cover_story (2006-35)

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The SEC

Kentucky

WEST

Arkansas

Miss State

Ole Miss

The “Young Male Problem” and the SEC

Directed Reading? Try Charlotte Simmons

GAMUT

The SEC

This autumn is the time of a handful of new starting quarterbacks—Joe Tereshinski at Georgia, Chris Nickson or grad-student Richard Kovalcheck at Vanderbilt, John Parker Wilson at Alabama, and our old friend Brent Schaeffer at Ole Miss. But mainly the SEC is the domain of several programs that have established themselves as bona fide national powerhouses. EPSN: The Magazine puts Auburn at No. 1. LSU, Auburn, and Florida find themselves in Sports Illustrated’s Top 10. Georgia is No. 11. USA Today includes Tennessee at 23 and Alabama at 24.

This is also the year that—to make sure there’s enough money to pay the coaches’ fat salaries—teams have re-added a 12th game. That means poor Vanderbilt opens at No. 15 Michigan on Sept. 2. In a big move by the Big 10, the “Big House” in Ann Arbor (Michigan Stadium), after its recent expansions, now holds 107,501 fans, leaving Neyland Stadium in second place with 104,079.

Urban Meyer’s “Spread Option” offense had mixed success under the onslaught of SEC defenses. We’ll hear from freshman quarterback Tim Tebow, a Parade High School All-America, next year, who is probably more suited to the “Spread Option” than Leak. With these quarterbacks around, 6’4”, 225-pound Cornelius Ingram switched to receiver, and he is dangerous.

Senior Joe Tereshinski is the Bulldogs’ new quarterback. He will look for 6’7” tight end Leonard Pope, who made 25 catches last year, and he’ll be looking over his shoulder for freshman quarterback Matthew “Howitzer” Stafford from Highland Park, Tex., waiting in the wings. 

“He may not open the season as the Bulldogs’ starter,” penned senior writer Austin Murphy, “that honor is likely to be Tereshinski’s— but he could very well finish it there. This Texan is Georgia’s quarterback of the future. The question is not if he’ll take the job, but when.” After a scrimmage on Aug. 18, Stafford and sophomore Blake Barnes were tied for third on the depth chart, behind redshirt freshman Joe Cox. Stafford threw three interceptions in the scrimmage and admitted he was “in kind of a daze” when he got picked off on his first possession.

“We made a big mistake,” says Phil Fulmer. “We assumed.” Odd Couple fans will remember Felix Ungar’s warning that, when you assume, “you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Fulmer says he and the team took things for granted, and their failures during the season made everyone realize the wages of such an entitled attitude.

Fulmer says they changed their attitude, and you’ve got to believe him. Lineman have shed pounds. Receivers are focusing on their patterns—did they even have patterns last year? And they are dealing with their shortcomings in full-speed practices at all times.

Erik Ainge is the SEC’s Mariah Carey. Before he was injured two seasons ago, he looked better as a freshman than Dan Marino did at his age. He completed passes we didn’t know could be thrown, with a release as quick as Joe Namath’s and unbelievable field vision and accuracy. The way people have talked about Ainge since last year, you’d think he made them sit through Glitter. (At least the Notre Dame game was shorter.)

Like Mariah, Ainge is back to sing again. Offensive Coordinator Redux David Cutcliffe quickly went back to fundamentals with him—footwork, body positioning, eye direction. Ainge realizes now that he wasn’t focused enough a year ago and didn’t work nearly hard enough to figure out what the heck he was supposed to be doing.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton is developing fast. “Oh, man,” said senior receiver Jason Swain after an impressive showing in a scrimmage, “Crompton’s tough. He’s young, lots of upside. No doubt he’ll be Tennessee’s next great quarterback.”

Sound coaching makes quarterbacks look great; lousy coaching makes them look like lost lambs. David Cutcliffe has few peers in coaching college quarterbacks. It wasn’t just the Mannings who looked great under his tutelage—it was Andy Kelly, Heath Shuler and Tee Martin. Third-stringer Bo Hardegree says it best: “Since Coach Cutcliffe’s gotten here, I’ve learned a thousand things I didn’t know.”

