Hester could be UM's next loss

Louisiana State quarterback Matt Flynn (15) looks downfield as he avoids the pressure of Miami's Glenn Cook (55) and Bryan Pata (95) in the second quarter of the Peach Bowl football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday, Dec. 30, 2005.

AP Photo/John Amis
Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
One day after losing the Peach Bowl in spectacular fashion, the Miami Hurricanes were faced with the real possibility of also losing perhaps their most explosive player.
Devin Hester, who was featured in a number of offensive roles during the Peach Bowl and has been promised that he'll continue to be used that way next season, said Saturday that he's still deciding whether to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
Hester plans to make his decision as soon as Monday, according to team officials. He's one of at least three Hurricanes weighing the option of entering the draft; defensive lineman Baraka Atkins and wide receiver Ryan Moore are also considering making the leap, and other Miami players may also decide to turn pro.
"There's always going to be uncertainty until it's a done deal. I anticipate all three of them coming back," Miami coach Larry Coker said Saturday morning, just a few largely sleepless hours removed from the Hurricanes' 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl. "I've been told they're coming back, but again, is there some uncertainty. Certainly, there is some uncertainty."
There's uncertainty on a number of levels as the Hurricanes (9-3) enter the offseason.
The 37-point loss was Miami's largest ever in a bowl game, and the program's worst defeat in more than seven years. It was the Hurricanes' second-lowest scoring output in 12 seasons, ahead of only a 47-0 beating by Florida State in 1997.
"When we didn't execute this season, it didn't work," quarterback Kyle Wright said a few days before the Peach Bowl. "At times, inconsistency hurt us. That was a big thing for us."
Plenty of chatter in the weeks leading up to the Peach Bowl revolved around how a win over LSU would possibly propel Miami to a top-five ranking to end this season - and possibly even a No. 1 spot in next year's preseason polls. Yet Friday's humiliating loss ended any chance of those notions becoming reality.
"We're going in the right direction. We didn't go in the right direction last night in one game, but that's happened to a lot of people throughout the country on occasion," Coker said. "And by the way, I did see a graphic that in the last five years we're the winningest football program in America.
"We're a strong program, a winning program," Coker added. "Out of 119 schools, we're right at the top. That's pretty well documented."
Yet they won't finish at the top - marking the fourth straight year that Miami entered a season with national-title aspirations and didn't wind up hoisting the championship trophy. In fact, the Hurricanes will almost certainly finish the year ranked outside the top 10 for the second straight season.
The last time that happened? 1998 and 1999.
"I'm not satisfied with the last couple of years, period - myself or any of the results we've had the last couple of years," Coker said. "I think we can be better."
The 2006 schedule will be tough, with seven opponents on the slate playing in bowl games this season.
Florida State visits on Labor Day, with Florida A&M, Houston, Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech also coming to Miami. The Hurricanes play at Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and Louisville.
Between now and September, the Hurricanes will take on a decidedly different look.
At least 11 starters are leaving, including four offensive linemen, leading receiver Sinorice Moss, defensive line standouts Orien Harris and Thomas Carroll, plus cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Marcus Maxey.
And now comes the requisite "who's-turning-pro?" watch. Over Coker's first four seasons, 10 Miami players left early for the draft, with seven landing in the first round.
Player defections, though, never seem to overly concern the Hurricanes. "The future's always bright at the University of Miami," defensive coordinator Randy Shannon said.
Hester was used as a running back, wide receiver and kick returner on Friday night, his first game back as a full-fledged offensive player - and collected 103 all-purpose yards on 12 touches. He spent the regular season mainly as a cornerback.
But his return came in Miami's most woeful offensive night of the season.
The Hurricanes managed no first downs and only three total yards after halftime. Miami's 18 plays gained an average of six inches - yes, inches - in the final two quarters against the Tigers.
"Obviously, I think it was an aberration, but it is a reality," Coker said. "We're still a team that won nine games, but this one was a real shock."

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