In rebuilding years, Miami just reloads

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:46 PM ET

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Center Joel Rodriguez scanned the interview room Monday and found several new starters for the Miami Hurricanes.

Quarterback Brock Berlin. Running back Frank Gore. Wide receiver Ryan Moore. Defensive tackle Orien Harris.

Then Rodriguez made a bold prediction: The replacements will make the third-ranked Hurricanes even better than last season.

"That's the way this place is," he said. "You either step in and play your role or we lose games. And losing games is unacceptable around here.

"I keep hearing that Miami has lost its aura, its invincibility. I kind of like that. I hope every team on our schedule is thinking they have a chance because the minute we put up 40 points, they're going to say, 'Oh my God, Miami hasn't missed a beat."

The Hurricanes lost nine starters from last year's team, which played in the national championship game for the second consecutive season. Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson and two linemen are gone on offense. Jerome McDougle, William Joseph and four others are missing on defense.

That's seven All-Americans and four first-round draft picks.

Most teams would consider this a rebuilding year. Not Miami, which has remained among college football's elite despite having 13 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft over the last three years.

"We lost a lot of people, but the University of Miami just reloads every year," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said.

This season, which begins Thursday night against Louisiana Tech, might be the toughest task. The Hurricanes have to fill huge offensive voids left by the departure of Dorsey, McGahee and Johnson.

Dorsey finished his career 38-2 as a starter and broke just about every school and Big East passing record. McGahee set school records for rushing yards and touchdowns last season. AndJohnson caught 19 touchdown passes over the last two years.

"If guys come in and do anything short of what we had last year it's not going to be acceptable," running back Quadtrine Hill said. "We expect everybody to come in here and be the best at their position, even if they're replacing a first-round draft pick."

Berlin and Gore will play in games for the first time in more than 19 months. Berlin transferred from Florida and sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. Gore injured his knee during spring practice in 2002 and missed all of last season. And Moore, a redshirt freshman, missed most of last season with a hamstring injury.

Nonetheless, there are some who believe the trio might be more talented than Dorsey, McGahee andJohnson.

"People should be questioning us because we lost so many first-round draft picks in the past few years," Rodriguez said. "If I were an opposing coach, I would try to play it up the same way, too: 'Miami is not the same.' But we are, and we're going to show it Thursday night."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index