Miami's experience counts a bundle
The defending national champion Hurricanes have developed new leaders since last year's title-game appearance.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
PHOENIX -- The debate over which teams holds which advantages will be waged all week leading up to Friday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but one edge that cannot be argued is Miami's experience in preparing for a national championship game appearance.
Just last season, many of the current Hurricanes were on the field in a 37-14 rout of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, winning the BCS national championship.
Senior defensive tackle Matt Walters and junior inside linebacker Jonathon Vilma were both regular starters on the 'Canes' 2001 squad, as well as this season.
Monday, they discussed the experience they gained from last year's game.
"We know what to expect out of the week," said Walters.
"As far as the game is concerned, the game is going to be the same 60 minutes, grind it out, things like that," added Vilma.
Both players, though, said the loss of 12 starters from last year's national championship team does make it important for new leaders to step forward.
"It's given this team a new identity," said Walters. "People are [now] looking [to] us to make plays. We have had a little more pressure on us."
Added Vilma: "It is a different atmosphere. We're preparing the same, but it's a different personality of the team."
While Walters and Vilma will be the leaders of the Miami defense, it will be up to quarterback Ken Dorsey and running back Willis McGahee, both Heisman Trophy finalists, to lead the offense.
"When it's all said and done [Dorsey] will get the credit he deserves," said Walters. "He really set an example of how to prepare for the games and all the preparation that goes into the games.
"It's hard to fill Ken Dorsey's footsteps because he's done it right every time. It's hard to find guys like that.
"He's a great people person; very smart. I could see him being a coach -- he almost coaches right now, as it is on the field."
This season, Dorsey completed 194-of-350 passes for 3,073 yards and 26 touchdowns, with just 10 interceptions. In 40 career games (38 starts), Dorsey has thrown for 9,269 yards, with 84 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions.
And, despite a 37-1 career record as a starter, the Orinda, Calif., native has received an unusual amount of criticism.
"Everyone wants to get technical and criticize his throwing arm," said Vilma. "The bottom line is, he wins games, whether he's throwing the ball side arm or whatever.
"Obviously, what he's done is come through in the big time and critical situations."