Once again, Miami picked to win BIG EAST
By Jimmy Robertson
July 27, 2001

As the old saying goes, some things never change. And it certainly applies to the BIG EAST's preseason football poll.

For the seventh time in nine years, the Miami Hurricanes have been selected to win the BIG EAST championship for the 2001 season based on a poll of media representatives who cover the league on a regular basis. The league made the results of the poll known at its annual Media Day held Thursday at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

Despite losing receivers Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne, tailback James Jackson and linebacker Dan Morgan - along with coach Butch Davis - Miami still received 21 of the 24 first-place votes. The 'Canes, who finished 11-1 last season and defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl, return three All-America selections from a year ago and seven All-BIG EAST first-team members. Miami also returns 14 starters.

"There is a lot of pressure, but there's always pressure at Miami to win," UM's first-year coach Larry Coker said. "We expect to win every year and to compete for the national championship. We welcome those expectations."

The road will not be easy for the 'Canes. Miami opens up the season with a game at Penn State and the 'Canes also travel to Florida State and play Washington at the Orange Bowl. In BIG EAST action, Miami travels to Virginia Tech, Boston College and Pittsburgh.

"We always have a lot of goals and one of those is to win the BIG EAST," Miami defensive back Mike Rumph said. "We expect to be the best. Personally, I like being the underdog, but that's not going to happen when you're at Miami."

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech was picked to finished second in the league, while receiving the other three first-place votes. The Hokies return 15 starters, including nine on defense. Tech also returns All-American running back Lee Suggs, who led the nation in touchdowns and scoring a year ago. But the Hokies lost the nation's best player in quarterback Michael Vick, who left school early, declared for the NFL Draft and was the first player taken.

"We've been picked anywhere from third to 63rd [nationally]," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "That's kind of the deal. We've got a good team and a lot of good players. But when you've got a question at quarterback, with a guy who's never played before and you don't know how he's going to perform, you just never know. We've got to see how that guy reacts and how this team reacts."

Pittsburgh was picked to finish third in the BIG EAST, followed by Boston College, Syracuse, West Virginia, Temple and Rutgers.

League officials remain quiet on Temple situation: Media members descended on BIG EAST commissioner Mike Tranghese shortly after the media event start and most of those members wanted to know the latest on the Temple situation. Several months ago, the presidents of the league schools voted to kick Temple out of the league after this season, citing the attendance at Owls' games and the poor condition of Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field as the main reasons why.

But with rumors of a lawsuit coming from the Temple administration, Tranghese refused to comment.

"We're talking," Tranghese said of the two sides involved. "But coming out in the media and talking about this is not going to help either us or Temple."

According to Temple head coach Bobby Wallace, the Owls have sold 26,000 season tickets. But reportedly a couple of donors purchased most of those, leaving one to wonder how many actual fans will show up at games. The Owls also plan on sharing the new stadium being built for the Philadelphia Eagles. Temple AD Dave O'Brien made an appearance at the Media Day, but he too refused to comment on the situation.

"That's our stand until everything is resolved," O'Brien said.

Meanwhile, Wallace and his staff and players get ready for the upcoming season. Temple returns everybody from last year's squad - the Owls only had two seniors on the team a year ago.

"All of our focus is on this season," Wallace said. "You never know what happens and there's a lot of uncertainty in this situation. But all that is really not on our minds. We're just focusing on what we can do on the field."

Bryant in the news again: Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Bryant, who won the Biletnikoff Award last season after leading the nation in receiving (130.2 ypg) made the headlines again when police picked him up for his role in an apparent credit card theft. Only according to most reports, Bryant, who was suspended twice by Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris this spring for various infractions, was an innocent victim. He used an electronic ticket to go back to his hometown of Miami for a charity event and someone apparently purchased the ticket with a stolen credit card. Harris doesn't plan on suspending his star receiver.

"I think when it's all said and done, I won't have to get involved," Harris said. "This hasn't and won't affect our team. The only way it has affected us is the players' compassion for Antonio. When they heard about this, they called me because of their concern for him. I think that's great. That's what you want from your teammates."

