As slow as news has been the last three months, spring practices and police blotters across the nation are starting to increase the flow once again. Here are some items to consider:
Michigan Can't Grow Grass…
The University of Michigan is having trouble growing grass. Apparently the school whose alumni refer to their alma mater as the "Harvard of the Midwest" needs a little help with its decidedly not green thumb. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying and miserably failing to grow the plant that sprouts naturally in yards around the nation, they are opting for a new type of artificial turf.
As a result, the university has been flooded from calls all over the nation. Individuals from California to Florida have volunteered to help the university grow any type of grass that they could possibly imagine. Several callers even remarked that they could help considering their ability to grow "grass" even with artificial lights in stuffy attic spaces. When told that this is a different type of grass, they rescinded their offer and asked that their names not be mentioned….
All jesting aside, the turf Michigan will be installing is not your mother and father's artificial surface. It is known as FieldTurf and should provide a fine surface to play on for Michigan and its opponents. For the sake of all concerned, one has to hope that this new artificial grass is not nearly so destructive to knees, ankles, and other joints as many of the older surfaces have been in the past.
And the Hits Keep on Comin' at Washington…
It seems like Washington cannot catch a break these days. Every time you turn around they have made the headlines for something - and it is not winning. Now there are two more installments to add to the recent problems. First, there is the case of Nate Robinson. Only a sophomore, Robinson started 6 games during a freshman campaign in 2002 and was expected to start or at least provide solid depth in the secondary. Instead, he has given up football to play basketball. This cannot be considered good news for the Huskies, who are trying to figure out ways to plug the leaks in their defense considering that since 1999 their teams have allowed an average of 26 points in each game. The result has been a 33-16 record during that span. Second, the Huskies' star running back has been arrested and charged with assault. Apparently Rich Alexis and Reggie Williams were a little upset that their invitations to a frat party were "lost in the mail" or something like that. The result was a temper tantrum by the running back that resulted in an injury to a security guard when he was refused admission.
If Rick Neuheisal is not very careful, the off field controversies will combine with some sub par seasons to create a tough situation at Washington.
Price and Alabama
I still have my own doubts about the marriage of the easy-going, offensive minded Price with the Tuscaloosa faithful. While everyone seems to be all gushy and hunky-dory about the recent marriage, I am just not convinced that this is the right fit.
Yes, Price is a fine coach and was a great get in terms of prestige.
Yes, the spread offense is a good choice for a team likely to be short on scholarships in the coming seasons.
Yes, folks in Tuscaloosa are intrigued by this offensive-minded coach who has already served notice that he is not running the offense of Bryant and Stallings - tossing the pigskin around like a hot potato in the Spring Scrimmage.
Yes, this hire is a giant leap forward for the university community considering Price has absolutely no ties to Bear Bryant - the first such coach at Alabama since 1957.
What has me so concerned?
Not only are they used to winning a high percentage of their games, Alabama fans are used to seeing teams built on a physical (not finesse) offense and a brutal, stingy defense. Consider that in his entire 25-season tenure at Alabama, Bear Bryant's teams played in only 10 games where the opposition scored 30 or more points during the regular season (that averages out to be one time every 2.5 seasons). Roll that around in your brain a bit. During 12 of his 25 seasons, Bear relied upon a defense that throttled any who stood in their way and yielded less than 100 points the entire year (bowl included). Another 8 seasons witnessed a Crimson Tide team that held their opponents to under 160 points for the full season and bowl.
Contrast that with the past record of Price at Washington State. In 14 years at the helm for the Cougars, Price's teams allowed opponents to score 30 or more points 57 times (an average of 4 times per season). Where only 3 teams ever scored over 40 points on the Tide under Bryant during the regular season, this has happened to Price led squads 22 times. Only 2 WSU teams held opponents under 265 points (the 1993 and 1994 squads). Six of his teams allowed over 300 points and in seven of his 14 seasons, he fielded a team that was outscored by the opposition (something Bear never experienced at Alabama).
One might contend that comparing Washington State to Alabama is like comparing Apples to grapefruits (let alone oranges). So - what about Bear's tenure at Maryland and Kentucky? These two schools and their football programs are similar in stature to that of Washington State.
The trends are the same.
In 9 years with these two programs, only once did Bear's defenses allow more than 150 points. Meanwhile, they piled up 26 shutouts and had 30 points or more hung upon their scoreboard by the opposition on only 3 occasions.
You can run whatever offense you would like at Alabama, but you must play stout defense if you expect to last.
