wilks, offensive guard. There was Zatechka, Graham, Stai, Wiegert and ... that other guy. Wilks, from Hastings, more than held his own.

4. Kareem Moss, defensive back/punt returner. In addition to ranking fourth on the team in tackles, he ranked third in the Big Eight with an average of 8.1 yards per punt return.

5. Damon Benning, running back/return man. It's no surprise that Lawrence Phillips led the team in all-purpose yards. Ranking second was Benning, largely on the strength of 308 kickoff return yards.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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