Freeney back to 100 percent: Unfortunately for the rest of the BIG EAST, Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney is 100 percent after missing the final four games of last season because of complications with a lacerated spleen. The first-team All-BIG EAST player led the conference with 13 sacks and set a league and school single-game record with 4.5 sacks of Tech quarterback Michael Vick.

Freeney's injury occurred because of freak circumstances. He displayed mono-like symptoms, which enlarged his internal organs. He kept playing, and after getting hit numerous times, he started bleeding internally. Against Tech, he chased Michael Vick, who ducked and accidentally hit Freeney in the spleen area.

"I'm feeling much better and I just want to stay healthy this season," Freeney said. "I'm going to be drinking lots of water and trying to take care of my body better, particularly since it gets hot in the Dome and we play at Miami. I never used to drink water. I hated it. But now there's no more soda for me."

Freeney figures to be a premier player in the BIG EAST this season. He weighs 252 pounds and recently ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. He benched 500 and squatted 685.

"He had a great spring," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He could be as good a pass rusher as we've had in this league. I'm not predicting he'll be the best, but he'll be among the best pass rushers this league has seen."

SU's quarterback quandary: Pasqualoni spent much of the media session fielding questions about his quarterback situation. Last season, he used a platoon of Troy Nunes and R.J. Anderson without much success as the Orangemen failed to go to a bowl for the first time since 1994. Nunes threw 14 interceptions compared to just eight touchdowns. Anderson threw five interceptions and just two touchdowns.

The talk all summer is that Cecil Howard, a highly recruited prep All-American from Pennsylvania, may wind up starting. But Pasqualoni downplayed his quarterback situation.

"Troy and Robin are ahead of Cecil at this point," Pasqualoni said. "We'll work each one of them at the position, just like we would do for any position. But there's no question Troy and Robin are way up front."

Pasqualoni will need solid play from his quarterbacks this season. Syracuse plays nine games against teams that went to bowls last year.

New coaches join the fray: In addition to Coker, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez and Rutgers' Greg Schiano will be entering their first seasons as BIG EAST head coaches. Schiano continues to draw raves for his recruiting prowess in the state of New Jersey, while Rodriguez's offense gets most of the attention from the media scribes.

"We want to play like our hair is on fire," Rodriguez joked. "We'll spread it out and run the no-huddle attack. In a way, it's like running a two-minute drill for four quarters.

"I think we're at more of a disadvantage against BIG EAST teams than at an advantage. Sure, those teams haven't seen our attack, but we still don't know what we have. I've often said it's easier to coach in year two. At Clemson and Tulane, we were more efficient because the players knew what they were doing."

Interestingly, some folks think little of the Mountaineers' attack. One publication rated the Mountaineers' coaching staff seventh in the BIG EAST.

"I guess some people don't think Vince Lombardi has landed in Morgantown," Rodriguez laughed. "That's alright. I think we've got a good staff."

An unusual hobby: Each team brought 2-5 players to Media Day, but Miami boasted the biggest in 6-foot-9, 335-pound offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. The rising senior received lots of attention not only because of his size, but also because of his ability to play the bass drum. McKinnie, who didn't start playing football until the 11th grade, played in his high school's band.

"I was 6-5 in the 10th grade, so yeah, I guess I did stick out a little," McKinnie said. "The only reason I did it [played in the band] was because they went on a lot of trips. It was fun going on all those trips."

McKinnie weighed 250 pounds when he graduated from high school. He went to Lackawanna [N.Y.] Junior College for two years, where he put on nearly 70 pounds, before going to Miami.

McKinnie figures to be able to afford any trip he wants very soon. He nearly bolted for the NFL after his junior season, particularly after Butch Davis left, and he could be a top 10 pick in next April's draft.

"I changed my mind about leaving after they hired Coach Coker," McKinnie said. "I felt like I needed some more experience and I like college football."