Defense is all about heart. It is all about desire. It is all about so wanting to stop your opponent that you continue to give more than you thought possible clear until the final whistle blows. Even when losing, the pride is there deep within that no team should be able to march up and down the field on your unit.
The consistent performance, or underperformance, of the Washington State defenses is a troubling trend when considering that this is a fan and alumni base that has wholly embraced the concept that defense wins championships. They understand that defense is about desire and heart, and they will not tolerate Crimson Tide squads that roll over more quickly than a gorged goldfish…
For his sake, I hope Price succeeds - I just see no reason for the supreme optimism being witnessed in the Crimson Tide community. The comparisons with the ghost of Bear are bound to come. They haunt every coach in Tuscaloosa, and I am left wondering if they will drive Price out of town.
McGahee Making Progress…
In a recent article in The Sporting News, the progress of Willis McGahee is discussed.
Check it out.
There were few disappointments for Buckeye fans in the Fiesta Bowl, but this should have been one of them. No football aficionado could watch that play where his knee crumbled with only minutes remaining and not have heartfelt empathy for a young man who was a class act. I for one wish him luck, a speedy recovery, and a long and prosperous NFL career.
Columbus and Norman will have their say in the Heisman Race…
College Football News recently handicapped the Heisman race. (<http://www.collegefootballnews.com/2003/Preview/HeismanOdds.htm>). While it is clearly waaaaaaaaay too early to determine who will win and even who will be a serious candidate in November, it is interesting to note that if this list is at all accurate then once again Ohio State and Oklahoma will play a starring role in who takes home the trophy. Last year the two squads led by Youngstown natives shredded multiple campaigns, and the result was that 4 of the 5 invited to New York had not faced either team until their bowl game.
For its part, OU took out Chris Simms, Seneca Wallace, Kliff Kingsbury, and Chris Brown. They also taught Jason Gesser a lesson similar to the one administered by Ohio State earlier in the season.
Chris Simms: The Heisman push for this golden-armed quarterback was beginning to take substance prior to the annual Red River Rivalry Game. Simms had been running up numbers that were prettier than the Rose Bowl Queen. All Simms had to do was beat Oklahoma and the trophy was within his reach in all likelihood. However, saying that ALL Simms had to do is beat Oklahoma is like saying all Baylor has to do is win a conference championship and they can compete for a national title. After the dust settled, OU dominated the game to the tune of a 35-24 victory. Texas managed only 10 first downs, and Simms threw 3 interceptions. He finished with two short touchdown runs and 12-26 passing with 156 yards.
Seneca Wallace: Iowa State was enjoying a year to be remembered. They sat at a stunning record of 6-1 (their best start since 1938) with a top 15 ranking. Their only loss was due to a controversial call that should have sent Iowa State into at least overtime and possibly propelled them to victory against Florida State. Seneca was being touted as a viable candidate for the top college award and raining bombs on defenses from above while penetrating their ground forces with deep incursions using his legs. The problem for Iowa State was that they had not faced a team with a defense as ferocious as Oklahoma. OU absolutely humiliated the Cyclones. The final score was 49-3. While that looks messy, Wallace's box score was worse; he ended the day 4 of 22 passing with 3 interceptions and -28 yards on 6 rushing attempts.
Chris Brown: By early November, Chris Brown was starting to appear on the Heisman radar. Considered a dark horse candidate, his solid season and fluid running style began fueling a Brown for Heisman campaign. Unfortunately, Colorado played OU. While Brown ended with 103 yards on 25 carries, he had no touchdowns and the game was not as close as the final score in many respects. The Sooners capitalized on 3 Colorado fumbles (recovering 2 of them), and Brown ended the day without a touchdown. What was worse is that Bobby Purify (a teammate) and Quinton Griffin both had better days statistically, leaving Chris as the third best tailback on the day.
Kliff Kingsbury: The Red Raiders attempts at rehabilitation were starting to work. The loss to Ohio State had faded into the background of many in the media, and Tech's upset victory over Texas 42-38 the previous week had helped immeasurably. Kingsbury dismantled the Long Horns with 6 touchdowns, completing 38 of 60 passes for 473 yards. It was then that Oklahoma handed the Kliff for Heisman campaign a major set back. It was a massacre. With less than 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter, OU led 46-0, and the scoreboard flashed 60-15 when the game was completed. Kingsbury was a dismal 15 of 35 passing for one touchdown with two interceptions. Texas Tech's spread gained only 187 yards and 4 first downs via the air.
