The 2001 Miami Hurricanes are considered the greatest college football team in college football history. The dominance on the field and at the next level was unparalleled throughout the century-plus existence of our version of the sport. The 2001 roster was loaded from top to bottom all over the field with names like Bryant McKinnie, Andre Johnson, and Jeremy Shockey as just the tip of the ice berg. While the 2001 squad only won a single national championship; they had NFL legends, All-Americans and Pro Bowlers in their film sessions.
Clinton Portis was the main ball carrier during the 2001 national championship run of the Miami Hurricanes. The eccentric Portis is said to have played mind games with his backups in order to hold them down and keep the football in his hands. In doing so, Portis ran for 1,200 and 10 touchdowns with a 5.5 yards per carry average for the ‘Canes. In the 2002 Rose Bowl against Nebraska, Portis ran for 104 yards and a touchdown with another long touchdown run called back for a phantom holding. Portis was an even bigger weapon in the NFL over his nine year career. Portis ran for 9.923 career yards and 75 touchdowns for Washington and the Denver Broncos while making two Pro Bowl rosters. Portis is now a member of the Miami Hurricanes Hall of Fame.
At fullback the ‘Canes used two “starters” in Najeh Davenport and Kyle Cobia. When Miami needed to pick up a 3rd and short the bigger bodied Cobia was on the field to run iso from Miami’s 21 personnel base offense at the time. When Miami offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski wanted a more versatile player he went with Davenport. Najeh Davenport was in the “three headed monster” backfield of the 1998 season with Edgerrin James and James Jackson before injuring his knee. It never seemed like Davenport recovered all of his speed after the knee injury, but he did run for 5.3 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns in his Miami career. Davenport was also an effective weapon as a receiver catching 35 balls for 3 touchdowns in orange and green. Davenport went on to a seven year NFL career with the Packers, Steelers, and Colts, while averaging 4.6 yards per rush and scoring 13 touchdowns as a pro.
Were the backups better than the starter? It’s hard to say in the case of Willis McGahee. McGahee didn’t have the most prolific career, but the two years he suited up in his orange and green gear were exciting. McGahee ran for 4.7 yards per carry and three touchdowns in reserve duty behind Clinton Portis in 2001. Then in 2002, with Frank Gore out, exploded on the scene with 1,753 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 6.2 yard per carry. McGahee single handedly beat the Florida Gators in 2002 rushing for over 200 yards in the contest. After suffering a gruesome injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, McGahee entered the 2003 NFL Draft knowing he would have to sit out a season to rehab. McGahee played in the NFL from 2003-2013 including the year of rehab in 2003. Like Portis, McGahee was a two-time Pro Bowl player and a national champion in 2001. McGahee also was a consensus All-American in 2002. In the NFL he ran for 8,474 yards and 65 touchdowns over his career.
Frank Gore was also on the 2001 national title Hurricanes roster. Gore was a true freshman that got Hurricanes fans excited for the future as he averaged 9.1 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns in his first year on-campus. Gore then injured his knee, which would become a tragic and common theme for one of the most universally loved Hurricanes in program history. Gore finished his Miami career with 1,975 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. The knee injuries couldn’t hold Gore back as he’s still running the rock in the NFL today. Gore has been named to five Pro Bowl rosters and has ran for 14,028 yards over his career. Gore has added another 77 rushing touchdowns on his way into the NFL record books.
Backing up the entire unit was football legacy Jarrett Payton. Payton was on campus for five season and waiting his turn to be the starter which came after McGahee’s departure for the 2003 season. Payton ran for 985 yards and 7 touchdowns as a senior and averaged 5 yards per carry over his career. Payton didn’t enjoy the NFL success as the other running backs but did play for the Tennessee Titans in 2005. Payton spent time in NFL Europe as well as the Canadian Football League. In the NFL he only ran for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns over his one year career.