Just For Argument's Sake ...
From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.
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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.
"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."
AP Photo/Jeff Gentner
Steve Slaton is averaging 154 yards per game in 2006.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Clemson Sports Information
The NCAA will allow Clemson to help Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr.
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.
You make calls and you grind over your story. You write a paragraph and hit delete and do it over and over again until you wish you had become the dentist that your mom wanted. You finally get the story just how you like it, and then you see a photograph that tells it better than you ever could.
A picture worth a thousand words? Try 10 thousand. The guy trying to bury himself beneath the Scott Stadium turf is Wyoming freshman kicker Aric Goodman. He missed an extra point in overtime, allowing Virginia to escape with a 13-12 victory. It's a long trip from Charlottesville to Laramie, especially when you feel as if you're carrying the burden of an entire team on your shoulders.
Virginia's Chris Gould (9) comforted Wyoming kicker Aric Goodman.
Goodman missed the extra point, and Virginia cornerback Marcus Hamilton and punter-placekicker Chris Gould went out to pat him on the helmet. Other Cavaliers carried the same message. They just aren't in the photograph.
"Even though it's competitive, you still feel for the guy," said Gould, whose brother Robbie is the kicker for the Chicago Bears, on Tuesday. "He's a kicker like I am. I would have felt terrible. It's always great to hear it from another player from the opposing team."
What do you say? What can you say to someone prostrate with grief, embarrassment, and pain? Goodman's teammates helped him up, and that's when Gould spoke to him.
Gould said he told Goodman, "You did a good job. One kick is not going to make a career. Keep your head up. You're going to have a lot of days when you're going to have the glory. You're a true freshman."
It's one thing to say it, another for it to register.
"He didn't really say much," Gould said. "He just kind of looked at me like, 'Did that really happen?' I knew what he was feeling as soon as he looked me in the eye."
Goodman did hear Gould and his teammates. In a quote Tuesday relayed through Wyoming sports information director Kevin McKinney, Goodman said, "It was really nice of them. I realize how nice it was today better than I did then."
If Goodman needs any long-term solace, he could look west to Oregon State, where two seasons ago, kicker Alexis Serna started his college career by missing an extra point in overtime, ending the Beavers' upset bid of defending national champion LSU, 22-21.
Serna lost his job, won it back, and made 17 of 20 field-goal attempts in 2004. Last season, Serna made 23 of 28 field goals and all 32 of his extra points. He took home the Lou Groza Award as the best place-kicker in Division I-A.
The sky remains the limit for Goodman. And with the sportsmanship Hamilton, Gould and their teammates displayed Saturday, they're going to go a long way, too.
Keith Jackson. The Voice of College Football went to South Bend last weekend, where Notre Dame played host to Penn State. Jackson spent Friday at the College Football Hall of Fame, doing some work for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award, a new honor that the sponsor hopes will take into account a candidate's ability to coach on and off the field.
And, on Saturday morning, hours before the Irish and the Nittany Lions kicked off, Jackson got on a plane and returned to the West Coast.
As Jackson put it, "People said, 'You can't walk away from Notre Dame-Penn State!' I said," and here, Jackson dropped his voice an octave and went into that clipped rumble that we have loved for decades, "Watch me."
He returned home to his wife Turi Ann and watched Ohio State-Texas instead. (For the record, on Thursday night, Jackson predicted, "The Buckeyes might take them. I think they're pretty good.")
When he announced last spring that he had retired for good, Jackson reported he would be a shop steward in the porch-sitters' union. Nice try. There has been a lot of fishing, some golf (he shot a 72 in midsummer and put his clubs away) and, joyously, no production meetings or games that he has to attend. For the first time in decades, Jackson can sit at home with remote in hand.
"I watch some, TiVo some, look at others," he said. Or not. He watches what he wants. He still loves the game. It's why he got involved in this new award.
"Coaches have always been the pebble in the pond," Jackson said. "Their influence is so far-reaching. When you sit and look at it, it's incredible. All the BS they put up with. It's a pain-in-the-ass job. The appeal [of this award] is to try to make a positive statement on the coaching profession."
Jackson appeared as a guest on ESPN Radio's "College GameDay Tailgate" on Saturday. He may appear again. Or not. That's his life now, and he is having a hell of a good time.
Quarterback Luke Getsy first surfaced briefly three years ago, when coach Walt Harris gave him one start at Pittsburgh. He left the Panthers after the season and transferred to another West Coast offense, at Akron. After a junior season that featured plenty of highs and lows, the Zips' senior has begun to concentrate on the highs.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Luke Getsy has thrown for 403 yards in 2006.
Akron's 20-17 victory at NC State on Saturday makes two games out of four, dating to last season's Mid-American Conference Championship Game, that Getsy has led Akron to victory with late-game heroics.
