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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/14/2006 07:12:00 PM

Saturday Observations Part III

Oakland Arena
Western Michigan held Garrett Wolfe to just 25 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
AUBURN, Ala. -- Before we get to the football observations, I’d just like to reaffirm something I wrote in the Mailbag a few months ago: The most beautiful women in the country reside on SEC campuses. If you’re a heterosexual male and have never experienced game day at an Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida or Georgia, please, do yourself a favor and book a trip. (But of course come up with a better way to sell it to your wife).

∙ Why did I think the Ohio State-Michigan State game would be close? Clearly, all remaining life has been sucked out of the 3-4 Spartans, but still, holding the Spartans to 193 total yards may be the most impressive feat yet for the Buckeyes’ defense.

∙ Expect to see some drastically revised Heisman lists this week. Obviously, Adrian Peterson is out, and Garrett Wolfe got held to 25 yards on 18 carries against Western Michigan. You can’t afford that when you’re facing an uphill climb to begin with.

∙ Big win for Texas A&M. (Did you ever think you’d see me say that about a win over Missouri?) Tigers QB Chase Daniel had another big day, but Missouri couldn’t run the ball against the resurgent Wrecking Crew. Meanwhile, Aggies QB Stephen McGee (19-of-23, 182 yards and a TD) continues to impress.

∙ A little disconcerting to see Louisville barely survive Cincinnati -- at Papa John’s, no less, where the Cardinals usually put up at least 40. And the problem wasn’t QB Brian Brohm, who threw for more than 300 yards in his return from injury. No, Louisville, for the first time all season, couldn’t run the ball. And its defense didn’t play particularly well. Strange.

∙ Congratulations to Dan Hawkins and Colorado for breaking the 0-fer and knocking off Texas Tech 30-6. The Buffs have been playing better than their record for several weeks now, but still, that’s a surprise. Meanwhile, what’s wrong with Mike Leach’s team this year? With games remaining against Texas and Oklahoma, the Red Raiders may be in for a challenge just getting to a bowl game this year.

∙ In regards to my earlier observation about Rutgers shutting down Navy’s running game, I didn’t realize at the time that Midshipmen QB Brian Hampton -- the guy who makes the triple-option go -- went down with a possible season-ending injury in the first quarter. Nevertheless, the Knights’ 34-0 win sets up an unexpectedly huge Big East showdown next week between 6-0 Rutgers and 6-1 Pittsburgh.

∙ Wake Forest’s win over N.C. State coupled with Maryland beating (atrocious) Virginia has created a five-way tie for first in the loss column in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The sixth and last-place team? Florida State.

∙ Well, the band is blaring and it’s starting to get pretty loud here -- 45 minutes before kickoff. So, that’s it for me until after the game. Enjoy.
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10/14/2006 05:37:00 PM

Saturday Observations Part II: Adrian Peterson

Oakland Arena
Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson has 935 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns this season.
AUBURN, Ala. -- I was driving to Jordan-Hare Stadium when I heard the news. One word: heartbreaking. I don’t know if I can remember a year with so many devastating injuries to marquee players around the country, and obviously, you don’t get much more marquee than Adrian Peterson.

Talk about star-crossed. He injures himself A) while scoring a touchdown B) during arguably his best performance of the season (183 yards and two touchdowns) and C) most sad of all, on the day Adrian’s formerly incarcerated father, Nelson, was there to watch him in person for the first time. According to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, the best-case scenario is returning in time for a bowl game, but even that sounds optimistic for a broken collarbone.

Obviously, Peterson’s injury raises several immediate questions both for him and the Sooners. First of all -- does this change what was previously a foregone conclusion that the junior would turn pro after this season? Peterson previously stated that a serious injury was likely the one thing that would prompt him to return next season. I think we’ll have to wait and see how he recovers. Obviously, NFL types always have reservations when a player is coming off a serious injury, but this isn’t just any player. I can’t imagine Adrian Peterson would fall too far on too many draft boards, especially in a year projected to be light on running backs.

