Miami seeks strong finish against South Florida
Asked this week if his seniors will leave Miami's program in better condition than when they found it, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon offered an immediate answer.
''Absolutely. No question,'' Shannon said.
As is customary for the final home game, the Hurricanes will give their soon-to-be-departing upperclassmen a warm send-off before hosting South Florida on Saturday afternoon: an on-field ceremony, with gifts for family members, and a moment to bask in the spotlight.
When that ends, eyes will shift toward a freshman and a junior, and the latest drama in a frustrating Hurricane season.
Even though Jacory Harris has recovered from his concussion, Stephen Morris - a former fourth-stringer who was slated to be redshirted before Harris went down last month - is expected to make his fourth straight start when Miami (7-4) tries to enhance its bowl attractiveness against the Bulls (6-4).
''I don't know who's going to play,'' South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. ''It doesn't matter. They've both won. They are both good. They're both talented. They both have strong arms. They both can make a lot happen.''
A win may send Miami back to the Champs Sports Bowl for the second straight year, and a loss may mean the Hurricanes are heading to the Sun Bowl, though neither scenario is absolute.
It's a bitter pill for the seniors who'll never win any sort of title at Miami.
''It's not what we wanted,'' senior linebacker Colin McCarthy said. ''We came here to win championships. That's why you come to Miami is to win championships. Anything less than that is kind of frowned upon. My five years, obviously, we weren't able to do that. I guess we're taking steps in the right direction.''
South Florida can take a step forward on Saturday.
Miami was eliminated from the Atlantic Coast Conference title chase with a loss to Virginia Tech last weekend. South Florida, meanwhile, came into the weekend with a chance - albeit small - to still capture a share of the Big East title.
And while all the buzz in Miami this week has had to do with Harris vs. Morris, who'll start and whether Miami is already wrapped up in a full-fledged quarterback controversy, the Bulls are looking at another issue. South Florida has rushed for more than 150 yards in each of its last three games, and stopping the run has been a major problem in Miami all season.
''They play some good teams, obviously,'' Bulls offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. ''But you look at their stats, that's probably the one thing that jumps out, knowing their defenses in the past. They've given up 170-something and change, which is a little surprising for them. That's an area of the game we've been pretty consistent with.''
Miami easily handled South Florida last season in Tampa, 31-10.
The Bulls have had some success against what's long been known as the state's ''Big 3'' in football. South Florida beat Florida State in Tallahassee last season, but lost 38-14 when visiting Florida earlier this year.
Still, any game against one of those teams is a chance for the Bulls to earn some serious style points.
''This would be a great opportunity for us to go head to head, step away from the conference race and understand what we're getting into as far as a game that gives us some national exposure because of the great reputation and football program that Miami has,'' Holtz said.
Shannon hasn't formally named a starter at quarterback, and says he has no preference on a bowl destination, either.
To him, Miami could still end the season with its head high: A win Saturday, followed by a bowl triumph, would match last year's 9-4 mark, and give the Hurricanes their first postseason victory in Shannon's four seasons.
No matter what happens before kickoff Saturday, that would be the tribute Shannon thinks his seniors will appreciate most.
''This senior class was the team that really started us off and trying to get us back to understanding what Miami's about,'' Shannon said. ''Creating a culture on and off the field and in the classroom and cleaning up the University of Miami.''