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Mountain West ConferenceUtes hope to scale heights again Whittingham, QB Johnson step into pressure roles By Mark Anderson Las Vegas Review-JournalThe Mountain West Conference's most challenging encores this season are in Salt Lake City.First-year Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, the Utes' longtime defensive coordinator, must replace Urban Meyer, who did the unthinkable.Sophomore Brian Johnson, the Utes' talented but young quarterback, must follow No. 1 NFL Draft pick Alex Smith.Not to mention the Utes as a team trying to prove that last season's undefeated run and Fiesta Bowl victory were more than a one-time thing.The first test comes Friday against Arizona, but Whittingham downplayed his role in trying to replace Meyer, who is at Florida trying to figure out how to beat Wyoming this weekend by 40 points.Whittingham tried to convince Mountain West media this week that a coach has as much influence on a team's success as the equipment manager."No question, it's the players," he said. "Coaching is overrated."Since taking over for Meyer, Whittingham said off-the-field demands have been greater than he realized they'd be."I anticipated it to a certain extent, but the time I've spent sitting down and watching film has been limited," Whittingham said.Johnson also has a difficult task in trying to approach the success of Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist. Johnson showed promise in mop-up roles last season and in spring and preseason practices."This is his time," Whittingham said. "He's handled everything well so far. So now, we have to see him under the lights when the game is in the balance."TOUGH OPENER, PART I -- Defending Las Vegas Bowl champion Wyoming has the demanding challenge of visiting Florida.Meyer surely wants to impress Gators fans with a lopsided first victory."Everybody can't play their first game at home against Cupcake State," Cowboys coach Joe Glenn said. "It's not who I would've picked. I'd rather be Nebraska and playing Maine at home."To prepare, Glenn is piping in crowd noise and working with signals to call plays."We can't get 90,000 in the stadium, so we'll try to make some noise and I'll probably break a law here in Laramie," Glenn said.TOUGH OPENER, PART II -- New MWC member Texas Christian doesn't have an easy first task, opening at Oklahoma."I didn't have anything to do with scheduling them," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "They lost a lot of good players, but that's a program that reloads more than it rebuilds. I'm interested to see how we adjust to the crowd and all that stuff."ENDANGERED RIVALRY -- The annual games between Colorado and Colorado State have produced some dramatic football, but the series is in jeopardy after 2006 because Colorado wants to play every other game at home and none in Fort Collins."We couldn't live with a situation like that," Colorado State athletic director Mark Driscoll told the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "Either it's going to be Boulder and Fort Collins, or it's going to be every year in (Denver's) Invesco."Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn was San Diego State's AD last season, but seems to have quickly taken on the hard-line BCS mentality.
Atlantic Coast ConferenceAtlanta Journal-ConstitutionATLANTIC DIVISIONBOSTON COLLEGEUnlike last season, when BC listed 17 first-year players on its depth chart, coach Tom O'Brien unveiled a two-deep with seven first-year players as backups. Among them: five redshirt freshmen and freshmen defensive end Jim Ramella and safety Paul Anderson. "The preponderance of numbers right now are the sophomores on the depth chart," O'Brien said, pointing out 18 who are listed on BC's roster as starters or backups. . . . Defensive tackle Justin Bell (Achillies' tendon) and tight end Trey Koziol (torn ACL) are out for the season•Next: Saturday at BYUCLEMSONRunning back James Davis of Douglass High might be among several first-year players to play this season. Davis, who recently missed two days of practice when he returned to Atlanta for "personal reasons," came back with a flourish, rushing 15 times for 69 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown, in an Aug. 20 scrimmage. . . . In February, Tommy Bowden called his recruiting class his best in six seasons at Clemson. The impact might be immediate. "I wouldn't be surprised if we played seven or eight true freshmen this year," he said.•Next: Saturday vs. Texas A&MFLORIDA STATEFSU hopes to incorporate some of the strategy coaches learned from visiting with the Tennessee Titans and other NFL staffs during the summer. "And it's pretty good if you block it," coach Bobby Bowden said. "If you block [effectively], it's all pretty good. If you don't block, I don't care what you do — it's not going to look good." . . . The Seminoles returned to practice Tuesday after taking a break Monday for the first day of classes. Good timing. The fringes of Hurricane Katrina sent Monday afternoon rain bands to Tallahassee.