As for Oklahoma, it seems like the hits just keep coming. Last spring, this was going to be the Rhett Bomar-Peterson team. Now it’s going to be Paul Thompson-Allen Patrick. Patrick isn’t bad, but obviously he’s not Peterson. Thompson has performed very well (16-of-27 for 195 yards and two TDs against Iowa State) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson start leaning on him more heavily. Still, there’s no overstating what a devastating blow this is. OU should feel very fortunate if it makes it through the regular season with only one more loss.
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10/14/2006 03:44:00 PM

Saturday Observations Part I

Oakland Arena
Vanderbilt QB Chris Nickson passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns and ran for an additional 59 yards.

COLUMBUS, Ga. –- Yes, that dateline is correct. Due to a shortage of hotel rooms in the Opelika-Auburn metropolis, I am staying at a hotel about 30 miles from campus (this after making the 105-mile drive from Atlanta), where I have been watching the early games before heading to tonight’s Florida-Auburn showdown. I expected it to be a drab set of games; instead it’s shaping up to be Upset Saturday.

∙ Upset No. 1: What a huge, huge win for Indiana. Earlier this season, when the Hoosiers were losing to the likes of Southern Illinois and Connecticut, I figured IU was headed to an 0-8 Big Ten season. Clearly, this team has rallied around lovable coach Terry Hoeppner (who referred to his program as a “shooting rocket” in the postgame interview), and freshman QB Kellen Lewis looks like a star-in-the-making. As for Iowa … it’s not just Ohio State that exploited that secondary. The Hawkeyes are not progressing like they usually do.

∙ Upset No. 2: We can now safely confirm what we’d suspected for weeks now: Georgia isn’t very good this year. But give credit to Vanderbilt. After losing QB Jay Cutler, Vandy has become even tougher this year thanks to its much-improved defense and budding star QB Chris Nickson, who recovered from a costly interception to calmly lead his team on the game-winning scoring drive. The Commodores are 3-4, but their three SEC losses (Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss) have all come by a touchdown or less. Meanwhile, Nickson and fellow sophomore Earl Bennett are going to be wreaking havoc on SEC defenses for the next few years.

∙ Upset No. 3: I told you last week Wake Forest’s defense is legit. They were able to do what neither Boston College or Florida State could -- stop Wolfpack QB Daniel Evans. The D lifted the now 6-1 Demon Deacons to a huge ACC win. Undisputed MVP: Wake kicker Sam Swank, who hit three field goals of 50-plus yards today.

∙ Wisconsin is just steamrolling people lately. Watching bruiser P.J. Hill is a lot like watching Ron Dayne back in the day, QB John Stocco is playing the best football of his career and the defense is ranked in the top 10 nationally. If you really want to see something impressive, though, ignore the ball for a few plays and just focus on tackle Joe Thomas. The guy’s such a dominant pass-blocker it’s like watching guys run into a brick wall.

∙ With all the attention Steve Slaton gets at West Virginia, it’s easy to forget that QB Pat White is just as fast. White absolutely went off on Syracuse today, running 14 times for 235 yards, including touchdowns of 69, 40, 32 and 12 yards. Just for good measure, Slaton added 178 yards and two TDs.

∙ Ladies and gentlemen, No. 24 Rutgers has found itself a defense. The Scarlet Knights held the nation’s No. 1 rushing team, Navy, to 53 yards on the ground in the first half Saturday.

