Brooks Clark's patented Runyanesque peek at the season to come! Guaranteed to cure goiter, gout, and goose bumps!
by Brooks Clark
If we think of this SEC season as a short story, we should probably be looking for an unexpected twist at the end, if for no other reason than that our cast of characters sound they've come right from the pages of Damon Runyan.
For example, fellows named Deuce McAllister and Pork Chop Womack would fit right into a floating crap game hosted by Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson. (Of course one can't help but wonder how it happened that Womack and his Mississippi State teammate Pig Prather aren't playing with the Razorbacks.)
The SEC's quarterback ranks are particularly mellifluous, from Josh Booty and Romaro Miller at LSU and Ole Miss, to Andrew Zow and Tyler Watts at Alabama, to Brock Berlin (waiting to unseat Jesse Palmer at Florida), Casey Clausen and A.J. Suggsready to spell Joey Mathews at UTand Jared Lorenzen, whose victory in the quarterback contest at Kentucky sent the very productive Dusty Bonner off to Valdosta State.
Beyond the melodious monikers, our conference offers a scenario that promises surprises. We have three teams rightly expecting big years (Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss) and a large group of strong programs in various stages of rebuilding or regroupingwith new quarterbacks, new lines, new defenses, new coaches.
The Bulldogs think this is their year. Reformed pro baseball player Quincy Carter is ridiculously good at quarterback. Jasper Sanks has always had the potential to be as good a running back as Jamal Lewis (they were Georgia high school rivals). The Bulldogs have their whole team back. And when they go one the road, they'll certainly look to placekicker Brett Kirouac to invoke the spirit of beat literature.
All this is true. Georgia will have a great season, and they play Tennessee at Athens. But the fact is that Tennessee has the mojo on Georgia, and although their meeting on Oct. 7 "will be a dandy," as Keith Jackson would say, here's Metro Pulse's prediction (as Johnny Cochran might say)
Between the Hedges, UT has the edges.
So the invincible Gators ended last season by a) just barely beating Vanderbilt, 13-6, b) scoring just 20 points against sieve-like South Carolina, then c) losing three straight for the first time in Spurrier's decade at Florida.
Even the press guidewhere thorny truths are traditionally dressed up like bonbonsdeclares that, "The offense became uncharacteristically non-productive for much of the second half of the season." As honest as it is, it doesn't quite capture the complete humiliation of losing 34-7 to Alabama in the SEC title game.
Could the Gators be suffering from Spurrier Burnout? Orbetter statedhow could they not be? All the tinkering, the last-minute plays, the posturing, the whining, the sarcasm, that scrunched-up faceit's gotta get old.
"Well, I admit the last few years I have occasionally lost it a little bit too much," said Spurrier to ESPN's Dan Patrick. "It's just that when mistakes happen because of mental errors, it really upsets me. But I'm trying to be more balanced and even tempered." Oh, sure.
Nine of 11 defensive starters are back, but several were beaten out for their positions in spring practiceso the defense will be tough. Look for quarterback Jesse Palmer to get jerked around as Spurrier works freshman Brock Berlin and redshirt freshman Rex Grossman into the line-up.
UT will prevail this time, with its new starting quarterback getting surprising protection from a newly formed (but star-filled) offensive line.
Everybody loves a quarterback derby.
In rare cases, the outcome seems certain. Like the day John Elway showed up to practice at Stanford as a freshman and started imprinting receivers with "Elway crosses," the tiny marks drilled into the skin by the nose of the football as it strikes the mesh football jersey. Legend has it that three quarterbacks transferred the next day.
Heath Shuler went up to Washington as the anointed quarterback of the future, but Shuler held out, then got hurt, giving an opening the working man's hero, fellow rookie Gus Frerotte from Tulsa, to play for much of their first season. Before their second season, Redskins coach Norv Turner announced a contest. After Frerotte was announced as the winner, Shuler said it felt like a rigged game, and it may have been. All along Frerotte had an advantageRedskin icon Sonny Jurgensen had taken a shine to him and offered helpful tips that made him look good. Frerotte prevailedand still makes his living in the league (although his tenure with the Redskins was damaged when he celebrated a touchdown pass by jumping up and ramming his helmet into a hanging tarp in the back of the end zone, which turned out to be a solid cinderblock wall).