Jason Gesser: Gesser had seen his campaign flying high until the Buckeyes shot it down back in September. It too had nearly been repaired until his late season injury in the Washington game. Still, Gesser was considered to be a force to be reckoned with if he could recover by the Rose Bowl. He did not. Clearly not healthy, the Sooners tore Jason and Washington State apart with a 34-14 spanking. Gesser ended up 17 of 34 for 239 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. While not the worst game of his life, it certainly was not the best either.
Meanwhile, Ohio State had been taking out their fair share of folks as well. Kliff Kingsbury, Jason Gesser, and Larry Johnson all rued the day that their teams met the Buckeyes. After the voting was over, McGahee and Dorsey were given a taste of the Ohio State defense just for good measure. Not one of these young men wanted to come back for seconds.
Kliff Kingsbury: Kliff was expected to be a serious competitor for the Heisman in 2002. He was a senior quarterback with an offense perfectly designed to exploit his talents. He had players with solid ability that he could use to run up basketball on grass scores. Kliff even had the media darling support considering that he was one of the main stars in the Big 12. Texas Tech players came to Columbus talking trash but left feeling like it. They witnessed a defense that was stunning in its physicality and speed. Kingsbury struggled all day to find consistency and establish a passing attack. He and the Red Raiders found themselves losing 38-7 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. By that point, Jim Tressel had opted to put in the backup players to give them much needed experience in game situations. Kingsbury and Texas Tech used the remaining time to effectively pad his statistics and end the game down 45-21. Kliff finished 26 of 44 with 341 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one interception. Not coincidentally, his heisman campaign was also largely finished as well.
Jason Gesser: For all that he struck some opposition fans the wrong way with his swagger and cocksure attitude, Jason Gesser was a fine college quarterback who brought his team to Columbus intending on emerging with a win. At halftime, this looked not only possible but maybe even probable with the Cougars leading 7-6. However, the complexion of the game changed dramatically in the second half with multiple long runs by Maurice Clarett and a dominant performance by the defense of Ohio State. When the smoke had cleared, the men in Scarlet and Gray had hunted down the Cougars. Gesser was handed his head on a platter by Darrion Scott. Jason ended up with 238 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions on 25 of 44 passing for the afternoon. That loss really cost him considering that without it, he likely would have been the leading candidate for the award until his untimely injury in November.
Larry Johnson: Probably remembered more for his criticism of the coaching staff than his play until this past season, Johnson put on a serious show in 2002. It seemed like every time football fans turned on ESPN to watch highlights, there was Johnson running over or around a would be tackler. He finished with an astonishing 2015 yards for the season with an 8.0 average per carry and 20 touchdowns. With a solid game against Ohio State, he probably would have been a run-away winner (no pun intended) in New York. Unfortunately for him, the Ohio State defense acted the part of a buzz saw at a sawmill and the Nittany Lions offense was the new wood ready for processing. Johnson carried the ball 16 times for only 66 yards and one touchdown. Though he caught 6 passes for 32 yards, he ended the day at less than 100 yards. It was to be the Achilles Heel for his campaign as every time his name was brought up - his performance against Ohio State was also mentioned.
Ken Dorsey: A senior, Ken Dorsey has to be considered among the great college quarterbacks no matter how one slices it. His final record of 38-2 as a starter with one national title and a second title game is difficult to fathom. He finished in the top 5 for the Heisman for two straight seasons. If his college career was a dream come true, then his evening against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl was a nightmare. To be entirely fair, it should be noted that Dorsey's offensive line played in an offensive manner, and he was constantly on the run. Still, Ken did not have the ability to create like his counterpart Craig Krenzel. As a result, the Buckeye defenders teed off on him with 4 sacks, numerous knockdowns, a fumble, and two interceptions. Dorsey ended the game where he had spent a good deal of it - on the ground in the arms of an Ohio State defender.
Willis McGahee: Many pundits and scouts considered Willis to be the finest player on the Miami team, and he was rewarded by getting an invitation to New York as a top 5 candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He had breathtaking speed but was not afraid to be physical as well, getting the tough yards inside when they were needed. McGahee had a day to forget against Ohio State, and it ended in a tragic fashion. Just as it appeared that he had found his rhythm, in a freak accident - Will Allen of Ohio State hit him in the knee while trying to make a tackle. The result was a knee injury sickening to watch on the replays. His final box score read 20 carries, 67 yards, one touchdown, and 3 receptions for 5 yards.
