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Following a 16-15 home defeat to South Carolina last Saturday, Tennessee (3-4 overall, 2-4 in the SEC) has lost four conference games for the first time since 1988. The most obvious reason for the Vols' nosedive is their woeful offense, which ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in scoring (16.1 points per game); offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was demoted on Monday and will share play-calling duties with coach Phil Fulmer. But the program's recent spate of off-the-field problems also may have finally taken its toll. Eleven Tennessee players ran afoul of the law over a 13-month period beginning in March 2004, resulting in numerous dismissals, suspensions and transfers, including the departure of two former standouts who surely could have helped the struggling offense this season: quarterback Brent Schaeffer and receiver James Banks. The Vols' undisciplined ways seem to have carried over to the field, where dropped passes, penalties and fumbles--including a turnover inside the opponent's five-yard line in each of the last two games--have hounded them. "Do I feel off-the-field problems and on-field discipline are correlated? Yes," says Fulmer (above). "We had some fairly unique things go on here that we should all be accountable for."
UNDER THE RADAR
Each night in August, to familiarize his players with their new conference, the Mountain West, TCU coach Gary Patterson showed his team highlight tapes of the MWC's star players. "The problem with coming into a new league is you don't know who to hate," says Patterson, whose team had spent the previous four seasons in Conference USA. So far the Horned Frogs have been equal-opportunity haters, beating all six of their conference opponents on their way to an 8-1 record. With a win over second-place Colorado State on Saturday, TCU would clinch its first outright league title since winning the Southwest Conference in 1958. After opening the season with a shocking upset at Oklahoma followed by a shocking loss to SMU, the Horned Frogs have sailed through the Mountain West despite losing starting quarterback Tye Gunn and No. 1 tailback Lonta Hobbs to injury. Their replacements have flourished: On Oct. 1 junior quarterback Jeff Ballard (above) tied LaDainian Tomlinson's school record by accounting for six touchdowns in a 49-28 win over New Mexico, and last Saturday running backs Robert Merrill and Aaron Brown combined for 253 yards on 44 carries in a come-from-behind 23-20 victory at San Diego State.
THREE AND OUT
1 Just seven games into his tenure at Notre Dame, during which his team has gone 5-2, coach Charlie Weis was rewarded with a new 10-year contract. Weis's predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, who began his debut season 8-0, was never given an extension on his five-year deal and was fired after three seasons. The difference? School officials were eager to preempt Weis's potential NFL suitors.
2 No. 1 USC's maligned defense played its most impressive game of the season in the Trojans' 55-13 win over Washington State, holding a Cougars offense that came in averaging 39.1 points and 518.6 yards to 13 and 284, respectively. Coach Pete Carroll's decision to move sophomore Josh Pinkard from safety to cornerback paid immediate dividends when Pinkard made a team-high 10 tackles.
3 Texas A&M, expected to be much improved in its third season under coach Dennis Franchione, instead has regressed on both sides of the ball. Following a 42-14 home loss to Iowa State, the Aggies (5-3, 3-2 in the Big 12) rank 98th nationally in total defense, and senior quarterback Reggie McNeal's completion percentage is down 4.3% from '04.