Cash Talks, They Walk
Michael Vick and 27 other underclassmen decided to cash in early with the NFL
On the same day last week that quarterback Michael Vick climbed out of his new silver Lexus GS300 in his hometown of Newport News, Va., to announce he would slap his last two seasons at Virginia Tech to go to the NFL, Hokies junior Grant Noel drove his 1996 Pontiac Sunfire GT onto campus to meet with offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle. The choice of ride isn't the only difference between the electrifying Vick and Noel, whose experience as a college signal-caller consists of two junior varsity starts and some mop-up duty. "He's made plays in scrimmages," Bustle says of Noel. "He's a big kid [6'1", 222 pounds] who has a knack for pulling down the ball and making a play. He has never done it with our best people. We'll give him a chance to do that."
College coaches across the country were rearranging their depth charts similarly last week after the number of underclassmen declaring they would leave for the NFL grew to 28. The total, which was 20 fewer than the record number who entered the draft early in 1992, left gaping holes at such schools as Clemson, which lost All-America junior line-backer Keith Adams; Florida, which lost All-SEC junior offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker and All-SEC junior defensive tackle Gerard Warren; Georgia, which lost junior quarterback Quincy Carter; Michigan, which lost All-Big Ten junior wideout David Terrell; Nebraska, which lost All-America junior center Dominic Raiola; Texas A&M, which lost All-Big 12 junior wideout Robert Ferguson and junior fullback Ja'Mar Toombs; UCLA, which lost All-America junior wideout Freddie Mitchell; Washington, which lost All-Pac 10 junior safety Hakim Akbar; Wisconsin, which lost Thorpe Award-winning junior cornerback Jamar Fletcher and junior running back Michael Bennett; and, of course, Virginia Tech, which had enjoyed back-to-back 11-win seasons with Vick at the controls.
If Hokies coach Frank Beamer feels any self-pity, he should remind himself that it could be worse. Auburn lost not only junior tailback Rudi Johnson, the SEC Player of the Year, but also junior fullback Heath Evans and sophomore wide receiver Ronney Daniels. Throw in the graduation of All-SEC quarterback Ben Leard, and the Tigers have no one returning who ran for a touchdown last season. "That's not very good, is it?" Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville dead-panned last Thursday.
Johnson, who rushed for 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns, carried the 9-4 Tigers to the SEC West title. Without him and Evans, a good blocker who didn't lose yardage on any of his 42 carries last season, Auburn faces more of a rebuilding year than it had planned. Tuberville points out that the Tigers will have all their offensive linemen and tight ends back, plus all of their receivers except Daniels, but they may start freshmen at both quarterback and tailback.
Blame the exodus at Auburn and other schools on—what else?—the lure of money. Vick admits he could have used another year of seasoning, but he departed after learning he could be the first pick in the draft and command at least $50 million over seven years. "I realize I have a lot to learn," he said last week. "But the opportunity was presented to me, and I said to myself, Be a man, not a boy, and take advantage of the opportunity. My family is so important to me, and now I have an opportunity to take care of it."
Wisconsin's New Look
Badgers Will Use the Spread
Is nothing sacred? Wisconsin, the last believer in Big Ten smashmouth offense, is going to the spread—not entirely but, coach Barry Alvarez says, substantially. The Badgers worked on it during bowl practice and used it a little in their 21-20 Sun Bowl victory over UCLA. "We never see a six-man defensive front. We have to block nine guys at the line of scrimmage," says Alvarez, who, despite defenses' stacking up against the run, has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last eight seasons. "When you look at the spread, there are natural seams [for a runner]. We're not going to compromise on being physical. We can [still] open some lanes."
Alvarez persuaded himself to change after Wisconsin's 47-44 overtime loss to Northwestern on Sept. 23. The Wildcats went 8-4 and tied for the league crown using the spread, which made room for Damien Anderson to rush for 1,914 yards, second best in the nation. Third highest was Wisconsin's Bennett, who gained 1,598 yards but is leaving early for the NFL. "Michael would have been especially good in this offense," Alvarez says. The Badgers' top returning rusher is sophomore Broderick Williams, who gained 26 yards last year.
Crimson Tide Accused
Is Alabama a Team of Means?