Boilers' Stratton weighs options
By Mark Ambrogi, Special to CNNSI.com
Purdue tight end Tim Stratton threw a scare into Purdue fans recently by saying he will consider leaving early for the NFL draft.
Yet the redshirt junior is sounding more and more like he will return for his final season.
Stratton admitted this week he is leaning toward coming back, but won't elaborate much because the coaches have told him he should stop talking about it.
"I think it would be in my best interest to come back," he said. "I'm going to wait after the bowl game to make any comment because I think it would be too much of a distraction for myself. It's kind of a pain because people are calling and asking me about it. It's in the back of my mind, but I want to leave it alone."
The 6-4, 252-pound Stratton said he certainly has room to grow by returning.
"There are multiple things I can do to get better," he said. "I need to work on my speed and strength."
Purdue coach Joe Tiller said Stratton could use more seasoning.
"He improved a lot between last year and this year and I think that's true if he would stay another year," Tiller said. "He certainly needs to develop his physical part of the game. That's the part that comes slowest and latest."
Entering No. 14 Purdue's (8-3) date with No. 4 Washington (10-1) in Pasadena on Jan. 1, Stratton has caught 56 passes for 579 yards. He met his preseason goal of being named first-team All-Big Ten.
"I had a good year this year but it wasn't a great year," he said.
Stratton won the inaugural Mackey Award for best collegiate tight end, but some question whether he has strength or athleticism to play in the NFL.
Tiller believes players should stay unless they're going to be first-round picks.
"It's pretty safe to say Tim is not a first-round pick," Tiller said.
Record watchMichigan senior tailback Anthony Thomas won't be disappointed if he doesn't get the school's all-time rushing record, as long as his Wolverines beat Auburn in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
Thomas needs 106 yards to top Jamie Morris' career mark of 4,393 yards.
"It wouldn't bother me a bit as long as we come up with a win," said Thomas, who has rushed for 1,551 yards this season. "It's more personal for my linemen. It's something that they can say that they accomplished."
Senior left guard Steve Hutchinson thinks so.
"If I can look back 10 years from now and say 'I was a guy who blocked for Anthony for four years and he got that record,' it's going to be something special," Hutchinson said. "There aren't too many backs like Anthony that run like he does. Hopefully, if he gets it, it's going to stick around for a while."
Said left tackle Jeff Backus: "I'll be very disappointed for us not get him 106 yards, especially when it's our last chance and we just have to go out there and do it."
Bowl rematchUCLA and Wisconsin set a Rose Bowl record for combined total yards when they met two years ago. The Badgers won that duel 38-31.
The two teams will have a rematch in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 29. Again, the Bruins' defense has been a question mark.
The 1998 team allowed a then school record 340 points. UCLA has broken that mark by allowing 347 points in 11 games this season. The defense has been depleted by injuries
The Badgers (8-4) won five of their last six games. The only loss was an overtime loss to Purdue.
"We're hitting our mid-season stride right now," wide receiver Chris Chambers said. "Too bad the season is almost over."
Chambers has been a part of that success as the Badgers passed for more than 200 yards in six of the last seven games.
Without 1999 Heisman Trophy workhorse Ron Dayne, the Badgers expected to be more balanced this season. But they hit some rough spots, in part because of the early-season NCAA suspensions for the impermissible shoe discounts.
"The key for us this year was balance from the beginning and we didn't have it at times," Badgers quarterback Brooks Bollinger said. "And that hurt us. Sometimes we couldn't get the run going or we weren't throwing the ball like we needed to. We're a team that needs to be successful at both in order to be consistent."
Short-handedOhio State's receiving corps has taken another hit.
First, senior Reggie Germany, the team's second-leading receiver, was declared ineligible for the Outback Bowl duel with South Carolina on Jan. 1. Germany was sidelined for academic problems.
Then top receiver Ken-Yon Rambo (51 catches) was sporting a cast when the team broke practice this week. The Columbus Dispatch reported the senior co-captain suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in the hand, but Buckeyes coach John Cooper wouldn't confirm it.
"From what I've been told, he probably will play in the bowl game," Cooper said of Rambo.
In the regular-season finale against Michigan, No. 3 wide receiver Chad Cacchio, a senior, suffered a dislocated left shoulder. He has been limited in practice to running the last two weeks.
"If at all possible, I'm going to play in the bowl," Cacchio said.
Senior Vanness Provitt is expected to start in Germany's place.
Germany didn't play against Michigan because of a leg injury. Provitt had a career-high six catches.
Short-handed, part IIMinnesota free safety Delvin Jones won't play in the Dec. 28 Micronpc.com Bowl against N.C. State because of being suspended for second semester.
Jones will have to enroll in another school and complete as many as 12 semester hours of transferable work to meet Big Ten requirements and become eligible for the 2001 season.
The Gophers were already without cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, who broke his leg against Indiana on Oct. 21.
"I'm one of those guys who minimizes this type of thing," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "I don't try to worry about things I can't control. Just close ranks and march on."
Heisman hopefulNorthwestern running back Damien Anderson can get a head start in the Heisman Trophy campaign with a big performance against Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.
Anderson was the leading underclassmen in the 2000 voting, finishing fifth. The first-team All-America ran for 1,914 yards and 22 touchdowns. Anderson and Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick figure to be front-runners.
"When the season's over, you can reflect," Anderson said. "Right now I want to stay humble so I can be the best Damien Anderson I can be."
Mark Ambrogi covers the Big Ten for the Indianapolis Star.