∙ USF 37, North Carolina 20. Can I get back my first-coach-to-be-fired prediction?
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10/11/2006 01:33:00 PM

U Don't Want to Mess Around at UConn

Oakland Arena
When it comes to team discipline, UConn coach Randy Edsall is as tough as they come.
College football players get in trouble sometimes. It's unfortunate, but it happens. We know that. What we're often disgusted by, however, is the double-standard held by many coaches and administrators who stress their commitment to doing things the right way, then let an offending player off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Just last week, Florida defensive standout Marcus Thomas, who reportedly failed two drug tests last summer, had his suspension abruptly lifted by an appeals committee the week of the Gators' game against LSU. Former Virginia Tech QB Marcus Vick did everything but show up on "America's Most Wanted" before the Hokies finally parted ways with him.

This week, however, we found out there's at least one major-conference coach who doesn't mess around when it comes to discipline. On Sunday, UConn's Randy Edsall dismissed five players -- sophomore receiver Nollis Dewar, freshman receiver Todd Dorcelus, junior safety Ricky McCollum, junior defensive end Harold Stanback and freshman Carl Teague -- for violating team rules. Their offense? Buying and bringing beer back to their hotel the night before the Huskies' game at South Florida, which they lost 38-16. (Various media outlets have reported that the players purchased two six-packs, but a source at the school said it was a larger quantity).

In Husky land today, there is much debate over whether the punishment fit the crime. Kicked off the team for buying beer? No one was harmed. No one was arrested. Their ex-teammates, however, are supportive of Edsall's decision. As senior running back Terry Caulley explained: "Prior to training camp, we had to sign the team policy manual that says there's no alcohol [allowed] in season." Said senior defensive end Rhema Fuller: "This is the night before a game. To do something selfish like that is just a slap in the face to everybody."

The NCAA manual of bylaws may be thicker than a phone book, but there are no guidelines regarding player discipline. Such decisions are left to the discretion of coaches and athletic departments, whose standards vary drastically from school to school. Edsall was under no obligation to do what he did. Because there was no police involvement, it's likely the incident never even would have become public. He could have made them run some steps when they got back to campus. Apparently that's not the way he does things.

And lest you think the decision was made easier for him by the fact none of the five players were significant contributors, take a look at his track record. Last month, starting safety Marvin Taylor, one of UConn's best defensive players, was kicked off the team six days after his arrest for using another person's credit card number. In May 2005, current starter Donta Moore was charged with shooting out a car window with a pellet gun. Four other players were in the car with him. All five were immediately suspended. The four accomplices were reinstated about a month later, but Moore was suspended for the 2005 season and taken off scholarship for the first semester of '06.

It's worth noting that Edsall works at the same school as basketball coach Jim Calhoun, who took no shortage of criticism last year when he allowed star point guard Marcus Williams to return to the team following his arrest in the theft of four laptops from student dorm rooms. I find it amusing that some of the same local writers who ripped Calhoun for being too lenient are now questioning Edsall for being too harsh. If anything, Edsall deserves praise for being the rare coach in today's age who practices what he preaches.
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10/10/2006 12:52:00 PM

Missing Mario

Oakland Arena
With the injury to Mario Manningham (86), Adrian Arrington (16) and Steve Breaston (15) will need to step up big.
Harry How/Getty Images
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr confirmed during Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference that star receiver Mario Manningham underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this morning and will miss Saturday's Penn State game. He emphasized, however, that, "we received great news in regards to the injury ... we're very excited with the news we received."

Earlier Tuesday, the Detroit News had reported that Manningham would miss "several weeks" after suffering a partial tear of the meniscus and a "possible" partial MCL tear during last Saturday's game against Michigan State. Carr did not elaborate on the good news, but one can assume that the injury isn't as serious as originally feared (rumors swirled Monday that Manningham might miss the rest of the season) and that perhaps the receiver will return sooner than later. Michigan plays another tough game the following weekend against 15th-ranked Iowa.

