Let's face it: This probably hasn't been the best year of the NC State tailback's life. Just like last season, one injury after another has kept the sophomore from reaching his football potential. But unlike a season ago, "Touchdown Anytime" has struggled to overcome those injuries while endearing him to the Wolfpack faithful. The ailments, coupled with a fumble here and there - in crucial times, no less - turned a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate into an also-ran.
Now comes word that McLendon was stopped in Orange County recently for speeding and underage drinking. (Not, however, a DWI.) How many State fans opened up the newspapers earlier this week, read about this incident, and then rolled their eyes and groaned, "T.A!"? If you were like me, you were disappointed, but not surprised. How could you be? Disappointed that McLendon didn't use better judgment? Sure. Surprised that a college kid would have a drink? Not at all. What was most, uh, unsurprising was that it happened to McLendon. It's as if he's been snake bit in 2003. Maybe he should just hole himself up in the hotel room in Orlando and watch the Tangerine Bowl on the tube.
Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato insists that not only will McLendon play, but he'll probably start too against the Kansas Jayhawks, which is a mistake. Amato should sit McLendon for the game - but not for the reason you might believe.
I have no doubt that Amato has already disciplined McLendon for his driving incident. That's not the issue. The issue is McLendon's on-the-field performances of late. I'm as big a T.A. McLendon fan as you'll meet, but his play has been less-than-stellar, he's continuously battling injury, and he is constantly given chance after chance to prove that he's just as dangerous as back as a year ago.
The start against the Kansas Jayhawks should go to Reggie Davis, a young man who sacrificed his red-shirt season for basically a couple of games. Davis performed well in those games, only to see McLendon jump right back ahead of him after sitting out. Is Reggie Davis as punishing a running back as T.A. McLendon? Probably not. Does he give the Pack just as much of a chance to win its bowl game? Maybe. Maybe not. But starting Davis would be the fair and decent thing to do.
Plus, the year 2003 doesn't seem to have it out for Davis like it does for McLendon.
Bowl Predictions Tangerine Bowl Kansas vs. NC State: Chuck Amato is trying his best to make sure the Pack is focused and doesn't overlook Kansas (much the same way Notre Dame seemed to overlook State in the Gator Bowl last season). Philip Rivers should have a field day in his last college game, but he and his teammates will have to overcome a plethora of disappointments (no BCS bowl, no ACC championship, Rivers not a legitimate Heisman finalist, etc.) and must remain focused for the Pack to break this one wide-open.
Continental Tire Bowl Virginia vs. Pittsburgh:
Orange Bowl Florida State vs. Miami: Unlike Maryland and West Virginia, the Canes and the Noles aren't exactly excited about facing one another again. And honestly, what could be said about this match-up that hasn't already been said? Next! FSU 32, Miami 28
Peach Bowl Clemson vs. Tennessee: Just imagine if the city of Atlanta could somehow plan a hunters' convention and/or a department of transportation sign-holding seminar the same week of this game between these two orange-clad foes! What not to wear, indeed. Tennessee 28, Clemson 21
Humanitarian Bowl Georgia Tech vs. Tulsa: Considering the way the Jackets have played this season, Tech will either mop the floor with Tulsa or its players will have nightmares for nine months about the blue carpet. This is the one bowl game that no matter how pretty the teams' performances are it will still be the ugliest bowl game of them all. Tech 24, Tulsa 14
Prognostication Record This Year (as far as picking the correct winner goes): 55-19
_________________________________________ 'Now' Regular Season ACC Basketball Standings
1. Georgia Tech: Some have stated that the Jackets will come back to Earth soon, and they may. But for now, what team has done more so far this season?
2. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons, from top to bottom, may be the most balanced team in the ACC. If Eric Williams and the rest of the big men stay out of foul trouble, Wake could be one of the best teams in the nation come March.
3. Duke: Ordinarily Mike Krzyzewski would be worried about relying too much on a youngster, but when that youngster is Luol Deng, it's probably not too hard to sleep at night.
4 (tie). North Carolina and NC State: One team is perhaps the most fun team to watch in the nation, while the other one isn't. (I'll let you figure that one out.) The Heels have a better starting five, but State may have better depth and experience.
6. Maryland: It's hard to get a feel for how the Terps' season will play out. My gut tells me Gary Williams will mold them into a Sweet Sixteen squad before it's all said and done.
7. Virginia: Maybe this will be the season that good things happen to Pete Gillen & Co.
8. Florida State: The Noles will scare a ton of teams this year, and FSU could be a "bubble" team in March.
9. Clemson: Oliver Purnell doesn't have much to work with, but the Tigers will be competitive under his leadership.
'Later' ACC Basketball Standings
1. Georgia Tech
2. Wake Forest
4 (tie). North Carolina and NC State
8. Florida State
11. Boston College
12. Virginia Tech