Just For Argument's Sake ...

Originally Published: September 13, 2006
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.

1. Is there anything worse than the player who got away?
West Virginia sophomore tailback Steve Slaton grew up wanting to go to Maryland. He got a scholarship offer from Maryland. Two years later, Slaton will take his Heisman Trophy candidacy onto Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium on Thursday night against Maryland.
Steve Slaton
AP Photo/Jeff Gentner
Steve Slaton is averaging 154 yards per game in 2006.
"I just had too many running backs," Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen said. "It's my mistake, nobody else's … I wish he was here. I kick myself every day."

Slaton is fourth in the nation in rushing at 154 yards per game, even though he sat out the second half of the Mountaineers' rout of Eastern Washington. Put another way, he has rushed for 308 yards and four touchdowns in three halves.

Terrapin tailbacks Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball have played well this season. They have combined to rush for 319 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries, an average of 5.8 yards per carry.

Neither one is Slaton.

"I ended up staying with a kid from Maryland (Morgan Green, from White Plains, Md.). He's finally now in school," Friedgen said. Green spent 2005 at Hargrave Military Academy, and has not made a dent in the lineup this fall.

Slaton, Friedgen said, "had been offered and committed. I couldn't take the commitment because I had too many commitments. You can't have 10 running backs and no linemen."

Slaton has said that Maryland asked him to move to defensive back. Friedgen said he didn't do the asking and didn't know anything about it, but that perhaps someone on his staff had asked.

"We knew what kind of back he was: very good speed, very well-balanced kid, just a real good character. Slaton had good grades, a president-of-the-class-type kid. We have four pretty good tailbacks. He'd fit right in here."

Maryland will find out how well Thursday night.

2. Is there anything worse than the team that got away?
Texas Tech returns to TCU on Saturday for the first time since 1994, when, like a married couple on their way to divorce court, the schools belonged to the same lame-duck Southwest Conference.
Bobby Bowden
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Cody Moore and the Frogs will be excited when the Red Raiders visit Fort Worth.

There will be a lot at stake on the football field. The No. 20 Horned Frogs will try to extend the longest winning streak in Division I-A (12 games) against the No. 24 Red Raiders. A victory over Texas Tech would give TCU some ballast as it sails toward securing a berth in one of the five -- not, four -- BCS games this season.

But there is also a lot at stake off the field, if you are a TCU fan or a former player of a certain age. The hard feelings may have faded, but the fortunes of Tech have risen with the Big 12. TCU spent 10 years clawing its way up from the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference to a co-championship, from the middle of Conference USA to a co-championship, and now to the top of the Mountain West Conference.

"For guys that are my age and that played in mid-'90s, for other people that played at TCU or were big fans, it's a big deal," said John Denton, the director of the TCU Frog Club, the color analyst on the team's radio broadcasts, and a TCU letterman from 1981-84. "We always had a good series with Tech. We always duked it out." The Red Raiders lead the series, 28-22-3.

The series stemmed in part from the rise of Texas Tech to the SWC from the Border Conference. Once the Red Raiders reached the SWC, the pipeline that sent future Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Bob Lilly to TCU began to flow toward Lubbock.

Neverthless, Denton said, there's less tension between Tech and TCU than between Baylor and TCU, because Baylor, like TCU, is a private school. The Horned Frogs, with 5,000 fans in tow, beat the Bears 17-7 in Waco on opening weekend. Last year, only 2,500 fans went with TCU to Oklahoma, even though Norman is only a three-hour drive from Fort Worth.

Yet this is the first time that one of the former SWC schools has returned to Fort Worth since the acrimonious split that took effect a decade ago. That's why TCU will have its first sellout of 44,000-seat Amon Carter Stadium since 1984, Denton's senior season. There will be plenty of Tech fans, some of whom bought season tickets to the Horned Frogs to make sure they saw this game.

"Nobody wanted to come to our place," Denton said. "Finally, the Big 12 schools are saying these close-in games make more sense than traveling across the country and getting your butt whipped."

That both teams are ranked makes the game all the more exciting for TCU fans. When the game kicks off, a few more SWC ghosts will be exorcised from the Horned Frogs' past.

3. Has the NCAA ruined its reputation?
With the decision made public Monday to allow Clemson University and its football fans to help freshman cornerback Ray Ray McElrathbey care for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr, the NCAA has given credence to the rumor that actual human beings work within its monolithic, bureaucratic structure.

Steve Slaton
Clemson Sports Information
The NCAA will allow Clemson to help Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr.
McElrathbey has temporary custody of his younger brother while their mother battles drug addiction. He appealed to the NCAA for help because student-athletes are not permitted to receive help -- even in the form of a ride to school for a little brother -- that isn't available to other students.

Kevin Lennon is the NCAA's vice president for membership services, which is bureaucratese for the guy who oversees pleas for relief from the NCAA manual. I didn't ask him Tuesday if heads will roll for reaching out to Ray Ray. But I did ask him if he shared the concern that I voiced in the question above.

Responding in mock horror, Lennon said, "They'll start to think we're a caring organization."

The decision is an extension of the policy NCAA president Myles Brand established shortly after he took office. When it comes down to deciding between the rule and the student-athlete, if at all possible, decide for the latter. Let common sense be your guide. This may not give solace to those who believe that USC wide receiver Mike Williams or Colorado wideout/kick returner Jeremy Bloom should have caught a break. Lennon said they are among the 1 percent who aren't waved through the rules roadblocks.

In the case of the McElrathbeys, by the time the NCAA became aware of their plight, Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference already had begun to put together the facts to present to the NCAA for relief.

The NCAA will allow basic assistance to the brothers in matters like local transportation and child care. For instance, Fahmarr goes to school with some of the coaches' children. He will be able to get rides to school. In addition, Clemson may establish and oversee a trust fund to cover the brothers' living expenses.

"This was a no-brainer," Lennon said. "These are the stories that we need to get out. We do it every day. If we can get that out, that's great."

Lennon didn't sound as if he was packing up his office. Maybe his job is safe after all.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com