•Next: Monday vs. MiamiMARYLANDLinebacker D'Qwell Jackson is the uncontested leader of the defense — and rightly so. The senior led the ACC in tackles last season and is on the watch list for a slew of honors. Jackson and linebackers William Kershaw and David Holloway make up the defense's strongest unit, critical to a team looking to rebound from a disappointing 2004. "We don't want to go through what we went through last year," Jackson said. . . . Junior nose tackle Rob Armstrong will undergo back surgery and miss the season.•Next: Saturday vs. Navy, at BaltimoreN.C. STATEThe biggest debate of the preseason — who will start at tailback — has finally been resolved. Sophomore Darrell Blackman currently sits in the starter's role, thanks in large part to his versatility. "He has the greatest understanding of the offense," offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. "He's got excellent hands, and he's got great running ability as well." Others will see time in the backfield Sunday vs. Virginia Tech.•Next: Sunday vs. Va. TechWAKE FORESTRunning back Chris Barclay and cornerback Riley Swanson will miss the opener. Swanson was cited for marijuana possession last spring during a traffic stop in Winston-Salem. Barclay was in the passenger side. After the incident, coach Jim Grobe elected to suspend both players. . . . Micah Andrews, a sophomore from Duluth who is the son of former Falcons star William Andrews, should start for Barclay. . . . Despite 16 returning starters, Wake is one of the country's youngest teams. Wake is tied for second with the fewest senior starters (five).•Next: Thursday vs. VanderbiltCOASTAL DIVISIONDUKEDuke has a freshman kicker and 12 other first-year players on the two-deep. "How worried am I? I'm scared to death," coach Ted Roof said. "But you know what? That's where we are." Joe Surgan beat out Randy DeSmyter for the spot at kicker. "I tell you what, he doesn't act like a freshman kicker," Roof said. "When coaches correct him and provide constructive criticism, he doesn't pout or hang his head.'' . . . One rookie who won't play Saturday is highly regarded defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, who hasn't recovered from knee surgery.•Next: Saturday at East CarolinaMIAMICoach Larry Coker says Greg Olsen could be "as good as any tight end that we've had" — big words for a guy following in the footsteps of Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. Olsen caught 16 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown in nine games last season. Olsen is "definitely going to be a great target for me, especially when I get in trouble," QB Kyle Wright said. . . . Receivers Sinorice Moss and Darnell Jenkins and linebackers Roger McIntosh and Leon Williams are healing from nagging injuries.•Next: Monday at Florida StateNORTH CAROLINAThe battle to replace All-America center Jason Brown is a compelling one between senior Steven Bell and sophomore Ben Lemming, who is trying to make the same transition from tackle that Brown did three years ago. Where Lemming might have the edge in size, strength and technique, Bell has it in experience. "They're in a five-mile race with a mile left to go, and they're neck-and-neck," line coach Hal Hunter said. . . . Connor Barth is on the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Collegiate Placekicker Award.•Next: Sept. 10 at Georgia TechVIRGINIALinebacker Bryan White, a senior when he played at Temple in the opening game of the 2004 season, is a likely starter Saturday if All-ACC pick Ahmad Brooks can't play. White underwent back surgery early in the 2004 season and the NCAA granted his hardship appeal for a fifth season of eligibility. . . . Brooks, who had surgery in January to regenerate bone growth in his knee, should be ready for the Cavs' Sept. 17 game at Syracuse. Missing the opener will increase the chances he will be 100 percent for the trip to the Carrier Dome.•Next: Saturday vs. Western MichiganVIRGINIA TECHFreshman Sergio Render, who had been switched from the defensive line to the offensive line, returned home to Newnan when it was determined he hadn't been OK'd by the NCAA's clearinghouse. Render had been practicing on a waiver Tech got from the NCAA. "It's disappointing because we really think Sergio could have helped us some if he had been able to stay here and work," coach Frank Beamer said. He plans to re-enroll in January. . . . Cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris is the only freshman who is a lock to play this season.•Next: Sunday at N.C. State
