SAN FRANCISCO — These aren't your parents' Miami Hurricanes. Or, to put it more accurately, your older brother's.
The 2008 version of the Hurricanes isn't quite what college football had become used to during the past couple decades — five national championships, multiple double-digit win seasons, boatloads of players moving on to the NFL. Miami, which plays Cal in Saturday's Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park, has slipped off the national map in recent years.
The Hurricanes bring a 7-5 record to San Francisco and finished tied for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division. Miami, which used to be a fixture in the national rankings, spent just a few weeks in the top 25 this season and finished the regular season unranked for the third straight year.
After eight straight years of nine or more wins, the Hurricanes haven't posted more than seven in each of the past three. They also missed a bowl game last season for the first time in 10 years.
"Nobody came to Miami to be mediocre," Hurricanes offensive lineman Jason Fox said. "Everybody came here to win championships and have those undefeated or one-loss seasons. That's what everybody expects, that's what everybody holds themselves to, and that's what we want to get back to."
Miami won the national championship as recently as 2001 and played in the Bowl Championship Series title game the following year. But the Hurricanes are just 19-18 over the past three seasons, which includes an ugly on-field brawl against Florida International in 2006 that helped coach Larry Coker get his pink slip.
Coker was replaced by defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who led Miami to a 5-7 record in his first year and stayed home during the bowl season.
"Everybody expects Miami to be Miami," Shannon said. "We feel like we're going in the right direction. There is a lot of excitement about the young players on this football team. We have to continue to recruit the type of player that is a Miami-type player."
Indeed, Shannon brought in a consensus top-five recruiting class this year, including quarterback Jacory Harris, who will start Saturday's game as a true freshman. But the Hurricanes still consistently were bringing in top-20 type classes before that, making Miami's downtick a mystery to some.
"It's hard to say," Fox said. "I've replayed that scenario over in my head 100 times. It's hard to put a finger on it. Whatever the reason, we slipped. Now we have been in a rebuilding process."
With parity in college football never higher, it simply may be that top-20 classes aren't good enough to guarantee a stay on top.
"I think there might have been some complacency," said former Miami quarterback Gino Torretta, a Pinole native who won the Heisman Trophy in 1992. "I don't think we recruited as hard or thought we needed to recruit as hard for a few years there. It doesn't matter what program you are, if you're not recruiting just as hard as everybody else, you're not going to stay on top."
Miami had three players picked during the first three rounds of this year's NFL draft and three first-round draft selections in 2007. Torretta acknowledged there still is talent in the program — maybe just not at the level it was previously. Between 2000 and 2006, the Hurricanes never had less than five players get drafted in any given year.
"The talent is still coming through there," Torretta said. "It just hasn't translated into the same success as a team. They just haven't been on all cylinders."
The Hurricanes seem confident it's only a matter of time before they return to national dominance. They have a strong nucleus of young players — Harris, linebacker Sean Spence, defensive end Marcus Robinson, running back Greg Cooper and wide receiver Travis Benjamin — are all freshmen and sophomores.
"We want to be the ones that re-establish the winning tradition at the University of Miami and what the University of Miami is known for," Harris said. "If you're going to a school that has tradition like that but then they're having a losing season, you want to be the one that comes in and turns the program around."
Notes: Cal quarterback Nate Longshore took all the first-team reps for the second straight day, but coach Jeff Tedford said he would wait until today to name his starter. ... Redshirt freshman Sean Cattouse has moved past junior Brett Johnson for one of the starting spots at safety. ... Cal practiced on the school's rugby field to prepare for the natural grass at AT&T Park.
Contact Jonathan Okanes at email@example.com.