As a direct result of the ferociousness of the Ohio State and Oklahoma defenses in 2002, a quarterback who faced neither of these two teams, Chris Palmer, won. In fact, of the 5 invited to New York, four had not faced either team, and the one who did managed only 66 yards and one touchdown.
Why all the discussion of 2002 when it is 2003 that is still to come?
In perusing this early Heisman handicapping, Ohio State and Oklahoma face a total of 11 players from this list. Further, the Buckeyes' and Sooners' teams each contain heisman hopefuls that could benefit from another solid campaign.
Roy Williams and Cedric Benson of Texas: As usual, Texas will probably enter the Red River game undefeated. If they leave it in the same fashion, it will have to be considered an upset considering the way OU has dismantled Texas in the last three contests. A fine day for Williams and Benson will do wonders for their respective campaigns. A lousy day for either or both could be poison.
Rashaun Woods and Josh Fields of Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will ride into town upon their trusty duo of steeds in early November, looking for a third straight win over the Sooners. With a schedule that contains 8 home games, a win at Norman could possibly put them in the driver's seat for a division title and a shot at the North division winner in the Big 12 Title Game. Further, a repeat performance by Woods or Fields could propel them to the top of the podium at the New York Downtown Athletic Club after the season is completed.
Reggie McNeal: Texas A&M is looking to take their football program to the next level, and has recently put its money where its mouth used to be. The Aggies will be sure to tout any player of theirs who is having a superb season, and McNeal has that chance at the quarterback slot. (T A&M)
Jason White: Jason has to wonder if some bitter Longhorn fan has placed a voodoo curse on him. As a sophomore in 2001, he seized the quarterback job only to blow out a knee. He spent the offseason rehabilitating and regained the starting position in 2002 only to blow out his other knee. 2003 is his last opportunity to shine, and he just might. Though he is not likely to be overly mobile, Jason needs only to distribute the ball effectively and win to get heisman consideration. OU has a tough schedule (@UCLA, @Alabama, @Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M), but if they win them all - Jason will have to get some serious consideration.
For their part, the Buckeyes will face four young men from this list early and another two during the Big Ten race - both at their own stadiums.
Reggie Williams and Cody Pickett: These two formed a dynamic duo for the Washington Huskies last season. Opposing defenses schemed on how to stop them until their brains sizzled like eggs on a hot skillet. It availed them nothing. Pickett finished the year with 4,458 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, and a 59.6 completion percentage. Williams for his part caught 94 passes for 1,454 yards, 11 touchdowns, and an average of 15.5 yards per catch. If these two combine to burn the Ohio State defense on the opening game of the season for both clubs, then their heisman campaign will leap out of the starting gate like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby.
Philip Rivers and T.A. McClendon: To be extraordinary on offensive, every team needs a heady quarterback with wide receivers who can catch, and a running back who can be relied upon. N.C. State has that dynamic combination, and they will bring it to Columbus in search of a victory in September. If they get it, they will have to be considered the favorite to win the ACC, and the performance of Rivers or McClendon (and possibly both) will boost their Heisman hopes.
Anthony Davis: Davis gave Ohio State more trouble than any other running back in 2002. He was the only man to reach 100 yards against the Buckeyes, and even though the Scarlet and Gray's defensive front four was dinged up for the Wisconsin game - the Buckeyes have to do better containing him in 2003. Why? Wisconsin stands to have an explosive offense, a passing quarterback, and a set of receivers that just might be the best in the country. If Davis begins to run wild on the Buckeyes, he just might trigger a Badger victory in Madison.
John Navarre: Much maligned, John has a shot at going out with a Rose Bowl or even Sugar Bowl slot. Michigan has a favorable schedule in 2003, and if Navarre can have a solid day against Notre Dame, he might come into the Ohio State game (in Ann Arbor) as a Heisman hopeful on an undefeated team...
Craig Krenzel, Chris Gamble, and Maurice Clarett: Each of these Buckeye players is included on the list. If they all have great seasons, they will likely rob each other of votes. However, if Clarett can stay healthy and Gamble can improve upon his offensive statistics while again coming up with numerous big plays defensively - then these two have to be considered as the top candidates from the Midwest.
In short, if you want to know who will and perhaps who will not win the heisman keep an eye on OSU and OU this fall. Whoever can come up with big days against these two defenses will be given serious consideration (see Fields, Woods, Davis, and Navarre - who all did well against these two in 2002).
Other teams to watch that will likely help determine the heisman winner: Auburn (whose defense looked very stout against PSU) and USC (though they lost quite a few seniors - their team was young overall in 2002, and they brought in a fine recruiting haul).
Contact Charles at email@example.com