Instant Rice

He ranks 10th on South Carolina's career receptions list with 103. He ranks ninth in receiving yards with 1,562. He is tied for first in receiving touchdowns with 19. He holds program records for single-season receiving yards (1,143) and TDs (13).

Yet, the most impressive thing about Sidney Rice is that he has accomplished all of this in just 18 games. At the midpoint of his sophomore season, he still has 2½ years of collegiate eligibility remaining. Odds are he won't use them, though. Rice already is being projected as a first-round pick if he declares for the 2007 NFL Draft.

Interestingly enough, South Carolina produced a first-round draft pick at receiver just two years ago. The Minnesota Vikings selected Troy Williamson in Round 1 because of his blazing speed and big-play potential, even though he had accomplished very little at the collegiate level.

Rice is the polar opposite of Williamson. He is merely average in terms of speed but incredible in terms of production. In South Carolina's 45-6 blowout of Florida Atlantic earlier this year he caught nine passes for 161 yards and five touchdowns, despite playing little more than one half.

Because he is a marked man this year, though, Rice generally has not put up the kind of numbers he did last fall. Even so, he has 33 catches for 508 yards (15.4 per catch) and six touchdowns. He undoubtedly will be a marked man Saturday night, when the Gamecocks host Tennessee. Rice burned the Vols for eight catches, 112 yards and two touchdowns in Carolina's 16-15 win last fall in Knoxville.

"Rice is awesome," Vol safety Demetrice Morley says. "He can go up and get the ball, and he makes plays after the catch. We've got to keep him contained. He's an explosive player who can make plays at any time, so we've got to be ready for him."

Fellow safety Jonathan Hefney concedes that Rice "kind of surprised us last year."

At 6-4 and 202 pounds, Rice uses his size and leaping ability to great advantage when going against 5-9 defensive backs like Hefney.

"He's not fast at all. He's just big," Hefney says. "He boxes you out and does a very good job of getting you away from the ball, so that he's the only person that can get it.

"He's 6-4, and he goes up for the ball before the smaller DBs can. He does that real good, and they put the ball in positions where only he can get it most of the time."

Asked if Rice is the best receiver he's faced, the Vol safety hedged, however.

"He's up there," Hefney said. "But we play against Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain and Bret Smith (in practice) every day.

"He's good but we've just got to make the plays. We didn't make the plays last year. We're going to go out there this year and try to shut him down."

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