The first guy on my list has to be Matt Jones from U Pig. He was 4th or 5th on the depth chart at the beginning of the season and wasn't expecting much action as a 1st year Hog. A funny thing happened on the way to a redshirt. Coach Nutt, realizing he didn't have much chance of a winning campaign with his annual underachiever, Zak Clark, elected to give the kid some spot action and he won over the hearts and minds of Hog fans everywhere in the marathon game against Ole Miss. The kid flat out won the game. He put the team on his back and showed remarkable poise and out-dueled the more hyped Eli Manning. Jones went on to snatch a certain victory out of the hands of the beloved Maroon and White with a late sprint down the far sidelines in the final minutes.
Jones runs a great option and has very good accuracy when on the run. He needs to improve his pocket presence, but in the suddenly mobile Hog offense Jones gives opposing teams one more option to defend. He, not Cedric Cobbs, has them poised to challenge in 2002.
Matt Mauck would never have to play another game in his life and he could probably run for governor in Louisiana and win. After Mauck's improbable win over UT in the SEC championship game, he is the man to beat in Baton Rouge. While Mauck is a far cry from the passer Rohan Davey turned out to be, he is a very tough competitor. He has decent speed and great instincts. LSU lost Davey, Toefield, and Josh Reed had one catch and they still won the ball game. He totally changed the tone of the game. Mauck threw 5 picks in the spring game this year to solidify the opinion of most that LSU will be more of a ground team, but he is a great leader and if he doesn't get himself hurt, should lead the Tiger's back to a bowl game. He won't have the benefit of Josh Reed who bolted early for the NFL or a healthy LaBrandon Toefield, so it will take a few weeks to see if Mauck can make this his team.
Cory Phillips went into the Spring of 2001 expecting to be named the starter for the Georgia Bulldogs. After all he had preformed well down the stretch for the Dawgs, while Quincy Carter was out with a broken thumb. Well, new head Coach Mark Richt shocked Phillips as well as most if not all of the UGA faithful by naming true freshman David Greene the starter. To say that it was a surprise would have been an understatement. Greene, a few months a way from prep football and high school pep rallies, silenced all and I mean all his critics a few games into the season. In a key match-up against South Carolina, Greene struggled with accuracy at key moments and was plagued with a dropped TD pass by Terrance Edwards. Down the stretch, USC's veteran QB Petty made the plays to win and UGA fans were a little "miffed" at their young star.
Next up for Mr. Greene was the unenviable task of traveling to Knoxville, TN and play the SEC East rival Volunteers. Late in the game Travis Stephens broke down the home sidelines to score what many felt would be the winning score. The 18-year old Greene lead his team down the field with less than a minute to play in front of over 100,000 hostile fans and threw the game winning score on a play action play fake that left some UT fans with whiplash. Greene is the real deal and if Musa Smith can continue to develop as the featured tailback, Greene should be all conference at season's end.
Kevin Fant was supposed to carry a clipboard this past season. 2002 was supposed to be the rebuilding year around new starter Kevin Fant. Fant saw action in 2000 in the Egg bowl and was scheduled to be the heir apparent to Wayne Madkin. Fant turned out to be one of the few bright spots in a very long and frustrating season for Bulldog fans. While I will admit I ate my share of crow last season, I joined the Kevin Fant fan club with about 2 minutes to go in the 1st half of the Troy State game.
Let's talk about what Fant did down the stretch. He put us in a position to win in the 4th quarter at Alabama. He had the lead late in the final moments against Arkansas. He beat Kentucky. He had a field day against BYU and had the lead late in the game. The icing on the cake, even though it came before BYU, was the clinic Kevin put on in the Egg Bowl. Kevin played with tremendous confidence and accuracy in spite of the circumstances. For the 1st time in a long time, Bulldog fans truly feel that we are a threat with our passing game. Kevin Fant led his team to a 4th quarter lead in every game that he took most of the snaps. If Fant has the season that many expect, you may want to buy stock in cowbells, because, like season tickets, they'll be selling pretty briskly.
It's pretty easy to see that the conference is loaded with quality signal callers. When you throw in the latest victim of the Heisman trophy heist, Rex Grossman, and add others such as Jared Lorenzen, Casey Clausen and Playboy All-American Eli Manning to the list it's going to be an interesting argument over who will be all-conference come season's end. For the record, I'd like to say that Rex Grossman deserved the Heisman trophy and the fact that he didn't win it lessens the value of the award. And any publication, and I do mean any, that picks Manning over Grossman for an on-the-field, pre-season award is ludicrous. It's amazing how these things happen, but, hey, I guess everybody's trying to sell magazines.
Until next time,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.