Florida, Miami Look to Improve in 2005

Saturday, January 1st 2005, 3:27 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Florida and Miami have played four times in the last five years, and they're already talking about another matchup _ in next season's Rose Bowl.

That might seem improbable after they lost a combined eight games in 2004, but the two young and talented teams expect to improve significantly next season.

No. 14 Miami stated its case in the Peach Bowl on Friday night, scoring twice on special teams and getting a strong defensive performance to beat No. 20 Florida 27-10.

``This was a great way to jump-start next season,'' Miami coach Larry Coker said Saturday.

The Hurricanes won their third consecutive straight ``state title'' and extended their winning streak against the Gators to six games. They also have won six in a row against Florida State.

``When I was at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma was dominant over us for 20 years, but there was such a mismatch in talent and recruiting,'' Coker said. ``We knew that. It's not that way here. This is Florida and Florida State.

``You expect parity there. Hopefully it's not the next six years that we have to suffer. But it's without question hard to explain.''

The success could continue, too.

Miami loses quarterback Brock Berlin, cornerback Antrel Rolle and a couple of offensive linemen to graduation. But nearly everyone else returns, and Kyle Wright is up next at ``Quarterback U.''

Maybe more importantly for Coker, his team probably won't be pillaged by the NFL like it has been in recent years. The Hurricanes had 19 players taken in the first round over the last four years, including a record six in 2004.

Safety Sean Taylor, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and running back Willis McGahee all would have been seniors this season had they stayed for their entire eligibility.

Running back Frank Gore and receiver Roscoe Parrish are considering leaving Miami early, but Coker said they are the only underclassmen testing the NFL market.

``There is some relief there,'' Coker said. ``What I see are guys that maybe have enough NFL qualities but know they need to come back another year and reach that level they need to be.''

Gators running back Ciatrick Fason already declared for the draft, and linebacker Channing Crowder could follow. Crowder said after Friday's game that he was still weighing his options.

Even without them, Florida returns most of its starters and should be in good shape under new coach Urban Meyer.

``I'm not going to lie to you: We're looking forward to next year a lot,'' center Mike Degory said. ``I know that puts a great deal of pressure on us, but bring it on. We thought this year we were a play here, a play there from almost being in that situation.''

Meyer was hired away from Utah last month to replace Ron Zook, who was fired after a 4-3 start and an embarrassing loss at Mississippi State.

Meyer retained two Florida assistants _ defensive coordinator and interim head coach Charlie Strong and recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley _ but will otherwise revamp the coaching staff and the offense.

Meyer's wide-open and innovative system should be welcomed in Gainesville, where bubble screens were greeted about as warmly as someone wearing a Seminoles T-shirt.

``Our only chance to live up to the expectations of next year is to give in and show our loyalty to Coach Meyer,'' Degory said. ``We've got enough guys on this team that want to win. That won't be a problem.''