You gotta love Stanley Asumnu, a 6’5”, 205-pound basketball forward who finished up his hoops eligibility and decided he could contribute on the football field and help pay for his graduate work. He walked on as a receiver and in August won a scholarship. He’ll be used mostly as a kick-blocking specialist. 

Blake Mitchell is the incumbent at Spurrier’s prestigious quarterback seat, but the mid-term elections may bring about a regime change—either freshman Chris Smelley or sophomore Cade Thompson, from Maryville High. 

The Wildcats ranked below 100th in the nation in all three defensive categories, which brings up the important point that there are more than 100 Division I-A football programs in the country. Who knew?

There’s this linebacker named Micah Johnson, a “Mr. Kentucky Football” from Fort Campbell, Ky., who did his home state a big favor by picking UK rather than heading off to Notre Dame. If only Paul Hornung had done that in the ’50s! Coming from an Army  family, Micah was born in Columbus, Ga., and also has lived in Oklahoma, California, Washington State, Ft. Knox, Ky., Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and now Ft. Campbell. His dad, Nathaniel, is currently stationed in Iraq.

UT’s Ishmael, Randy Sanders, is the new quarterbacks coach. He will mentor two promising quarterbacks, 6’5” but fumble-prone junior Andre Woodson and 6’4” handyman sophomore Curtis Pulley, who last year worked as a backup receiver (getting a start against Indiana), a kick-blocking specialist (blocking two field goals against Ole Miss), and—oh, yes—completed 23 of 33 passes for 155 yards against UT.

Tailback Rafael Little covers as much territory as Wal-Mart. He ran for 1,045 yards, caught 46 passes and averaged 16.9 yards on punt returns.

To take up the slack, the Vandy coaches added yoga to their training regimen.

Sophomore Chris Nickson had two appearances at wide receiver last year. Richard Kovalcheck started 11 straight games at quarterback for Arizona, including a 34-27 victory over Arizona State in 2004. A Pac-10 All-Academic selection, he also had 100 hours of community service working with disabled children. He got his bachelor’s degree in business from Arizona and is now taking graduate courses at Vandy’s Owen School of Management. He is eligible because of a graduate student transfer rule. “He’s plainly been there before,” said coach Ted Cain, the offensive coordinator.

Talk about misfortune. Cassen Jackson-Garrison, a junior tailback from Central High, was expected to start when Vandy opens in the Big House against Michigan on Sept. 2. Instead, he’s out indefinitely after undergoing an emergency appendectomy Aug. 14. 

WEST

Junior offensive tackle King David Dunlap V comes from Brentwood Academy and weighs in at 6’8” 318 pounds. His dad, King David Dunlap IV, played at Tennessee State and in the NFL. Last year against South Carolina, King V was credited with two rodeo blocks, a cockroach block and two pancake blocks—most of us know that a pancake block is when an offensive lineman successfully uplifts a rusher and plops him flat on his back like a pancake. Those other terms we’ll leave to the imagination.

KI is potassium iodide, which you take to protect your thyroid if you’re exposed to radiation. KI is also Kenny Irons, the running back who fought with Lou Holtz at South Carolina in 2003, transferred to Auburn, sat out 2004, and made a big hit in 2005 by running for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns in just nine starts. “I got my old swagger back,” he says. “I was the old KI.”

Behind both of them is Ryan Perrilloux, USA Today ’s offensive player of the year in 2004 described as the most dangerous offensive weapon in the nation with the strongest arm anywhere, a quick release and pinpoint accuracy. He redshirted last year.

Free safety LaRon Landry can bench press 405 pounds and squat 520 pounds. He could have gone to the NFL draft but came back for a second BCS championship in four years. It’s possible. The big showdown with Auburn is Sept. 16.

Sophomore John Parker Wilson from Hoover, Ala., takes over at quarterback from matinee idol Brodie Croyle.

Wilson takes snaps from 6’4”, 294-pound Freshman All-America Antoine Caldwell, who started 11 games at guard and moved to center for the Cotton Bowl, making no miscues on his snaps and allowing no sacks in the 13-10 win over Texas Tech. 

