Before we get to the teams typically involved in this discussion, let’s first look at the sheer abundance of talent on the ’01 Canes.
Sixteen first round NFL draft picks. With NFL draft status being one of the best barometers to gauge a collegiate career, no other school comes close to matching the Hurricanes’ output there.
Six First Team All Americans. Thirteen First Team All Conference players. Quarterback Ken Dorsey broke nearly every major passing record at Miami. Running backs Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore all went on to become NFL All Pros. WR Andre Johnson is the premier wide receiver in the NFL today. Bryant McKinnie won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman. Five members of the secondary were taken in the 1st round of the NFL draft (Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanan, Mike Rumph, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle). Three defensive linemen were 1st round picks (Vince Wilfork, William Joseph, Jerome McDougle), as were two linebackers (Jonathan Vilma, DJ Williams). Did we also mention that their kicker (Todd Sievers) was a first team All-American?
With talent that deep, it is no surprise that this team went undefeated and won the national title….
Their opener was at Beaver Stadium versus Penn State. After going up 30-0, Coach Larry Coker pulled his starters in the second half. Still, the result was the largest margin of defeat for the Nittany Lions at home under Coach Paterno. A few weeks later, they would end Florida State’s 54 game home unbeaten streak, trouncing the Noles 49-27.
After suffering a scare in Chestnut Hill against Boston College (Miami’s 11 point win is somewhat misleading as BC was driving to win the game late in the 4th quarter), the Hurricanes took on #14 Syracuse and #12 Washington. What followed was the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents (59-0 and 63-7). A close win on the road against a ranked Virginia Tech team led them to the national title game in Pasadena against Nebraska. The Canes would jump out to a 34-0 lead at halftime and never look back. They would end up 12-0, securing the school’s fifth national championship.
In looking at the numbers, they might even be more impressive than the talent. The 2001 Hurricanes averaged 42.6 points per game, setting a school record. Their average margin of victory was a gaudy 32.9 points. The defense gave up a mere 9.8 points per game, tops in the nation. Special teams play was stellar as well – this team also led the country in turnover margin. Art Kehoe, who spent 23 years as part of the Hurricanes football team summed it up best: “It’s the best one I’ve ever seen, and I think we could line up and play with any college team that’s ever been.”
There are a few teams that commonly pop up in the discussion when the greatest college football teams of all time are discussed. The only stipulation we used is that you had to have gone undefeated and won the national title. A lot of Hurricanes fans think the 1986 team that lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl was their best ever. But, regardless of the manner in which it happened, they lost. Simply put, a team cannot logically be included in a ‘greatest of all time’ discussion if it could not even beat each team on its schedule that year. Additionally, the 2004 USC team is omitted due to their having to vacate two wins that year. That leaves a handful of usual suspects that typically inhabit these elite team lists. Some resumes are more impressive than others. CanesPundit ranks them below:
5. 1956 Oklahoma: Led by Hall of Fame coach Bud Wilkinson, the 1956 Sooners shut out 6 of their 10 opponents. RB Tommy McDonald finished 3rd in the Heisman voting, while C Jerry Tubbs finished a very impressive 4th. This team put up 47 points per game while averaging an NCAA record 74 rushing attempts per contest. The main drawback in their argument is the soft schedule. #18 Colorado was their lone ranked opponent.
4. 1972 USC: The 1972 Trojans beat an impressive six ranked opponents on their way to the national title. Their roster overflowed with talent – 5 First Team All Americans, not to mention Lynn Swann and Anthony Davis (to give you an indication of Davis’ talent, two years later he would set an NCAA record by averaging 42.5 yards per kickoff return). Their average score of 38.9 to 11.2 is impressive, but fails to match the dominance of a few teams.
3. 1945 Army: Led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Doc Blanchard, the ’45 Black Knights sported a stifling defense that gave up a mere 46 points in 9 games. The offense was powered by Blanchard (19 TDs) and tailback Glenn Davis, who set the record for average yards per carry at a gaudy 11.5. The only questionable item on their resume is the quality of their opponents (the Melville PT Boats?).
2. 1995 Nebraska: Led by Maxwell Award winning quarterback Tommie Frazier, the ’05 Cornhuskers boasted 3 First Team All-Americans and 11 First Team All Conference players. The most impressive statistic about this team is the fact that they defeated 4 top 10 teams with none of them coming within 23 points. They were a dominant run first team, and at 399 yards per game no one seemed able to stop them. Their only drawbacks are having only faced four ranked opponents on the year (versus Miami’s 5) and the lack of All-American players (3 to Miami’s 6).
1. 1971 Nebraska: This Nebraska team is probably most linked to the ‘best ever’ moniker. It’s hard to argue against it based on statistics. They averaged 39 points a game, while yielding only 8.2. Future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers led the offense. Outland Trophy winner Larry Jacobson anchored the defense. 6 First Team All Americans and 12 First Team All Conference players. Led by coach Bob Devaney and offensive coordinator Tom Osborne, the Huskers defeated then #2 Oklahoma in what was considered the first college football “Game of The Century” (their 35-31 win over the Sooners was seen by over 55 million viewers at the time). It would be their only close game of the year, as not a single other opponent got within 24 points of the Cornhuskers.
This is the one team that can hold a candle to the 2001 Hurricanes in terms of both talent and on the field performance. While only 5 players from this squad were selected in the 1st round of the NFL draft (compared to Miami’s 16), the main shortcoming for the ’71 Cornhuskers when compared to the ’01 Hurricanes is size. Take one of the star defenders for Nebraska, Outland Trophy winning nose tackle Rich Glover. Does anyone really think the 6’1″, 233 lb Glover would get past 6’9″, 330 lb Outland Trophy winning Bryant McKinnie? With skill levels being somewhat comparable, we’ll go with the guy who is 8 inches taller and almost 100 pounds heavier. Miami’s defensive linemen Jerome McDougle, William Joseph and Vince Wilfork average out at 304 lbs. Nebraska’s Larry Jacobson, Willie Harper, and Rich Glover weigh in at a mere 233 lbs.
Simply put, the 2001 Hurricanes would blow the 1971 Cornhuskers out of the water.
The age old debate of what team is best will certainly rage on. One thing that is not debatable, however, is that the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are one of the best college football teams ever assembled. Art Kehoe said they could “line up and play with any college team that’s ever been.” Art, not only could they line up, but they would win.