Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Spurrier may have an ace in the hole
By Bruce Feldman ESPN The Magazine
Steve Spurrier will win big at South Carolina and it might be a lot sooner than any of the experts say. For starters, there is some great talent in Columbia, especially RB Demetris Summers and WR Troy Williamson.
The big question is can any of the QBs in the program fit in Spurrier's scheme? Maybe. But we're hearing Spurrier might be in the running for the top free agent in college football -- former PARADE All-American Ben Olson who signed with BYU three years ago, but left on a Mormon mission to Canada and has decided not to return to BYU (NCAA rules allowed him to become, basically, a free agent after his two-year mission).
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Olson had everything scouts look for in terms of size, athleticism, the arm and presence. Most figured he was headed to Arizona State or UCLA, but Miami, Oregon and Cal are all pushing to get him. So is South Carolina, and we're told the school and its new coach have intrigued Olson, who supposedly will make a decision by mid-December.
Oklahoma, Arkansas and K-State are engaged in a quite a battle for a guy who already is high on the radar of NFL scouts. His name is Dave Dixon and he is one of those athletes who instantly gets dubbed "Freak." Dixon is a 6-foot-2, 235-pound middle linebacker/kick returner (yes, that is the combination) for Hutchinson (Kansas) CC, who has put up staggering numbers this season: 161 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 fumble recoveries and 43 TFLs to go with a 28-yard average on his kickoff returns.
"He's a legit 4.4 guy, probably the fastest guy on our team," says Hutch D-coordinator Jason Young. "And he just has a real knack for getting through seams and finding the ball."
Dixon's kick returning talents were discovered when he was goofing off in practice one day, but he looked so good doing it the coaches figured they'd give him a shot in a real game. Smart move. He promptly took one back 90 yards for a touchdown. When asked if they ever toyed with the idea of using Dixon at fullback, Young laughed. "He'd be a tailback and he'd be better than any tailback we've faced this year."
While Oklahoma would seem like the favorite (MLB Lance Mitchell is a senior), don't bet against Arkansas. The Razorbacks do well recruiting the Jayhawk Conference and receivers coach James Shibest won two JC national titles when he coached the Butler County team.
Conspiracy theorist Bob Stoops' rant last week about a conflict of interest among ESPN analysts broached an interesting subject. Kinda. Coaches voting in the poll though would be more guilty of a conflict of interest than anything since they could vote teams that would factor in "raising" their opposition higher to better their cause. But there isn't a much better situation on the writers side since most beat writers who vote in the writers poll seldom get to see other teams aside from the ones they cover. So who is most qualified to do the rankings? Maybe the oddsmakers in Las Vegas should do the rankings to determine who has the best teams.
Speaking of Stoops, the OU coach plucked the redshirt off corner Marcus Walker two months into the season when his secondary was getting beaten often after CB Antonio Perkins went down with an injury. On Saturday, Stoops made another move he probably didn't want to make, yanking kicker Trey DiCarlo and replacing him with Garrett Hartley. That meant removing Hartley's redshirt in the 11th game of the season. It was a move Stoops felt like he had to make after DiCarlo, a former Groza Award finalist, who was only 2 of 9 from beyond 30 yards, missed another field goal earlier in the Baylor game.
The Big 12 North has been a toilet, but the lone bright spot has to be the Iowa State Cyclones, who with a win over disappointing Missouri would win the division title. Pretty amazing considering at mid-season many thought ISU coach Dan McCarney was toast.
The coach's story is pretty compelling since the Cyclones have a lame duck AD and some around the program didn't think the school could find anyone who would take the job. ISU, which has won four straight, is actually ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in almost every meaningful category (outside of total defense.) The team's stars are a host of freshmen and sophomore TB Stevie Hicks, a big, fast Nebraska kid who actually picked ISU over the Huskers, who wanted him as a linebacker or fullback. Led by Hicks, the Cyclones pulled off a tremendous comeback at K-State last weekend, a place where they hadn't even led in a game since 1990. ISU rallied to score 28 points in less than 11 minutes to overcome a 14-pound deficit.
In debating a USC-minded buddy in a bar out here in L.A. on the merits of other conferences (he is convinced the SEC is overrated since it relies on, he says, mostly archaic offenses.) I wondered about what kind of great running backs, aside from Cal's J.J. Arrington, the Trojans had to deal with this season. He offered up Arizona's Mike Bell (a good back but not exactly Ronnie Brown or Ciatrick Fason.)
On Saturday I realized who he should've countered with -- Cal backup Marshawn Lynch, a slippery freshman averaging over 9 yards per carry. Lynch is spectacular and a big reason why Cal is No. 7 in the country in rushing, netting 254 yards a game. It's funny because as great as Arrington has been, he gets overshadowed by superstar QB Aaron Rodgers. But ask any coach in the West, especially on the Stanford staff and they'll tell you the most underrated guy in the Pac-10 may be Lynch.
Louisville continues to make a lot of noise on the recruiting trail. The Cards recently landed Nate Harris, the country's top JC outside linebacker. The 6-0, 225-pound tackling machine from Dodge City (Kansas) CC had a team-high 86 tackles and three fumble recoveries.
One recruiter told us three years ago Harris was the most impressive LB prospect in his class (more impressive than A.J. Nicholson, Ahmad Brooks or A.J. Hawk). The guy was just a heat-seeking missile. However after Harris signed with hometown Miami, he was arrested and charged with armed robbery three months before he was scheduled to report to UM. Harris, who was sentenced to six months in a prison boot camp and subsequently released by Miami, will arrive at U of L in time for spring ball.
Lost in the buzz over the Big Ten's three most dynamic freshmen (Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Ted Ginn, Jr.) was the evolution of Iowa QB Drew Tate. A Drew Brees clone, Tate showed against the vaunted Wisconsin D-line why he's a rising star as he repeatedly turned busted plays into big gainers thanks to his ability to avoid a heavy rush. Tate was sacked four times but he still managed to complete 15-of-24 passes for 186 yards and three TDs in Iowa's blowout win.
Tate's development was pivotal for a team that won a share of the Big Ten title despite playing most of the season with its fifth-string tailback.
Rumor Mill: Names we're hearing for the East Carolina vacancy: Virginia assistant Ron Prince, Louisville DC Mike Cassity (a one-time ECU assistant); former NC State head coach Dick Sheriden; Furman's Bob Lamb, Denver Broncos assistant Kirk Doll (a former ECU D-lineman) and Jeff Jagodzinski, Falcons TEs coach who coached OL at ECU from '89-96.
Also, don't be surprised if former Illinois coach Lou Tepper, now at Edinboro, resurfaces at Western Michigan. Other names rumored for the WMU job include Illini DC Mike Mallory; Bowling Green DC Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit, Stanford's OC who had great success in the late '90s running the WMU offense.
Parting Shot: Thankfully the Chris Rix era is coming to an end in Tallahassee. Rix was like a black cloud hanging over FSU, but even though he's moving on, one big problem may still be there. That's FSU offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden who continues to struggle managing the FSU offense. Against UF, the 'Noles never got in sync and were a pathetic 1 of 15 on third down conversions. On the season, FSU is dead last in the ACC on third downs by a wide margin, converting on just 22 percent. Duke, the next worst team, is hitting on 30 percent. Considering the talent FSU has there, the problem lies at the feet of the inept QBs and the playcaller.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.