Six falls ago at UT the question was whether Peyton Manning or Branndon Stewart was the quarterback of the future. Stewart wasfor Texas A&M. (And, of course, the third quarterback in the 1994 derby is now flirting with .400 in a manner rarely seen since the Splendid Splinter in 1941.)
In retrospect, we can all see that Peyton was eventually going to ascend to glory in the NFL, making All-Pro in his second season. But it wasn't so easy back on NFL draft day in 1998, when the choice was between Manning and Ryan Leaf. It was a conundrum that thousands of experts in the press got 180 degrees, exactly, 100 percent wrong. As Yogi Berra said, "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future."
This year's four-man bake-off at UT quickly became a three-man bake-off, when John Rattay transferred to Arizona in July. Californian Casey Clausen came out fast from the gate; in fact, too fast. He must now wait for the tendons in his shoulder to heal. Hotshot Georgian A.J. Suggs took a lead around the first turn. But Joey Mathews of Sevierville, who could be seen as a hometown underdog, took the lead in the home stretch and held it across the finish line.
The coaching staff deserves credit for keeping this contest orderly and fair. It put pressure on the contestants, but not to the detriment of their confidence or their relations to each other. Let's see whose quarterbacks fare better this seasonUT's or Florida's.
Vanderbilt: This season is it
Vandy's first winning season since 1982. The defense held Florida to 13 points in '99. The quarterbacks have been fully treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome and they're ready to face the rush again.
Some Knoxville fans are hoping to see Farragut High graduate Darren Rothenberg start at offensive tackle, and he may be inclined to repay the no-class cheap shot dealt upon him late in last year's Tennessee game on one of those "somebody moved before the snap" plays.
It didn't help that local newscasts replayed the foul all evening, with accompanying chuckles from perky anchorpersons. To Phil Fulmer's credit, he was quite visible on the sidelines chewing out the offending defender for his malfeasance. But God help the UT defensive lineman opposite Rothenberg when the Vols foray to Nashville. Can you say, "pancake"? *
Prediction: a big scare on Nov. 25 in Adelphia Stadium.
UT 17, Vanderbilt 10.
the term used to describe an offensive lineman successfully lifting a defensive lineman and plopping him onto his keister.
For the past three seasons, coach Hal Mumme's quixotic approach has been endearing, especially as his pass-happy "western" offense has yielded gazillions of yards and two bowl trips. But last spring he may have shot himself in the foot.
Last year Tim Couch passed the aerial command to Dusty Bonner, who led the SEC with 3,266 yards and 26 TDs. Bonner's reward? After spring practice Mumme, after assuring Bonner that he still had the starting job, pulled a switcheroo. He informed Bonner that, after looking at tapes of spring practice, he'd decided to start the Incredible Hulk6'4", 270-pound redshirt freshman Jared Lorenzen, who may actually weigh in closer to 300. The press guide describes him as "Blessed with a rocket arm and quite nimble for a player his size." Translation: "Razes brick armaments factories with bare hands as a summer job. Likes to uproot hardwoods!"
Bonner transferred to Valdosta State, a Division II school where he can play this fall. Lorenzen is a very large question mark. Perhaps capable of dealing out some Elway crosses, he'll have a very rough outing against UT on Nov. 18.
Prediction: three sacks, five hurries, two interceptions.
"South Carolina" is an anagram for "alota scorin u." That's a lot a scoring for Unot them. The Gamecocks were the nation's worst offense in '99, but their 21-game losing streak is No. 1. Another high-water markthey played an NCAA-record six quarterbacks in the course of last season. And finally, as Lou Holtz likes to observe, "We raise more money per win than any school in the land."
Holtz suffered a variety of personal tragedies last year, and the team suffered injury after injury. Holtz's wife, Beth, is in remission from her breast cancer. We wish them all well.
It's amnesia time in Tuscaloosa! A year ago coach Mike DuBose was in deep doo-doo for some Clinton-esque hanky-panky, and the university honchos did their best to act upset about it. But vindication is sweet.