A tough schedule includes big games at Florida on Sept. 30, at Neyland Stadium Oct. 21, at LSU on Nov. 11 and at home against Auburn Nov. 18.

The score was 70-17, but actually it wasn’t that close. The Trojans scored 28 points in the first quarter, although they had the ball only 92 seconds. In all the Hogs allowed 736 yards—the most ever in their history.

Quarterback Robert Johnson suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome for the next four games—three losses, interrupted by a win over Louisiana-Monroe—until coach Houston Nutt finally decided it was time for freshman Casey Dick, who to that point had been enjoying his redshirt year on the bench.

Dick started against South Carolina in a 14-10 loss. He threw 12 straight completions and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind 28-17 victory over Ole Miss. And he piloted a 44-10 vanquishing of Miss State and a 19-17 near upset of No. 3-ranked LSU before a crowd of 92,127 in Baton Rouge.

Unfortunately, Dick hurt his lower back this summer, and Johnson is back at the helm with a rebuilt psyche. “He’s settled down and you can tell he’s matured and put last year behind him,” said 6’6” junior split end Marcus Monk, who’s made 72 catches in two years, averaging 14.5 yards per grab.

But how long can it be before the unveiling of freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain? Mustain, from Springdale, Ark., down the road from UA, was the consensus 2005 national prep player of the year (consensus means Gatorade, USA Today , and Parade ).

He picked Arkansas over Notre Dame, Tennessee, Army, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), and Alabama, and three of his receivers—Ben Cleveland, Andrew Norman and Damian Williams—from Springdale High followed him. Oh, yeah, and so did his high school coach, Gus Malzahan, who’s the new Razorbacks offensive coordinator. 

This might seem a little fishy, but Malzahan has quite a record in Arkansas high school football. His Hughes High team upset Pine Bluff Dollarway High in 1994, then fell short of the state title with a final-minute loss to Lonoke, and his Springdale High teams have been in the state title game two times in the past four years, winning in 2005. As our own John Adams generously observed, “When he calls plays, he’ll be calling for every high school coach in the nation.”

Malzahan loves the no-huddle, hurry-up offense. “One reason I hired Gus is because we need to stretch the field vertically.”

With basically the whole Arkansas team (except “Club the Palace” Darren McFadden) back, and Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and many others from USC’s back-to-back-to-just missed-the title-against-Texas Trojan teams gone to the NFL, the Hogs should make it a little more like Moses against the Red Sea when the Trojans journey to Fayetteville on Sept. 2.

Linebacker Quinton Kalep Culberson is a 6’10” state champion high jumper in high school who started at cornerback as a freshman, had 78 tackles, and has started at cornerback and linebacker.   

Though Ragin’ Cajun Ed Orgeron came from the staff of National Champ USC, his team beat Memphis, the Citadel and Kentucky, and that’s it. The Rebels capped the season with a humiliating 35-14 loss to Mississippi State.

Brent Schaeffer was great before he was injured in his freshman season at Tennessee, but wielded a baseball bat in a dorm altercation, was seen as one quarterback too many, and he was dismissed as a bad apple. He attended the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., passed for 40 touchdowns, without incident, but couldn’t report to Ole Miss in late May, as planned, when he learned he had to take one more summer course to graduate. He did so and reported to Oxford in early August.

The defense is led by All-America senior middle linebacker Patrick Willis, was No. 1 in the nation in solo tackles per game (9) and fifth in total tackles (12.8). Look for a made-for-TV movie about this amazing young man, who has persevered despite a difficult history. His mother walked out on him and his three siblings when they were teenagers in Bruceton, Tenn. His father was determined an unfit parent by Child Services, and the kids were placed with foster families. Last summer his younger brother drowned in a swimming hole. “The kid has an unbelievable will to overcome anything that’s put in front of him,” says his foster father, Chris Finley. “That man’s a rock.”

“My family,” says Willis. “I carry them on the field with me whenever I play.”

The “Young Male Problem” and the SEC

Clad in sagging pants and able to focus only microseconds at a time except when playing video games, fewer boys than girls finish high school. Fewer boys go to college, and of those who go, fewer finish.

