Saturday, August 16, 2003

Bigger the foes, harder they fall

RedHawks relish their giant-killer role

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - To some, the question might be: "Why does Miami keep scheduling powerhouse opponents?"

Considering the RedHawks' record in such games, others might reasonably ask, "Why do powerhouse opponents keep scheduling Miami?"

Miami is scheduled to open the 2003 football season Aug. 30 at Iowa against a Hawkeyes team that shared the Big Ten championship with Ohio State last season and went to the Orange Bowl. The RedHawks follow up by going on the road to face another Big Ten team, Northwestern, and then traveling to Fort Collins, Colo., to face Colorado State, which also reached a bowl game last season.

Many teams at Miami's non-Bowl Championship Series level schedule games of that caliber for the lucrative paychecks. The RedHawks don't mind the money that comes from playing before crowds at least twice the size of what they might draw at home, but they have another reason for playing the games: They have a knack for winning a few of them.

"There's no point in scheduling them if you can't beat them," said senior linebacker Terrell Jones, who already has played at Vanderbilt, Michigan (in the largest stadium in the country), Iowa, North Carolina and Louisiana State in his three seasons. "The atmosphere around here is we watch college football like everybody else. We figured, if you want be the best, you've got to play the best. We try to get the biggest schools we can. We feel like we can compete with anybody in the country."

That's not just fanciful optimism, either. Miami's record of upsets borders on legendary status. Through the years, the upset victims include No. 12 North Carolina in 1998, No. 12 Virginia Tech in 1997, No. 25 Northwestern in 1995, No. 9 Purdue in 1962 and, perhaps, the biggest win of all, No. 8 Louisiana State in 1986. All of those wins were on the road.

Last season, Miami opened with an upset of North Carolina in Chapel Hill before suffering a 29-24 loss to Iowa in the first visit by a Big Ten school to Oxford.

"Statistically, we've done the research," coach Terry Hoeppner said. "We're the only school in (the Mid-American Conference) that plays only a (Division) I-A schedule. In terms of victories against I-A opponents, since 1996, we rank 27th in wins against I-A opponents. This year, only 40-some teams out of 117 will play strictly a I-A schedule. I think that speaks to what we want to be about and the attitude it takes. We look forward to playing anybody."

Since most of this season's games were scheduled years ago, the presence of RedHawks junior quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is being touted by Miami as a Heisman Trophy candidate, adds spice to the matchups. Hoeppner isn't sure whether Roethlisberger was the reason ESPN decided to televise the Iowa game on ESPN2, but he isn't going to argue. If the exposure helps Roethlisberger's candidacy, so much the better.

Jones, a St. Louis native, said he knew about Miami's wins over Northwestern before he signed with the RedHawks, but he doesn't believe facing big-time opponents changes his team's approach.

"We have the same attitude," Jones said. "We crank it up because we're about to play a game. We try to take it one game at a time, no matter who we're playing. We just want to go out for that first game, scheme 'em up and play the same."

Miami RedHawks: Today's schedule

Open to a limited walkup crowd, at Yager Stadium Complex practice fields.

Noon: Players will be available for autographs.

12:30p.m.: Pigskin Picnic.

1 p.m.: Athletic director Brad Bates, football coach Terry Hoeppner and senior players will speak.

2:05 p.m.: Red and White scrimmage.

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