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December 30, 2005

Miami QB has much to play for

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ATLANTA - Kyle Wright isn't looking hard to find the Peach Bowl's silver lining.

While his first year as Miami's starting quarterback won't bring a national title, beating LSU in Friday's game would give the Hurricanes a 10-win season. It would also keep them the Atlantic Coast Conference's highest-ranked team.

"There's also a sense of pride," Wright said. "I think people kind of lost confidence in us, especially down here and even around the country. ... People lost respect for us."

Restoring that lost respect is the biggest motivator for Wright and No. 9 Miami (9-2), which faces No. 10 LSU (10-2) in one of only three bowl games this season pitting two top-10 teams against one another.

The others? No. 1 Southern California against No. 2 Texas for the national championship in the Rose Bowl, and No. 4 Ohio State facing No. 5 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

Not bad company.

"This is, I think, the best team possible that we could have played," Wright said. "I think it's going to be awesome, going up against LSU."

Wright came to Miami touted as the next torchbearer of "Quarterback U," but there were still plenty of questions about him entering the season. Before being named the starter for 2005, Wright had thrown only nine passes for Miami - all in mop-up duty the previous year.

He quickly showed that the hype was warranted.

Against Florida State in the season-opener, with his team trailing 10-7 and facing the biggest crowd ever to see a Seminoles' home game, Wright took his team 94 yards in the final minutes - from its own 3 to the Florida State 3. A bad snap cost Miami a shot at a tying field goal, but Wright had proven his mettle.

"He's really progressed each week since then," Miami offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "I'm really proud of the way he's played. We're looking forward to a great career for him."

Wright finished the regular season with 2,303 yards, completing 59.4 percent of his passes, including 18 touchdowns. He tied a school record with five touchdowns passes in a win over Wake Forest, threw for 15 scores over his last seven games and earned an honorable mention spot on the All-ACC team.

He may be hard-pressed to significantly add to those numbers against LSU, which ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense - a category where Miami leads the nation.

"Huge challenge," Wright said of facing LSU. "Very impressed with their front four guys. They do like to bring a lot of different blitzes and send different things, but honestly, they sometimes don't need to with the talent they have up front, with those four guys you see continually getting pressure without sending blitzes."

Wright is hesitant to say he's satisfied with his season, especially since the Hurricanes fell shy of winning the titles they wanted most: the ACC and the BCS.

But he's more confident than ever, has morphed into one of the Hurricanes' leaders, and truly believes Miami is capable of big things in 2006.

"Mentally, I think I've grown so much, understanding the offense and understanding the game and how to manage a game," Wright said. "I guess you can say it kind of feels like night and day."

For more coverage of the Miami Hurricanes, check out CaneSport.com.

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