Friday, May 14, 2010
Talent doesn't run dry for Miami
By Ivan Maisel ESPN.com
So USC and Miami bracket the country and they dominate the NFL Pipeline Bracket. That makes it official -- football is a warm-weather sport. Or maybe an all-weather sport.
Declaring Coral Gables the most fertile ground for the development of NFL players doesn't take hours of video study, weeks of data analysis or even an average score on the Wonderlic test. If you can read a map, and if you ever saw the "U" on a sweaty night in the rickety Orange Bowl -- may its memory be for a blessing -- then you aren't a bit surprised that Miami is the last Pipeline standing.
Watch a game in the old Orange Bowl and you'll know why Miami came out on top.
Like USC, the top seed in this Pipeline Bracket, Miami is a dominant program located at an epicenter of college football talent. Unlike the Trojans, the Hurricanes are the nouveau riche among the sport's elite.
The three-decade time frame is perfect to gauge the rise of the Hurricanes. In 1979, Miami came closer to dropping football than to dominating it. With a focus on keeping top players at home, and with the population rise in Florida increasing the number of top players, Miami's recommitment to football came at the perfect time.
While the Hurricanes have recruited well across the country -- one of its two Heisman winners came from Long Island (Vinny Testaverde, 1986) and the other from northern California (Gino Torretta, 1992) -- the stars by and large grew up close enough to campus for their families see them play without springing for a hotel room.
The players arrived at Miami hungry for stardom and ready to preen in a national spotlight only too eager to shine upon them. Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson, the first two coaches to win national championships at the U, turned a blind eye to their players. Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker, the other two coaches to win national championships at the U, seemed unable to stop them.
The antics of Miami two decades ago brought upon all of the NCAA sportsmanship penalties that are loathed by many players and fans to this day. As we have pointed out all week, many of those same Miami players have gone on to play on Sunday, where their antics are more tolerated.
There's another reason that the Hurricanes players with NFL sensibilities have blossomed. Miami is the rare college program to survive and thrive in a pro city. The list of once-powerful college football programs chewed up and spit out when the NFL came to town is a long one. Once pro football departed from Los Angeles 15 years ago, it didn't take long for USC to reassert its primacy in the marketplace. Miami thrived by giving a demanding fan base what it wanted -- wins, and lots of them.
Recent years have proven that no success is universal. In six seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami has not won even a division championship, much less the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game in its home stadium. In only two of those six seasons (2005, 2008) did the Canes finish within one game of first place.
Still, Miami led all schools with 10 former Hurricanes in the 2010 Pro Bowl. Even as Miami fights to gain traction in its new league, it continues to send product through its orange-and-green pipeline.
The same could be said for USC, which leads the NCAA in first-round draft choices all time (74) and is second in overall draft choices (464). As automatic as USC has been for much of the past decade, the Trojans have endured their share of dry spells. Pete Carroll lost 19 games in nine seasons. Paul Hackett, Carroll's predecessor, lost 18 games in three seasons.
Yet the Trojans keep coming through the pipeline. There is something about the way these schools produce NFL stars that doesn't exactly correlate to wins and losses. The pipelines rarely dry up and they never freeze shut. Maybe football really is a warm-weather sport.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.