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UM relishes tough schedule

Hurricanes coach sees three Top 10 foes in the first four games as an "opportunity."

Almost overnight, the Miami Hurricanes have gone from featuring a schedule that put people to sleep to having one that grabs everyone's attention.

As the Hurricanes open fall practice today, the message for the players is loud and clear:

Be ready, and be ready quickly.

Miami's schedule, one that includes three Top 10 teams from the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll during the first month, demands it.

"I asked (athletic director) Paul Dee the other day if he really knew what he was getting us into," coach Butch Davis said. "This is the kind of schedule that can cause a coach to run and hide."

The Hurricanes, ranked No. 12 in the preseason poll, will find out in a hurry just how good they are.

The 'Canes open against ninth-ranked Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic Aug. 29, host No. 4 Penn State Sept. 18, and play at top-ranked Florida State Oct. 9.

"The upside is that our schedule gives us so many opportunities," Davis said.

"Part of the attraction of coaching at Miami, and this goes back to when I was an assistant here in the '80s, has been coaching in the big games.

"I reflect back to when we won our last national championship (1987), and that schedule was as difficult as the one we'll have this year." (Miami won two more titles after Jimmy Johnson and Davis went to the Dallas Cowboys.)

The Hurricanes finished 11-0 in 1987, surviving a regular-season schedule that included Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and South Carolina, then beating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

This year, the Hurricanes return 17 starters from a team that finished 9-3, including wins against UCLA and North Carolina State to close the season.

Now comes a flurry of spotlight games to start the '99 season.

"Knowing that we had this schedule did so much for us, beginning with recruiting and continuing through our off-season program and spring practice," Davis said.

"The schedule itself has generated more excitement and electricity than anything else in the four years that I've been here."

Players seem to welcome the challenge.

"Our motivation has increased," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "We know that we have to be ready real fast.

"I've seen a change in the way guys practice. Instead of figuring that they can play their way into shape, guys know that they have to be at the top of their game right away."

"Any time you get to play the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Florida State real early, you have to take advantage of it," linebacker Dan Morgan said. "These are games that will put us back in the national spotlight."

The Hurricanes turned big games to their advantage in the 1980s and early '90s, winning enough of them to reel off a stretch of 12 major bowl appearances and four national titles.

As the players see it, the only way they can regain national respect is to play those games again and win them.

"We want to be back up there among the Top 5 teams in the country, and we believe that we can achieve that," linebacker Nate Webster said. "We know that we have some tough games to get through, but we also know that these games are what's going to take us back to the top."

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