Maybe UT’s 5-6 season in the quicksand wasn’t Randy Sanders’ fault at all! Maybe it was just a sociological trend! Like boys everywhere, Erik Ainge just didn’t do his homework!

Tom Friedman’s book The World is Flat proposes that our nation’s Napoleon Dynamites will be in for a surprise when they discover that all the jobs they’re halfway qualified for are being snatched up by legions of motivated, tech-savvy people in India.

Why can’t American boys do their studies? Could it be from a lack of Chap Stick? Or too much tether ball?

It’s definitely not for lack of effort from the educational system. Last November, Powell High Assistant Principal Kim Kallenberg went so far as to join the WIVK morning crew in playing “Rocky Top” outside the bedroom door of 6’6” tight-end Lee Smith to celebrate his football scholarship to UT.

This summer, even while rumors were flying that Smith’s transcript had received a picker-upper to help his position in the global economy, the UT Police picked up Smith for driving under the influence. It was 4 a.m., and he’d been driving his Sierra pickup on a sidewalk as part of a “thinking outside the box” U turn. 

Throughout the SEC, “the young male problem” makes for some great stories making their way across the AP wire and into our otherwise humdrum sports pages.

Take Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden, who’s being touted as the next Reggie Bush. As a freshman, McFadden rushed for 1,113 yards, made Freshman All-America, and became only the 7th freshman in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards.

Q. Who are the other six SEC freshmen to rush for more than 1,000 yards?  Everybody, especially Bill Bates, can name one – Herschel Walker. Hint—three of the remaining five were Vols.

A. Emmitt Smith, Reggie Cobb, Chuck Webb, Jamal Lewis and Justin Vincent.    

Unfortunately, partying called. In a parking lot outside Club the Palace in Little Rock, at 4:20 a.m. on July 29, McFadden got in a fight and dislocated a joint in his left toe, requiring complicated surgery. He told police he didn’t know the person he was fighting with. Also, the car his stepbrother was driving was stolen while the fight was going on. (Don’t you hate it when that happens? The car was found later in the morning.) 

Club the Palace is a “private club” because a judge closed the place after police responded to more than 30 crimes or other incidents, including two murders, there in 2004.

The next Reggie Bush? The next O.J. Simpson is more like it.

Bucking this tide, there was good news out of Auburn, which earned the top spot in the NCAA’s rankings of student-athletes’ academic progress among Division I-A public universities in the six top conferences.

The bad news: They did it the old-fashioned way, through phony courses.

In July, The New York Times reported that Auburn athletes took advantage of “directed reading” courses to help boost their grades and remain academically eligible. “A professor in the sociology department reported that 18 football players were among the students who took the courses in 2004. In some cases, the courses in sociology and criminology involved no class time and little work.”

Directed Reading? Try Charlotte Simmons

But this charade is apparently too much for Auburn. Auburn’s explanation of the whole business is supposed to make us feel better. 

The practice of giving grades for no class time and no work came about because the number of majors in the Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work, Criminology and Criminal Justice Department had tripled over the past 15 years (to 695) while the number of professors declined to 15, so they just said, “The heck with classes—let’s party!”

There were some 232 Auburn students who got the same deal as the 18 athletes, including Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who took the courses and made far better grades than in their other schoolwork.

Auburn won’t get into any trouble when the various investigations are through. And anyway, who among us really cares whether big-time athletes go to class?

Nevertheless, these are convenient moments to remind our readers, as journalists probably should from time to time, that big-time college sports is a completely corrupt exploitation of unpaid young people, in which all the compensation—some of which should rightly go to the athletes— is purloined by coaches, who have every interest in the world in perpetuating the system and not a single reason for changing it. 

This point of view is held and voiced by none other than Walter Byers, Head Perpetuator of the NCAA from 1951 to 1987, who in retirement came clean in his book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes (Univ. of Michigan Press, 1995). 

As Byers once told ESPN: The Magazine Executive Editor Steve Wulf, “The coaches own the athletes’ feet, the colleges own the athletes’ bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neo-plantation mentality on the campuses… The wheel of fortune is badly unbalanced in favor of the overseers and against the players.”

Just sayin’.

GAMUT

© 2006 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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