At Ford Field last December, Getsy led the Zips 81 yards in 1:31 (with no timeouts) and hit Domenik Hixon with a 36-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left to beat Northern Illinois 31-30 for the league title.
At NC State's Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Getsy led Akron from behind twice in the final 5:20. On the first drive, Akron went 96 yards in six plays to score a touchdown. On the second (and winning) drive, Getsy took the Zips 67 yards in six plays, with Dennis Kennedy scoring his third touchdown of the game from one yard out with :03 to play.
On those two drives, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Getsy completed passes of 21, 62, 31 and 11 yards, and he also ran for 11 and 14 yards.
The lesson to learn from the first MAC victory over a BCS team in three seasons, Getsy said, is simple.
"We know we can play and compete with anybody," Getsy said. "We have confidence that we can step on the field and be competitive with anybody."
Well, duh. But it's one thing to say it, another thing to achieve it. Akron, with Getsy at the helm, is emerging as a MAC power. That seems a curious thing to say about a defending champion, but the Zips came out of last season viewed as more lucky than good. Now that preseason division favorites Northern Illinois (0-2) and Bowling Green (1-1, the win being a 48-40, triple-overtime victory over hapless Buffalo) have shown problems in the early going, it's time to take another look at Getsy and the Zips.
"The MAC has, in the past, made some big upsets," Getsy said. "It's been a little while. This may start the trend again."
Getsy's numbers have been mediocre at best. For the season, he is only 34-of-73 for 403 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. But with the game on the line, he seems to get sharper. Ask Northern Illinois and NC State.
Don't know whether the "Extreme Makeover" cameras will be at Stanford Stadium on Saturday when the new and very improved stadium will have its inaugural game. In only 10 months, the university demolished the interior of the 85,000-seat, 85-year-old stadium, and replaced it with a 50,000-seat floor plan that makes for a much more intimate -- and, hopefully, raucous -- atmosphere.
The cost: $90 million. And one loss.
The new stadium had been expected to open this past Saturday for the Cardinal's game against San Jose State. However, just to be safe, Stanford announced in February that it had asked San Jose State to move the game to Spartan Stadium, right down Highway 101.
The Cardinal jumped to a 27-7 lead over the Spartans. Buoyed, no doubt, by the near-sellout crowd of 29,321, San Jose State shut out Stanford in the second half and came back to win, 35-34.
"I can't say enough about the tremendous crowd we had," Spartans coach Dick Tomey said in a press conference Monday. "The enthusiasm by everyone in the stadium and the performance of our team is something that pleases a coach. I was so grateful to our crowd, our student body and the Spartan Squad [student boosters] for the lift they gave us."
All those things that buoyed San Jose State wouldn't have been available at Stanford Stadium. One loss seems like a small price to pay in exchange for a $90 million home that will last Stanford another 85 years.
Just don't tell that to the Stanford players.
Editor's note: Every week, Ivan Maisel will explain how to perform a task integral to college football. It might happen on the field. It might happen on the sideline. It might have to do with tradition, or preparation, or the band, or the managers. But you'll go inside the sport as you never have before. Here goes:
In the old days, the time of Vince Lombardi's Packers and the USC Student Body Left, the linemen, usually led by a guard, got out of their stances and stepped with the precision of ballet dancers.
1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma, RB: So far, so fantastic. But I keep waiting for magic to happen, and he keeps being almost methodical in his running.
2. Troy Smith, Ohio State, QB: Proved against Texas that he can beat you with his arm. He'll prove again, against someone, that he can beat you with his feet, too.
3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame, QB: It was almost unfair to watch him pick apart the young Penn State defense.
4. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, RB: Gets the Thursday night stage this week. Averaging 100 yards a half.
5. Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois In the Huskies' opener, this guy ran for 171 against the Ohio State defense I saw at Texas, so he must be for real.
1. Ohio State: But would you take this team over the '02 Buckeyes? Let's see how quickly this run defense stiffens.
2. USC: The Trojans get a spotlight dance with the Huskers. Should work out well for the Trojans.
3. West Virginia: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen won his first four against the Mountaineers by an average of 26 points. The Terps have lost the last two by three and 12 points. That's not a good trend for the Fridge.
4. Auburn: Tommy Tuberville's Tigers have won 15 of their last 16 at Jordan-Hare. LSU hasn't won there since 1998.
5. Notre Dame: The Irish are on a roll, and Michigan hasn't won a road opener since Bennie Oosterbaan was coach. OK, so it only feels that way.
6. Texas: C'mon, Mack. The Longhorns couldn't have come back Saturday night if the director of "Groundhog Day" operated the clock.
7. Florida: OK, the Gators are playing well. But isn't it a little strange that a running back hasn't led the offense in rushing in either game?
8. LSU: It's scary to hear Les Miles say this defensive line may be better than last season's when three starters from last season heard their names called in the NFL draft.
9. Georgia: Dawg fans get what they want as freshman Matt Stafford takes over the offense. Be careful what you wish for, at least for a few games.
