Eli's return cheers Cutcliffe

Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning already is being projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Odds are, he would've been an early first-round pick had he made himself available for the 2003 Draft.

No one is happier that Manning decided to return for his senior year of college ball than Rebel head man David Cutcliffe, formerly the offensive coordinator at Tennessee.

''It's a great thing for college football,'' Cutcliffe said recently. ''It's tough when you see young men leave early for whatever their reasons are. There's not much comparison between the life of an NFL player and the life of a student/athlete in college. I'm very happy Eli's back, and the difference it makes in our team.''

Cutcliffe faces a bit of a balancing act this fall. Because Manning is an all-star candidate, the Rebel boss will want to give him as many snaps as possible, so he can pad his passing statistics a bit. But, because Manning is a senior, Cutcliffe also needs to give some playing time to the heir-apparent, Michael Spurling. He isn't nearly the passer Manning is but Spurling is a much better runner.

''He adds a dimension to our team, no question,'' Cutcliffe said of Spurling. ''We realize we've got to get him some playing time. We're going to try to use him when we can but it's hard to take Eli Manning out of a game.''

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