With the SEC titleand right now nothing elseunder his belt, DuBose is sitting in the catbird seat, with basically the whole team returning.
With superstar quarterback Andrew Zow backed up by Tyler Watts, the Tide has a one-two quarterback punch recalling the days of Namath and Stabler. "It's a wonderful situation," says DuBose. "Both will play." Linebacker Saleem Rasheed is a pre-season All-America, even though he's just a sophomore.
The Tide will be favored in Knoxville on Oct. 21. An upset is possible, but not probable.
It's no secret that lots of us in Knoxville, including his former colleagues, are enjoying every moment of coach David Cutcliffe's success. A decent, caring person. A gifted quarterback's coach. And now a top of the line head coach. He's family, so it's all OK. Sophomore Romaro Miller, a Parade All-America from Shannon, Miss., has absolutely responded to Cutcliffe's tutelage. Peyton Manning's brother Eli is waiting in the wings.
And here comes the Heisman pitch, the first at Ole Miss since 30 years ago and a young man named Archie. This time it's not Jughead. It's Deuce McAllister, a tailback with all the credentials along with the most important allies of alla passing threat like Miller, a wily offensive mind like Cutcliffe, and a running back in the same backfield, Joe Gunn, who will keep defenses honest. McAllister wears No. 22 (Double Deuce). But it will be a 23Nov. 23when the Rebels upset Mississippi State.
Born Floyd Seneca Womack in Cleveland, Miss., he got his nickname from his mother, who thought he resembled Pork Chop Cash, a local pro wrestler. Now Pork Chop Womack is a 6'3", 328-pound offensive tackle, who is lucky to play on the same team as "Dog Safety" Edward Devon Prather, who earned his nickname, "Pig," from his teachers in honor of his eating habits.
This is a rebuilding year, especially on defense, for Jackie Sherrill's very solid program. Sherrill is a Bear Bryant protégé, with lots of winning habits. One such habit is that, whenever Sherrill finds himself in a room with someone expressing negative attitudes of one kind or another, he stands up and leaves. He feels these attitudes are highly contagious, and doesn't like to be around them. Kinda makes you think.
Coach Houston Nutt continues to attract accolades as a class act and an excellent coach. The Razorbacks lost all their skill people on offense, including quarterback Clint Stoerner.
Stoerner's anointed successor, Gary Brashears, apparently disliked the rigors of two-a-day practices. One day he walked off the practice field and quit the team. The starting signal-caller, therefore, will be 24-year-old sophomore Robby Hampton. Like Georgia's Quincy Carter and LSU's Josh Booty, Hampton came back to college football after a career in minor-league baseball. His main target will be 6'4" senior Boo Williams, whose cousin, Tamarick Vanover, plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The way the schedule stacks up, the Hogs may end the season with three losses in a row (Ole Miss, UT and Mississippi State) before beating LSU in Little Rock.
Recent seasons have been hard on the Tigers' self esteem. "I was pond scum. I was down there at the bottom," says quarterback Ben Leard about his sophomore year, when he was pounded like pi–ata and rolled out like a wholesale carpet.
As a junior, despite suffering a separated shoulder and a concussion, he tied an SEC record for completion percentage (70.7) and set an SEC record for lowest percentage of interceptions (.23) in a season.
Entering his second year, coach Tommy Tuberville has finished his housecleaning from the Terry Bowden era, so the record will improve fairly rapidly.
New coach Nick Saban has a resume that reads like a coaching Who's Who. He played and assistant coached at Kent State under Don James (longtime dean of the Pac-10 at the University of Washington), assistant coached at Syracuse, West Virginia (under Don Nehlen), Ohio State (under Earle Bruce), Navy (under George Welsh), Michigan State (under George Perles), the Houston Oilers (under Jerry Glanville). He then moved to Toledo (as head coach), the Cleveland Browns (as defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick), then Michigan State, as head coach for five years, leading the Spartans out of the wilderness of NCAA probation.
August 31, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 35
© 2000 Metro Pulse