10. Oregon: The Ducks survive a trap game at Fresno State and look for Holiday Bowl redemption from the Sooners.
11. Florida State: The injuries mount on the defensive line, and the running game hasn't shown up yet.
12. Nebraska: Is it fair to call this coach Bill Callahan's biggest game since Super Bowl XXXVII? Husker fans have to remember -- it's only a nonconference game.
13. Louisville: This could work out well for the Cardinals. Miami has a name but, if the loss to Florida State is any indication, not the game. Big East could use the win. Badly.
14. Michigan: Lloyd Carr joked Monday about his brevity, so let's be brief: The Wolverines need this one.
15. Oklahoma: This game means more than Sooner fans would like it to mean. Watch out, Sooners defense. Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon looks as if he has matured since the Holiday Bowl.
16. Tennessee: The good news is, Florida doesn't run the wishbone. The bad news is, the Vols lost two defensive starters against Air Force.
(Somehow, this week, it's not fair to stop at three. You have our permission to TiVo more.)
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 3 Auburn
Saturday, 3:30 ET, CBS
The balance of power in the Southeastern Conference has shifted to the West, and the balance of power in the SEC West will either remain in Baton Rouge or return to Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
The home team has won this game in each of the last six seasons, and the winner of this game has gone to the SEC Championship Game in five of those six seasons.
No. 3 Auburn looks remarkably like the team that went 13-0 two seasons ago. The offense has two very good running backs (then, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown; now, Kenny Irons and Brad Lester) and a veteran quarterback (then, Jason Campbell; now, Brandon Cox). The defense is strong, and coach Tommy Tuberville is at the top of his game.
The Tigers have won 15 of their last 16 games at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and are 9-0 in SEC play during that streak.
No. 6 LSU has begun the season with a surprisingly strong defense. Coach Les Miles hinted this week that the defensive line may be better than last season, when three starters went on to be picked in the NFL draft. The Tigers have opened with twin 45-3 victories over Lousiana-Lafayette and Arizona.
With teams that look so strong, the only glaring difference between the two is the home-field advantage. Auburn has it. LSU, which hasn't won at Jordan-Hare since 1998, does not.
No. 11 Michigan at No. 2 Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30 ET, NBC
There's another balance of power at stake in South Bend. It doesn't have anything to do with conference supremacy, of course, but simply control of this rivalry. As recently as three years ago, Michigan defeated Notre Dame 38-0. The Wolverines have lost the last two, and a win for the Irish Saturday would mean the first three-game streak by either team since Notre Dame won four straight from 1987 through '90. In that time, Notre Dame went 41-8 and won a national championship.
The Irish have their swagger back, thanks to swaggering coach Charlie Weis. In a change from last season, they appear to have their defense back, too. The defense has remained consistently tough in victories at Georgia Tech (14-10) and over Penn State (41-17). Michigan's offense looks better than it did a year ago. Tailback Mike Hart is healthy again, which, no offense to either new coordinator Mike DeBord or quarterback Chad Henne, makes all the difference.
One of Weis's best talents is his ability to manage the rhythm of a game. Notre Dame has shown the versatility to score fast when it needs to do so, and to dominate the clock when it needs to do so. That's easy to describe and easy to demand but takes skill and cohesion to accomplish. Notre Dame is too strong on both sides of the ball for Michigan. Watch the balance of power shift.
No. 19 Nebraska at No. 4 USC
Saturday, 8 ET, ABC
Two teams that began the season with nagging doubts have done whatever they can to expel them. USC made the long trip to Arkansas, where it wore down the fired-up Razorbacks with superior depth, superior speed and superior talent.
What began as a close game finished as a 50-14 rout for the Trojans. Quarterback John David Booty verified what offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has been saying all winter. Booty has been good enough to start for teams that didn't have Matt Leinart for some time.
USC followed that game with a week off, which allowed more teaching to be done to a relatively young team. That may not be fair to the Huskers, but there you have it.
Nebraska has blown out Louisiana Tech and I-AA Nicholls State as expected. Quarterback Zac Taylor leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency with statistics (41-56-1, 489 yards, 7 touchdowns) obviously bulked up on junk food. There will be no candy defenses for Taylor to consume Saturday night, although with USC safety Josh Pinkard (knee) lost for the season, the lack of depth in the secondary that the Trojans faced a year ago is perilously close to returning.
The Huskers defense, which hasn't been tested, features a defensive line that will give a young Trojan offensive front all that it wants. But I find it hard to believe that Nebraska has the speed and talent necessary to stop USC from scoring at least 28 points, which it has done for 22 consecutive games. In the last 15 games, USC hasn't scored fewer than 34.
In other words, it may start out close, and end up closer than the Trojans trip to Fayetteville, but Nebraska, like Arkansas, won't be able to keep up with USC's pace.