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You want to know the definition of Midwestern chutzpah? That would be listing Tate Forcier at 6'1", 187 pounds in the Michigan game program. You've seen bigger CYO point guards than the Wolverines' freshman quarterback, who probably tips the scales at closer to 175, and who might have an inch on Doug Flutie. ¶ Give the kid this, though: He came up huge when it mattered most in the Big House last Saturday. With the Wolverines trailing Notre Dame by a field goal, Forcier finished the second game of his college career by directing a nine-play, 57-yard touchdown drive. The 19-year-old's cold-blooded, five-yard scoring strike to wideout Greg Mathews with 11 seconds left gave Michigan a 38--34 victory over the 18th-ranked Irish. In so doing, Forcier lifted a large burden from his own coach and placed it squarely on the shoulders of poor Charlie Weis, who's still searching for a signature victory two games into his fifth season in South Bend (box, page 69).
With all the buzz surrounding USC's Matt Barkley, one could be forgiven for not realizing that the Trojans' prodigy wasn't the only true-freshman quarterback who led a big-time program to a comeback victory on Saturday. Had the teenager known as the Force surprised himself with those last-minute heroics? "I've been doing it all spring and all [fall] camp," replied Forcier, a San Diego native who graduated early from Scripps Ranch High in order to take part in Michigan's spring practice. "It's nothing new to me."
You've heard of itinerant preachers. Forcier comes from a family of itinerant quarterbacks. Older brother Jason played two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Stanford in '07. Older brother Chris got started at UCLA but is now at Furman. The Go Blue brigade hopes Tate lacks his brothers' wanderlust—that the Force will be with them for four years. Directing Rodriguez's spread-option with a veteran's panache, Tate completed 22 of 33 passes for 240 yards against the Irish, with two touchdowns and an interception. Flashing fine speed and elusiveness, he also rushed for 70 yards and another TD.
And like all these Wolverines, he's in excellent shape. After Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen carved up its defense for 118 passing yards and 17 points in the second quarter alone, Michigan seemed to wear down the Irish in the second half. "I attribute that to conditioning," declared running back Brandon Minor, who pounded for 106 yards on 16 carries. "We pride ourselves on that."
So we've been hearing.
The Wolverines awoke on Aug. 30 to a front-page story in the Detroit Free Press reporting that under coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan players regularly exceeded NCAA limits on the time spent in mandatory training and practice sessions. (Those limits are 20 hours per week and four hours on any given day during the season.) According to the paper's sources, Michigan didn't exceed those limits by just a little. The paper also reported that quality-control staff made a habit of watching off-season, voluntary seven-on-seven drills—another NCAA no-no.
The statement issued by Michigan athletic director Bill Martin was not exactly a ringing denial: "We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules, but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation." In a televised press conference Rodriguez delivered an emotional reply in which he insisted, "We know the rules, and we comply [with] the rules." Addressing what he called "the perception" that sometimes "we do not care as much for our players' welfare," he tearfully noted, "I love our players like I love my own family."
No one was saying he didn't love his players—only that his love was overly tough and expressed in a way that violated NCAA rules. Springing to his defense, surprisingly, were several Buckeyes, including coach Jim Tressel, who scoffed at the notion that dedicated athletes should be prevented from training. Said Tressel, "It'd be like telling our med students, 'We're going to close the library.'"
The news that one or more of their teammates might have been sources for the story seemed to have little or no effect on team chemistry. "Some people are just lazy," says senior defensive end Brandon Graham, "or bitter because they dreamed of playing here, but it didn't work out."
"Some guys go around saying, 'You're the snitch!'" says senior left tackle Mark Ortmann. "They're joking. But it makes me think, What if that guy's the snitch? What's going on in his mind?"