Southeastern ConferenceAtlanta Journal-ConstitutionFLORIDAIt is rumored that junior running back DeShawn Wynn has been suspended for the opener, but coach Urban Meyer hasn't confirmed that. "The guys who play are the guys who have invested in the program," said Meyer, leaving questions about who will start Saturday. Meyer could go with Skyler Thornton, who showed promise late last season. At one point in camp, Meyer said Thornton was running No. 1 but isn't committing to him now. . . . UF also hasn't named a backup quarterback between freshman Josh Portis and junior Gavin Dickey.•Next: Saturday vs. WyomingKENTUCKYTen freshmen are listed on the two-deep chart, including starting middle linebacker Braxton Kelley, who moved to No. 1 when Joe Schuler suffered a concussion. While the 'Cats will be relying on youngsters defensively, coordinator Mike Archer said they'll be faster because of it. "When a guy makes a mistake, instead of it being 40 yards, it'll be a 7-yard gain," he said. . . . Out for Sunday: defensive tackles Jason Leger (knee) and Ricky Abren (wrist); cornerback Jarrell Williams (groin); and offensive lineman Micah Jones (knee).•Next: Sunday vs. LouisvilleTENNESSEEA year after getting blown out 34-7 by Florida State, UAB takes aim at another power — Tennessee. UAB coach Watson Brown doesn't think his team will be intimidated by "physically, the best team we've played in the 11 years I've been here." Added Brown: "I think our kids are confident. . . . We're not predicting victory, by any means, but I think we'll be confident." . . . Vols defensive back Jonathan Wade (hip) and tailback Ja'Kouri Williams (knee) are questionable; defensive end Jared Hostetter (knee) is doubtful.•Next: Saturday vs. UABSOUTH CAROLINAOne day before kickoff, Steve Spurrier & Co. are almost done with their preparation for the opener. As a result of the Gamecocks' fourth-quarter brawl with Clemson last season, they'll have to do without three starters: Fullback Daccus Turman, defensive end Charles Silas and senior offensive guard Freddy Saint-Preux will serve one-game suspensions. . . . With Saint-Preux out, sophomore Brook Antonio will start at right guard. With a line that already was a concern, quarterback Blake Mitchell could feel some pressure.•Next: Thursday vs. Central FloridaVANDERBILTKwane Doster, who likely would have been the starting tailback, was killed last Dec. 26. The school will honor him in a number of ways this season. His locker remains in the Vanderbilt dressing room, and at every away game, players will set up a locker with Doster's No. 1 jersey. Also, players will wear Doster's nickname and number on their helmets — "Dot 1." . . . Backup quarterback Steven Bright has been moved to fullback; redshirt freshman Chris Nickson was promoted to second-string quarterback.•Next: Thursday at Wake ForestWESTALABAMAFor a team racked by injuries a year ago, Alabama is about as healthy can be. Quarterback Brodie Croyle (knee surgery), running back Kenneth Darby (sports hernia surgery) and fullback Tim Castille (knee surgery) are all 100 percent. Left guard Antoine Caldwell's return from a sprained ankle has stabilized the offensive line, while defensive backs Roman Harper (hamstring pull) and Ramzee Robinson (back spasms) are set to go. . . . Out Saturday: guard B.J. Stabler (knee surgery) and tight end Trent Davidson (foot surgery).•Next: Saturday vs. Middle TennesseeARKANSASSophomore quarterback Robert Johnson, who will make his first start Saturday against the school formerly known as Southwest Missouri, missed some snaps the second week of practice because of a sore groin. He says he's now 100 percent healthy and won't be limited at all for the game. . . . Athletics director Frank Broyles gave coach Houston Nutt a vote of confidence this week, telling members of the Little Rock Touchdown Club that Nutt was ''the perfect person for the job." Added Broyles: "Houston is there to stay.''•Next: Saturday vs. Missouri StateAUBURNJunior Tre Smith is the Tigers' No. 1 running back and sophomore Carl Stewart beat out junior Kenny Irons (Dacula) as No. 2. Redshirt freshman Brad Lester is fourth string. . . . Junior defensive end Marquies Gunn will start over sophomore Quentin Groves, who tied Stanley McClover for the team lead in sacks in 2004. Gunn's run-stopping ability gave him the edge. . . . Ex-safety Karibi Dede leap-frogged 2004 starter Kevin Sears for the strongside linebacker job. Freshman Tray Blackmon (LaGrange) is No. 2 on the weakside.•Next: Saturday vs. Georgia TechLOUISIANA STATEThe team and the facilities weathered Hurricane Katrina, but Saturday's season-opener against North Texas has been postponed. "The events of [Monday and Tuesday] have made it clear that this is not the time to play a football game," LSU athletics director Skip Bertman said. "This is a dire situation that rivals any in the history of our state, and our priorities are on participating in recovery efforts." LSU, which has bye weeks Sept. 17 and Oct. 29, hopes to announce a make-up date for North Texas in the next few days.•Next: Sept. 10 vs. Arizona StateMISSISSIPPIIt was supposed to be a formality — coach Ed Orgeron naming senior Micheal Spurlock the team's starting quarterback. Instead, Orgeron threw everyone a curve when he announced the job would be a game-time decision. Orgeron said the improved play of sophomore Robert Lane has made the call much tougher. "I thought it was going to be very obvious," Orgeron said. "I'd like to give credit to Robert Lane and what he's done. But I also want to say Micheal Spurlock has gone out every day and competed very well."•Next: Monday at MemphisMISSISSIPPI STATEWhen coach Sylvester Croom realized Sunday that Hurricane Katrina was going to strike Starkville late Monday afternoon, he changed the practice schedule. Instead of the regular 3:45 p.m. start, the Bulldogs hit the field at 6 a.m. Croom said his team was able to get a lot accomplished in preparation for Saturday's opener. "The game plan is pretty much already done," Croom said. . . . MSU is set to play Tulane on Sept. 17 in New Orleans, but with the damage to the Superdome, the game could be in question.•Next: Saturday vs. Murray State
