MIAMI (AP) -A few moments before kickoff Saturday, Randy Shannon will have a singular objective.
It will have nothing to do with the very first game plan he has put together as coach at Miami, or any of the challenges Marshall will present in the Hurricanes' opener.
No, Shannon's focus will be on one tiny detail.
``I just hope I don't get tripped,'' Shannon said.
Part of the Orange Bowl lore is the plume of white pregame smoke the Hurricanes emerge from when they take the field. It is a custom as well as a chore; someone usually takes a tumble in the tunnel before the season-opener because they were simply unaccustomed to the haze.
Shannon has been through it dozens of times as a player and assistant. This will be different.
He will lead the way out of that tunnel, making his debut as the 20th coach in Miami history.
``All of these things are really special,'' new starting quarterback Kirby Freeman said. ``The era of Miami football with coach Shannon at the reins. The last year at the Orange Bowl. All of these things are very, very special for me and I'm a sentimental person. I couldn't think of a better scenario in college football than the one I'm in right now.''
Not everyone believes as much in the Hurricanes as Freeman.
Miami is unranked entering the season for the first time since 1998, is widely expected to be little more than a middle-of-the-pack team in the Atlantic Coast Conference and is coming off its first six-loss season in a decade. Larry Coker was fired after the regular-season finale but stayed for Miami's win over Nevada at the MPC Computers Bowl; he will be at the game Saturday as a television analyst.
Shannon, Miami's longtime defensive coordinator, was promoted and became the sixth black coach currently in major college football. He usually gives off the cool, calm, collected vibe - but acknowledges that will be just a front Saturday.
``As time goes on and the Adrenalin gets going, I'll get comfortable,'' Shannon said.
Marshall can only hope that is not the case.
The Herd have no one creating buzz these days the way Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich or Chad Pennington did during their time at the school. But Marshall won four of its last six games last season to finish 5-7, and hope some of that momentum carries into its first-ever matchup with Miami.
``You can feel the excitement in the air,'' Marshall coach Mark Snyder said. ``We have a very formidable opponent to say the least. We're excited about going to the Orange Bowl with all the tradition that it has had. You think about all of the great games that were played in that stadium, it's pretty special.''
The Herd have 14 returning starters but will be missing star defensive end Albert McClellan, a Florida native who was Conference USA's defensive player of the year last season. McClellan suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp.
``He was a stud, a phenomenal player, a real phenomenal player,'' Shannon said.
Fortunately for Shannon, he's still got a few of those on defense, too.
Defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Kenny Phillips are expected to be two of the best in the nation at their positions, meaning Miami - which ranked seventh nationally in total defense last year - will likely be stingy again.
The key to a Miami rebound this season is a better offense, now led by new coordinator Patrick Nix. He has changed many of the schemes so dramatically that players - including Freeman, who beat Kyle Wright for the starting job - say improvement will be shown immediately.
``That's why we hired him,'' Shannon said.
The importance of Shannon's debut is not lost on his players.
He is a Miami native, a former Hurricanes standout linebacker and then a longtime assistant. He has been part of three of Miami's five national championships, and is not shy about saying he wants a fourth ring sooner than later.
Many outsiders do not see that happening anytime soon. But Shannon's players believe he is the man to lead a turnaround.
``People can say whatever they want about Coach Shannon and this team,'' running back Javarris James said. ``But we know what we can do and on Saturday, we're going to start to show it.''

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