SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/11/2006 11:23:00 AM
USC's Freshman Orientation
USC held its first pads scrimmage Wednesday and it quickly turned into what one observer described as "American Idol for freshmen." With junior RB Chauncey Washington sitting out, the three leading rushers in the scrimmage (Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody and C.J. Gable) were freshmen. So were the top two receivers (Travon Patterson and tight end Anthony McCoy), as veteran WRs Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith also had the day off. Another freshman wideout, Vidal Hazelton, returned a kickoff 100 yards.
Bad news for the other 100-plus teams out there hoping the Trojans would have trouble reloading this time.
When I caught up with nearly hoarse USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin between practices Thursday, he couldn't stop raving about the three freshman tailbacks. "You couldn't come to a scrimmage or watch film right now and be more excited," said Kiffin. "A lot of times if you recruit three players at one position, you're bound to make a mistake on one. One is usually not as good as you thought. All three [of the freshmen] could be good players for us. And they each bring something different."
Johnson, the most highly regarded of the three as recruits, led the scrimmage with 13 carries for 119 yards. "He's a smart, patient runner, bounces off guys," said Kiffin. "He's a Denver Broncos-type guy." But the runner who's really excited Kiffin is Moody, who had a deceiving 28 yards on eight carries. "He made some Reggie-type plays – stop, start, get loose and make guys miss. He'll run 30 yards to get 11," said Kiffin. "But he's also got ball-security issues and doesn't run plays exactly right." Gable, meanwhile, has proven to be the best receiver of the three.
USC's tailbacks still have three more weeks to separate themselves before the opener at Arkansas, but right now it's looking like the coaches will have some tough, albeit fortunate decisions to make. "You don't really need four tailbacks, so you could redshirt one, but you can't afford to when they're this good." Ideally, the Trojans would like to settle on a tandem, like Bush and White, with Washington, who's more of a pounder, and one of the freshmen.
However, as Kiffin points out, USC faced a similar situation heading into its 2003 opener at Auburn and gave carries to four different backs in that game -- sophomore Hershel Dennis and freshmen Bush, White and Washington. "We don't see ourselves in the business of rotating four guys," said Kiffin. "It's our job to figure that out."
Texas Tech's Mike Leach (right) has had no problem developing unheralded quarterbacks like Cody Hodges (left).
Photo by AP
It's long been a mystery to me why the nation's elite quarterback recruits never seem to consider Texas Tech. It seems like a no-brainer -- you know you're going to get to pass 50 times a game, throw for 5,000 yards and probably etch yourself in the NCAA record books. And you get to play in the Big 12, face some of the best teams in the country and, if the past two seasons are any indication, go to at least a semi-major bowl game (Cotton, Holiday, etc.).
Apparently, the message is finally starting to get out. Last February the Red Raiders signed blue-chipper Taylor Potts, a top-15 QB prospect according to Scout.com. Potts' decision wasn't entirely surprising, considering he was a Texas kid (Abilene), but he was by far the most highly regarded prospect Mike Leach has signed in his six years there. Now comes news that another former hot-shot recruit, Arizona State transfer Derek Shaw, is headed to Lubbock as well.
Shaw, you may recall, was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country in 2005. The Oceanside, Calif., native originally committed to Miami but eventually chose to stay closer to home and signed with the Sun Devils, where he redshirted last season. With ASU returning not just one but two of the nation's most efficient passers in Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, Shaw didn't figure to see the field anytime soon and left Tempe in the spring (though he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal the decision had to do with more than just playing time).
For years, Leach's system has churned out one highly productive quarterback after another -- Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie, Cody Hodges -- but with the exception of Kingsbury, all were career backups prior to their one season of glory and didn't even get a sniff from the NFL. It will be interesting to see whether Leach's offense can reach an even higher level with a more physically gifted signal-caller. It also should be one heck of a QB competition at Tech in 2007. This year's projected starter, Graham Harrell, is only a sophomore, while Shaw (who must sit out this season), Potts and fellow contender Chris Todd are only freshmen.
Oklahoma officials including Bob Stoops deny having prior knowledge of Rhett Bomar's car dealership payments.
Photo by AP
It's safe to say most Oklahoma fans were shocked last week to find out quarterback Rhett Bomar had been part of a payroll scam at a local car dealership. It turns out some Texas A&M fans first heard about Bomar's transgression way back in January -- only at the time, they didn’t believe it.
At 1:30 in the morning on Jan. 30, a fan using the Internet screen name of "aggiegrant06" posted a cryptic message on the popular fan site TexAgs.com entitled "Is it legal???????" In it, he vaguely described how his girlfriend handled payroll checks at a "large dealership where we live" and "didn't recognize several of the names." He went on to say, "The checks were made out to football players of the local university, and even though they had never actually been to work there, they were receiving HUGE!!!! pay checks."
Unfortunately, aggiegrant's post was met with what can best be described as belligerent skepticism. "Dude, go away," wrote one person. "You and your thread are completely stupid," wrote another. Perturbed by the reaction, he went on to specify that "The School is OU, and the specific player is Bomar." After a few more cynical comments, the post was removed by administrators less than two hours after it originated. "We're pretty conservative when it comes to rumors that show up on the site," said Brandon Jones, owner of TexAgs.com, who employs 20 volunteer "moderators" to monitor the site's 10,000 daily message-board posts. "Anytime you see an accusation like that show up on a bulletin board it almost seems too good to be true, so the natural reaction is this guy is making this up."
Apparently, he wasn't. Jones said when news of Bomar's dismissal broke last Wednesday, one of his moderators said it sounded familiar. After searching and locating the deleted post, they re-published it, quickly turning "aggiegrant" into a message-board legend. Fans have written more than 1,000 replies hailing him as a hero and apologizing for the initial harsh treatment. Besides a brief, gloating post the day the news broke, aggiegrant has stayed out of the fray. Jones said he's spoken with the source but that he wishes to remain anonymous, and understandably so, for fear of repercussions in Norman.
The story is just the latest example of just how powerful a role fan message boards play in college football. These sites have literally turned anyone with a screen name into a potential reporter -- albeit anonymously and with no accountability. From Peter Warrick's 1999 Dillard's spree to the 2003 Alabama coaching scandal, countless major stories have first broken on message boards. Unfortunately, they're often buried amongst other more reckless, unsubstantiated rumors. "This was the 1 in 20 that turns out to be true," said Jones.
But I'm also left wondering, as I'm sure many of you are, how it is that some random Texas A&M fan could have known about Bomar's arrangement more than six months ago, yet Oklahoma officials claimed to be unaware until recently. An Oklahoma spokesman said Monday that the school couldn't comment on details of the investigation -- such as when it started and what tipped it off -- due to the NCAA's involvement. Kenny Mossman, OU's sports information director, said he was unaware of the message-board post. "If people have information like that, it'd be a lot more helpful if they came forward with it rather than burying it on a message board."
No one's suggesting that OU's compliance office should have been monitoring a rival school's message board at 1:30 in the morning, but you've got to think in a town like Norman that rumors were probably out there in other forms as far back as January. As for Bomar himself, I said last week that he had to be pretty stupid to think he could get away with such a thing. In college football's Internet fishbowl, you never know who's watching you.