How long can Miami sustain run of excellence?

September 01, 1991|By Ken Rodriguez | Ken Rodriguez,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MIAMI B — MIAMI -- College football's Team of the '80s has barreled into the '90s in search of unprecedented excellence. The University of Miami wants another decade-long dance atop bowls, polls and Seminoles, but more than that, the school wants to secure a lasting place in history.

Since the Associated Press poll began in 1936, no team has won four national championships in back-to-back decades. No team has strung together eight consecutive top-five finishes. No team has appeared in 10 consecutive major bowls.

Miami wants to be the first and the last. The Alpha and Omega of college football.

"If we can do this a couple of more years," Miami kicker Carlos Huerta says, "There will be no question we'll be the biggest dynasty in the history of the NCAA. If I live to be 50 or 60, I can say I scored points for the best team ever to play."

The Hurricanes have a way to go 10 more years of winning at the same pace if they are to be considered as the greatest of all time. Nebraska has the best 20-year run in history. From 1970 to '89, the Cornhuskers won 201 games, lost 40 and tied four, a winning percentage of .829. During that span, Nebraska played in 16 major bowls, had 15 top-10 finishes and won two national championships.

Jim Van Valkenburg, NCAA director of statistics: "As far as consistency and won-lost records, you can't beat Nebraska."

Hurricane safety Charles Pharms: "There's no doubt Miami could become the next Nebraska."

Miami already has forged one of the great 10-year runs in history, going 95-16 (.856 winning percentage) from 1981-90, second only to Nebraska (99-14, .876) during the same period. Since 1981, the Hurricanes have played in eight major bowls, recorded eight top-10 finishes and won three national championships.

And although Nebraska has the higher winning percentage, the Hurricanes lay claim to Team of the '80s on two counts: They beat the Cornhuskers in their only two encounters and won more national titles, 3-0.

Becoming college football's Team of the '90s will be infinitely more difficult. Just ask Keith Jackson, ABC's voice of college football.

"Normally, you can't maintain that kind of run for more than a decade," Jackson says. "History shows that. Look it up."

The record book supports Jackson.

Consider Michigan, which set an NCAA record with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes from 1940 to '50, then disappeared from the top 10 for the next five years.

Consider Oklahoma, which tied the record from 1948 to '58, then made only three top-10 appearances during the next 11 years.

Consider Notre Dame. After dominating the '40s with four national titles and nine consecutive top-10 finishes, the Fighting Irish managed only five top-10 finishes in the '50s and won zero national championships.

From dynasty to mediocrity. The ebb and flow of power appears cyclical.

"That's something the University of Miami has to be aware of," Jackson says. "Cracks begin to appear, and you already have one down there with Bryan Fortay going to Rutgers."

Fortay, a third-year sophomore and former prep All-America quarterback, recently transferred after Miami coach Dennis Erickson named Gino Torretta to start yesterday's season-opener at Arkansas.

Fortay's departure leaves Miami with two backups, Frank Costa and Alan Hall, neither of whom has taken a college snap.

Jackson sees other cracks. The schedule is more difficult than usual. Miami has regular-season games against three teams Houston, Penn State and Florida State who could win the national championship. A fourth opponent, Arizona, has a history of upsetting nationally-ranked teams in Tucson. Then there's a probable tough bowl opponent.

"I think 9-3 with that schedule is possible," Jackson says.

If Miami is to sustain its level of excellence, Jackson says, this season will be pivotal. The Hurricanes will be bucking history, starting an unproven quarterback, playing a tough schedule and fielding an inexperienced team.

Miami lost 12 starters from last season; it started only five seniors yesterday.

Cracks?

"They're always trying to find cracks," Huerta says. "But there's no doubt in my mind that if we go out and play like we're capable of, there's nobody in the country who can beat us."

Adds linebacker Micheal Barrow, "We feel we can contend for the national championship. Sure, we play a tough schedule. But if we have a good outing against Arkansas Saturday, it should be an indication of where we are likely to finish."

Arkansas has had a pretty decent run over the last decade, going 79-30-2 (.721), 10th best in college football. After winning consecutive Southwest Conference championships, though, the Razorbacks went 3-8 last season. This season, they are being picked to finish eighth in the nine-team SWC.

The end of a cycle?

Miami doesn't believe in cycles. Or cracks. Or cynics who say they cannot win with unproven quarterbacks.

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