Big 12 By David SessionsFort Worth Star-TelegramBAYLOR SICK DAZEA week after 18 players came down with strep throat, Bears coach Guy Morriss said the team is recovering. "It wasn't really just one position, it was scattered through all positions," Morriss said. "We had two days where we were pretty short-handed there."Up next: at SMU, SaturdayCOLORADO AUTOMATIC POINTSCoach Gary Barnett is glad to return one of the nation's best kickers in Mason Crosby, who led the nation in 50-plus-yard field goals -- six, including a 60-yarder -- last year. "He's almost an automatic three points for you once you cross the 50-yard line," Barnett said. "He may be a once-in-every-25-years kind of player."Up next: vs. Colorado State, SaturdayIOWA STATE KICKED AROUNDSpecial teams was often an Achilles' heel for the Cyclones last year, as they made only 11 of 21 field goals. But coach Dan McCarney saw positives, too. "We blocked 10 kicks last year, we scored on some situations in special teams, we ended up leading the Big 12 in kickoff returns," McCarney said.Up next: vs. Illinois State, SaturdayKANSAS BOTH SIDES NOWTop cornerback Charles Gordon will continue to take snaps on offense this season, a year after catching 15 passes for 150 yards and two TDs. Gordon's role at cornerback is his top priority. "Obviously, Charles is a mainstay for us at corner," coach Mark Mangino said. "He'll be able to help both units, there's no question about that."Up next: vs. Florida Atlantic, SaturdayKANSAS STATE QB QUESTIONSCoach Bill Snyder said injured quarterback Dylan Meier could play in the season opener, but Allen Webb is a more likely choice for now. Snyder would like to decide on a No. 1 starter eventually: "I would prefer that you've got a guy and that's your guy."Up next: vs. Florida International, SaturdayMISSOURI CHASE IS ONLast year's Star-Telegram High School Player of the Year, QB Chase Daniel of Carroll, will not redshirt but instead be the backup to Brad Smith. "He will play whenever the opportunity arises," coach Gary Pinkel said of Daniel.Up next: at Arkansas State, SaturdayNEBRASKA TWO-YEAR PLAN?Coach Bill Callahan hopes the 23-interception lesson of 2004 is over, but his offense remains unproven. "We're still awfully young in a lot of respects in a lot of positions," Callahan said. "There's a learning curve with any offense."Up next: vs. Maine, SaturdayOKLAHOMA RUN AND GUNIt's been a while since OU had an extremely mobile quarterback. Coach Bob Stoops believes junior Paul Thompson can change that. "He has the kind of feet that give you a lot of options," Stoops said. "It gives us a different dimension that we haven't had since I've been here."Up next: vs. TCU, SaturdayOKLAHOMA STATE SEEING DOUBLEIn the Cowboys' quarterback race, veteran Donovan Woods beat out newcomer Bobby Reid, but coach Mike Gundy said both could play in the opener -- at the same time on some downs. "They're both skilled athletes who run fast," Gundy said. "Bobby may be a quarterback and Donovan may be a running back or a wideout, and vice versa."Up next: vs. Montana State, SaturdayTEXAS ALL THE RAGELouisiana-Lafayette might look like an early-season punching bag, but coach Mack Brown remembers the Ragin' Cajuns' landing the first blow in 2000: "We looked up, and they'd had a 15-play drive for three points, intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown, and we were down 10-0," Brown said. The Longhorns then rattled off 52 unanswered points.Up next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, SaturdayTEXAS A&M NO EASY STARTMost Big 12 teams start the season against lesser opponents, but the Aggies travel to "Death Valley" to face Clemson. "We have about as challenging an opener as anybody does," coach Dennis Franchione said. "Without a game that doesn't count like the NFL has, a little bit easier appearing opener would be better."Up next: at Clemson, SaturdayTEXAS TECH ADVANCE NOTICEThe Red Raiders are idle this weekend while the rest of the conference plays, so they'll watch first opponent Florida International take on Kansas State. "We feel like our conference is one of the tops in the country," assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill said, "and to get a chance to watch them play and the personnel and what they do against a team from our league, it helps me quite a bit."Up next: vs. Florida International, Sept. 10
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