FLORIDA No. 1, but No. 2 Miami gets more top votes

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Steve Spurrier remembers vividly the last time Florida was the preseason No. 1 team _ his Gators lost twice, tied once and barely won the SEC title.

Seven years later, Florida is again No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25, edging No. 2 Miami by 16 points, with national champion Oklahoma at No. 3, Nebraska ranked No. 4 and Texas at No. 5.

``We all know when it's all over with, the action speaks, and we'll really know who No. 1 is,'' Spurrier said. ``It's good publicity. Our fans will be very, very excited.''

Thanks to a quirk in the voting, the Hurricanes actually received more first-place votes than the Gators. In balloting by the 72 sports writers and broadcasters on the AP panel, Miami had 33 first-place votes and 1,700 points; Florida had 20 first-place votes and 1,716 points.

Voting in the AP poll awards teams 25 points for first place, 24 for second, 23 for third and down to 1 point for 25th place. Florida had 29 second-place votes to Miami's 12.

``Getting that many first-place votes says a lot about the respect we're getting with so many players coming back,'' said Miami coach Larry Coker, who replaces Butch Davis. ``But not being No. 1 isn't too surprising because of two things: Butch leaving and the tough road schedule.''

This is fifth time _ the second for Florida _ a team without the most first-place votes is No. 1 in the preseason poll, which started in 1950. The others were Notre Dame in 1971 and 1954 and Michigan State in 1952.

In '94, Nebraska had the most first-place votes, but was ranked No. 4 behind Florida, Notre Dame and Florida State. That year, the Gators lost to Auburn 36-33, tied Florida State 31-31 and lost a Sugar Bowl rematch with the Seminoles 23-17 to finish No. 7 in the final AP poll.

``That was a heck of a team,'' Spurrier, the nation's top-paid coach at $2.1 million per year, said of his '94 squad. ``Florida State and Auburn both made fourth-and-10s. But we were fortunate to beat Alabama (24-23) in the SEC championship game that year.''

Florida and Miami, which do not play each other this season, are the first teams from the same state to be ranked 1-2 since 1996, when the Gators were No. 1 and Florida State was No. 2 in the Nov. 24 poll.

Oklahoma, coming off a 13-0 season and its seventh national title, has 10 first-place votes, while Big 12 Conference rivals Nebraska (4 firsts) and Texas (5 firsts) are the other schools with first-place votes.

Florida State is No. 6 _ the first time since 1987 the Seminoles are not in the preseason top 5 _ followed by No. 7 Oregon, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 10 Georgia Tech.

Oregon State is No. 11, followed by No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Kansas State, No. 14 LSU, No. 15 Washington, No. 16 Northwestern, No. 17 UCLA, No. 18 Notre Dame, No. 19 Clemson and No. 20 Mississippi State.

Rounding out the preseason poll, South Carolina is No. 21, followed by No. 22 Wisconsin, No. 23 Ohio State, No. 24 Colorado State and No. 25 Alabama.

In the USA Today/ESPN coaches' preseason poll released Aug. 3, the top 5 were Florida, Miami, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Florida State.

Once again, the state of Florida dominates with three teams in the top 6. The SEC has the most schools in the preseason poll with six, but the Big 12's big four are a strong 3-4-5-13 (Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas State). After Florida and Tennessee, the other four SEC schools are ranked 14th or lower.

Florida, 10-3 last season after a Sugar Bowl loss to Miami, returns eight starters on offense, nine on defense plus kicker Jeff Chandler, the Gators' all-time leading scorer. Spurrier may rotate quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin, who will be throwing to star receiver Jabar Gaffney. The defense is led by end Alex Brown and cornerback Lito Sheppard. Back are 35 of the top 44 players on last year's two-deep chart.

``I just think as coaches it's our job to convince our players they're not near as good as lot of people think,'' Spurrier said. ``We appreciate voters voting for us. But at the same time, we know that we really have not earned No. 1.''

Florida's schedule is a tough one _ eight bowl teams including home games at The Swamp against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida State. Miami's schedule, meanwhile, includes games at Penn State, Florida State and Virginia Tech.

Spurrier hopes his players have what it takes to stay on top.

``We had a good season last year and returned a lot of players, but we've not beaten teams at the top in order to earn it,'' Spurrier said. ``Last year, after Oklahoma beat Nebraska, they started getting voted No. 1 because they earned it.''

The last time a team was No. 1 in the AP poll without receiving the most first-place votes was Oct. 29, 1995 _ Nebraska was No. 1 despite losing the first-place count 31-23.

With the addition of new teams to Division I-A, the AP voting panel increases by one to 72 this season.

The first regular-season poll is Monday, Aug. 27; the final AP poll will be released after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 3.