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College Football
Kelley King
November 10, 2003
Like Ole Times Mississippi, led by Eli Manning, is atop the SEC for the first time in 40 years
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November 10, 2003

College Football

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The Race For No. 2

Here are the five one-loss teams vying for the second spot in the BCS rankings behind Oklahoma, and their outlook the rest of the way.

School

AP Rank

BCS Rank

USC (8-1)

2

2

Schedule: at Arizona, UCLA, Oregon St. Even if the Trojans win out, not playing another ranked team could cost them

Florida State (8-1)

3

3

Schedule: at Clemson, N.C. State, at Florida

Seminoles could sneak into title game, just like in 2000 (SIDELINES, right)

Miami (7-1)

6

4

Schedule: Tennessee, Syracuse, Rutgers, at Pittsburgh

The Hurricanes will need some help but they are far from out of it

Ohio State (8-1)

7

5

Schedule: Michigan State, Purdue, at Michigan

Buckeyes could get New Orleans invite with wins over three ranked opponents

Virginia Tech (7-1)

5

6

Schedule: Pittsburgh, at Temple, Boston College, at Virginia

Even if Tech runs the table, it is unlikely to recover from a loss to West Virginia

Like Ole Times
Mississippi, led by Eli Manning, is atop the SEC for the first time in 40 years

It didn't matter that he had already broken 24 school passing records, or that 17 starters were returning from a 7-6 team. By the start of Eli Manning's senior season at Ole Miss, most Rebels fans had given up hope that their highest-profile player in decades would lead the school back to the top of the SEC. Although Manning had thrown for 6,349 yards and 52 touchdowns over the previous two seasons, Ole Miss had gone 14-10. The verdict on the second Manning era seemed inevitable: Eli, the third son of former Rebels hero Archie, was a fine player on a mediocre team.

This season, however, Ole Miss is rewriting the final chapter. With a 43-40 win over South Carolina last Saturday, the No. 20 Rebels are 7-2, and 5-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1963. The defense, which folded like a card table in the heart of its conference schedule last year, held Florida and Arkansas to a total of three touchdowns. The running game, which averaged an SEC-low 94.3 yards a game in 2002, is averaging 168.1 this season. "It goes back to [last year's win over] Nebraska in the Independence Bowl, which reinforced the players' belief that we have the strength to match up with better teams," says Rebels coach David Cutcliffe. "It isn't just about Eli."

But Ole Miss's success this season still has a lot to do with Eli. His stats had dipped slightly as a junior, and that influenced his decision to return to school for his senior year. Archie had learned from NFL sources that Eli could have gone as late as the third round if he'd decided to enter last spring's quarterback-rich draft. But even so, coming back to Ole Miss wasn't an easy decision. Says Eli, "I thought, If I'm going to do this, I'm going to need to be a better leader."

True to his word, the quarterback has become the Rebels' biggest rouser. Players who dog it during practice or take plays off during games hear it from their quarterback, even though that role doesn't come naturally to Eli. "He's never been a real verbal guy—that was more of Peyton's thing," says Archie.

In turn, his teammates have worked hard to improve after a pair of September losses, to Memphis and Texas Tech. When Manning struggled against Arkansas on Oct. 25, the leaders of the defense told him to protect the ball and they would take care of the rest. They did, and Ole Miss won, 19-7. And while the defense yielded 40 points to South Carolina, senior running back Tremaine Turner ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns while Manning threw for three more scores. Free from the burden of trying to carry the team, Manning leads the SEC in passing efficiency, having thrown for 2,663 yards and 20 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.

While fans are talking about Manning's Heisman chances or where he'll go in the draft—he's projected as a first-round pick—Manning is more interested in leading Ole Miss to the SEC title. It won't be easy, as the Rebels go on the road to play Auburn this week and then host LSU.

For his part Eli says the NFL can wait. "With the way things are going for us," he says, "I'm more excited for the next game."

Oklahoma's Dan Cody
Unheralded, and Unstoppable

With leading candidates for the Heisman and Outland trophies and the Biletnikoff, Butkus, Lombardi and Thorpe awards, No. 1 Oklahoma could have more hardware than a Home Depot by the end of the season. Defensive end Dan Cody is one of the few Sooners starters who's not on the short list for any individual awards, but he probably should be.

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