Obviously, part of the story comes as a relief to panic-stricken Wolverines fans, but the timing of the injury still couldn't be much worse. There's no overstating the importance of Manningham to Michigan's offense. The sophomore has established himself as one of college football's premier deep threats. He leads all receivers nationally in touchdowns with nine -- which represent more than a third of his overall catches (24) -- and his 21.96 yards-per-catch average is eclipsed by only four of the nation's top-30 receiving leaders. While workhorse running back Mike Hart clearly remains the centerpiece of the 6-0 Wolverines' attack, Manningham's game-breaking abilities have made Michigan far more dangerous and balanced than in years past.

With Manningham out, QB Chad Henne may be less likely to look for the home-run ball. Of Michigan's other receivers, only junior Adrian Arrington has demonstrated similar big-play ability. Senior Steve Breaston, for all his special-teams prowess, has failed to develop into anything more than a possession receiver (he's averaging 9.7 yards per catch) and there's a reason senior Carl Tabb has played sparingly throughout his career. Carr did say we can expect to see more of talented freshman Greg Matthews, a Florida import and cousin of Ohio State star Ted Ginn Jr. who has had two catches so far.

While the Nittany Lions have struggled this season, you know they're going to be playing with a lot of emotion, what with the electricity of a night game at Beaver Stadium against the only team to beat them last season. They were capable of pulling off the upset even before Michigan lost its premier playmaker (and, coincidentally, the Wolverine who caught the winning touchdown against them last year). The onus will fall on Hart to have a big game and for Michigan's top-ranked rushing defense to shut down Hart's Penn State counterpart, Tony Hunt.
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10/08/2006 01:18:00 PM

Five Things We Learned This Weekend

Erik Ainge
NC State QB Daniel Evans (left) and Reggie Davis celebrate one of three touchdown passes Evans tossed in the Wolfpack's 24-20 win over Florida State.
1) That the national title race is down to nine contenders. They are: Ohio State, USC, Michigan, Florida, West Virginia, Texas, Louisville, Tennessee and Cal. Why these nine? They are the only remaining teams (besides Boise State) that elicit enough confidence to suggest they could win the rest of their games. Obviously, most of them won’t (especially considering USC-Cal, Ohio State-Michigan and West Virginia-Louisville play each other), but if you had to bet your life savings on the matter, you’d be smart to stay within this pool.

2) That the SEC race just keeps getting more interesting. Apparently Georgia’s not ready to be a factor just yet, but lo and behold, here comes Arkansas. Tennessee keeps getting better. And while Florida looked like the cream of the crop Saturday and Auburn did not, don’t think for a second the Gators won’t be in for a battle Saturday night on The Plains. You can debate until the end of time whether the league is the "best" -- as you can see from the comments section, people are doing just that -- but watching the games Saturday, you couldn’t help but notice the intensity.

3) That NC State quarterback Daniel Evans is "ice." At least, that's what Chuck Amato called him in one of the more memorable postgame interviews of all time following Thursday night’s win over Florida State. The impact this sophomore has had in just two starts is incredible. Remember, the Wolfpack had been going on three years of mediocre quarterback play and had lost to Akron and Southern Miss before Evans took over two weeks ago against BC. He threw the game-winning touchdown in that one, then threw three more against the ‘Noles.

4) That 6-0 Missouri could win the Big 12 North. I realize that this isn’t Mike Leach’s finest Texas Tech team, but winning 38-21 in Lubbock still says something. Believe it or not, this was the first win by a North team over one of the "big three" South teams (Texas/OU/Tech) since 2003. I love watching Chase Daniel run that offense, and Brian Smith and the defense are apparently for real. No, this is not a Top 10 team yet, but can they beat Nebraska and win that division? Have you watched the Huskers recently?

5) That New Hampshire receiver David Ball deserves some major, major props. Admittedly, I don’t follow Division I-AA very closely -- it’s hard enough keeping tabs on 119 I-A programs -- but to break a career-touchdowns record held by none other than Jerry Rice? Are you kidding me? We’re talking about the greatest receiver of all time, here, and Ball will be able to tell his grandkids he broke one of Rice’s records. I don’t know about you, but I’m in awe.
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