All eyes will be on Tallahassee this weekend when the Canes and Noles get to square off in a battle of No. 1 versus No. 2. The matchup of course pits two of the best hitting ball clubs in the nation.
FSU ranks second in batting average (.352), third in scoring, third in runs, sixth in hits, fifth in doubles, third in slugging percentage and 11th in home runs in the nation and has Buster Posey (.482, 10 HRs, 42 RBI) behind the plate. UM ranks sixth nationally in batting average (.344) and fourth nationally in slugging percentage (.573) and has big Yonder Alonso (.366, 9 HRs, 35 RBI) and Jemile Weeks (.403, 7 HRs, 39 RBI) on the right side of its infield.
But if you're looking for a key to this game, look no further than defense. The Hurricanes lead the ACC and rank second nationally in fielding percentage (.977) and have committed an ACC-low 30 errors. Florida State has committed 62 errors and is fielding .955 as a team, which ranks second to last in the ACC. FSU has a slight edge in pitching (3.53 team ERA) to UM's 3.78 ERA. But I say glovework makes the difference this weekend.
"Our defense has just been phenomenal," UM centerfielder Blake Tekotte said earlier this week. "It's kind of good we have all these five game stretches in a week because we get to be in a rhythm. Practice wears you out more than games, so we're all fresh. And games are a lot more fun."
WILL THE STREAK CONTINUE?: The NFL Draft is now almost a week away, which means its almost time for Canes fans to start worrying if this is the year THE STREAK ends. Yes, we know its been 13 years in a row now that UM has managed to have at least one player find his way into the first round. The closest call came two years ago when cornerback Kelly Jennings slipped in at No. 31.
Now, the question being raised is if defensive end Calais Campbell or safety Kenny Phillips will break into the first 31 picks. It's shakey right now at best. Draft experts have been sliding both players in and out of their first round projects for months. While Susan Miller Degnan will have a nice Sunday feature on the topic (and I'll have my own story focusing on the other guys) I wanted to gauge how important it is to you THE STREAK stays intact.
I know one of the selling points UM has long had is the fact it is an NFL factory for stars. Are you afraid if the streak ends and Miami continues to struggle on the field, it could have a dangerous domino effect? Or are do you share my opinion and not really sweating it? Feel free to partake in the poll and to share your thoughts below.
THE DRAFT: I caught up with a few agents and former Canes this week for my Sunday sidebar. From the people I spoke with in and outside the program, it sounds to me like UM will be lucky to have more than four players taken in this year's draft. That would end the streak UM has enjoyed of having at least five players taken in each draft since 2000. So, who are NFL teams looking to draft after Calais, Kenny and linebacker Tavares Gooden are gone?
UM officials are privately saying it will likely be defensive end Vegas Franklin, who at 6-3, 255, has done well enough in workouts to impress scouts. One agent told me he thought Franklin would end up being better than Campbell in the long run. I caught up with Franklin Thursday and he told me he's been working out hard on UM's campus with trainer Andrew Swasey and teammate Teraz McCray. Franklin said he flew to Houston for a private workout with the Texans earlier this month and worked out with the majority of his UM teammates at the Dolphins facility last week. "I'm hearing second day to free agent," Franklin told me when I asked him what he's heard about his draft stock. "I just want a chance to show people what I can do."
*Receiver Darnell Jenkins' agent told me regardless of what has been said or written about his clients slow times in 40-yard dash testing, he believes an NFL team will invest a pick in UM's MVP from last season. Agent Daniel Rose told me Thursday Jenkins has been doing really well in private workouts for teams. "Swasey has clocked him at 4.26 and I know at Dolphins day he ran under a 4.4. It's just when he's been timed on bigger stages he's run slower times. The bottomline is Darnell is faster on the field than in the 40. The best way to describe his speed is that North Carolina game when he had the 97-yard touchdown. He's just a guy who is much faster in games than when there's a stopwatch."
* Mel Kiper said quarterback Kyle Wright, who quarterbacked the combine in Indianpolis, is likely headed to the free agent route but said he wouldn't be surprised if Wright is drafted late.
* Offensive lineman Derrick Morse, who returned home to workout at his high school in Bonita Springs, Fla. after UM's Pro Day in late February, told me Thursday he's been encouraged by the emails of support he's been receiving from Canes fans here in Miami. He said he won't get discouraged even if he isn't picked Sunday as Kiper expects.
"There is only 250 guys who get picked," Morse said. "And there is only a 52-man roster. I know if I don't make it, I'm just going to continue to work at my dream. I've seen lots of guys make it in other places like the CFL and the All-American football league. [Anthony Wollschlager] is still trying. He didn't make it last year, but he's still busting his butt. I've got a degree in Criminology and Liberal Arts. I want to at least try for a couple years to make it. It's the only time I'll get to do it because once your done you'll never get a chance to do it again in your life."
POSITION SWITCHES: Canesport.com and InsideTheU.com reported this week position switches for three Hurricane players following the spring. They were defensive lineman Luqman Abdullah (he was buried on the depth chart) moving to offensive line, junior Ryan Hill switching from receiver to cornerback (he was recruited as a corner) and the real eye-opener of sophomore Damien Berry getting moved from safety to running back.
In my conversations with UM officials Thursday, I was told the move to switch Berry was made to "create more competition in the backfield." Another UM official said, "we're loaded with safeties, but last year injuries killed us at running back. Coach made the move to make us more secure there. It wasn't because Damien was upset. He was asked and he accepted it."Reading between the lines, I get the sense a few things could have led to it. One, perhaps coaches were disappointed with the play of freshmen Shawnbrey McNeal and Lee Chambers -- the slotted No. 4 and No. 5 running backs. Or, the injury to No. 3 running back Derron Thomas was serious enough to get coaches worried they'd be short at running back this coming season.
Either way, Berry has plenty of experience with the football in his hands. At Glades Central, he was the team's star running back before suffering a knee injury. What I'm interested to see is how long this experiment lasts or if Berry becomes the next Cane to be lost in translation, ala Devin Hester, James Bryant and a cast of other former Canes. After all, Bryce Brown is supposed to come in '09 and Javarris James and Graig Cooper aren't going anywhere right now.