Just call this past Saturday “Step-up Saturday.” Numerous teams that needed big games from certain individuals got those needed performances. A quick look:
lColorado and tailback Chris Brown. The Buffs were coming off a 40-3 loss to USC and looked adrift. Brown stopped the drifting against UCLA, running for 188 yards and three touch downs on 26 carries as the Buffs rolled 31-17. “The difference this week was our lines,” Brown said. “We could tell they were wearing down by the end of the third quarter.” UCLA FS Matt Ware said the Buffs “were tougher than I thought.”
lFlorida and quarterback Rex Grossman. Grossman danced on the Neyland Stadium turf Saturday after going 20-of-34 for 324 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators upset Tennessee. It was a huge win for the Gators, who had numerous doubters after losing to Miami, then playing poorly against Ohio. It also was a huge win for Grossman, who really appeared to be struggling in Florida’s new offense.
lOle Miss and quarterback Eli Manning. Manning really hadn’t played that well through the season’s first three games, rendering moot his dad’s wishes that the school not promote him for the Heisman. But Eli stepped it up Saturday, throwing for a career-high 386 yards and two touch downs as the Rebels beat Vandy 45-38. Ole Miss blew a 38-17 fourth-quarter lead, but Manning went five-of-five on the game-winning drive.
lNC State and tailback T.A. McLendon. The Wolfpack built a 38-10 lead before spitting the bit and letting Texas Tech rally for a 45-45 tie. But the Wolfpack won 51-48 in overtime, thanks to 150 yards and five touch downs from McLendon, a true freshman. McLendon has eight touch downs in NCSU’s first five games, but he has a long way to go_a long, long way_before he comes close to matching what he did last season at Albemarle (N.C.) High, when he scored 71 TDs. That is a national high school record, as are the 178 TDs in his high school career.
lVirginia Tech and free safety Willie Pile. Pile and the rest of the Hokies’ defenders knew that if they could stymie Texas A&M’s running game, the Hokies would be in good shape for a win. Pile did his part, with 10 tackles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a pass break-up. The Hokies’ 13-3 victory made them the first non-conference team to win at A&M since Alabama in 1988. Heisman watchWhile Rex Grossman professes not to be worried about the Heisman, it’s always fun to speculate about the most-overhyped award in sports. Thus, here’s a list of our top five candidates, listed alphabetically.
lOhio State tailback Maurice Clarett: Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Clarett missed Saturday’s game with Cincinnati and the Buckeyes struggled. He has good stats (471 yards, six touch downs in three games) and a load of talent; in addition, the Buckeyes should be in or near the top 10 all season. But he’s a true freshman, which hurts.
lFlorida quarterback Rex Grossman: His “candidacy” was in the garbage can after the Gators’ demolition at the hands of Miami, but he’s back in the mix after the Gators’ upset of Tennessee. Vols Coach Phil Fulmer, in fact, said Grossman won the award with his gutty performance. That’s a bit too much hyperbole, but there’s no question UF’s schedule (the Gators could be on TV in each of the next four weeks, against teams with one or no losses) give Grossman a nice platform with which to make his case.
lMiami tailback Willis McGahee: Enough about Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey, who isn’t even the best player on Miami’s offense. McGahee is starting only because Frank Gore has a torn ACL, but he is making the most of his chance (533 yards, seven touch downs in four games). One potential negative is that Gore may return this season.
lOregon tailback Onterrio Smith: It’s tough for a West Coast guy to win the Heisman, but Smith is a special talent. He has 467 yards and seven touch downs in four games and plays in a high-powered offense. It may hurt that Oregon’s most attractive games are at the end of the season. At the same time, if he ends the season on a high note, he may become the candidate of choice for voters who may have cooled on other candidates.
lNC State quarterback Philip Rivers: The longest-shot of our quintet, but he’s third in the nation in passing efficiency, is throwing for 250.8 yards per game and has nine touch downs against three picks. He’s also averaging an astounding 11.4 yards per attempt and 17.4 yards per completion as the Wolfpack has started 5-0. The next three games give him a chance to put up some nice numbers. It also doesn’t hurt that he runs a wide-open offense. Grid bits There’s still a long way to go in the regular season, but it looks increasingly as if the winner of the Miami-Virginia Tech game on Dec. 7 will be one of the teams in the Fiesta Bowl.A dark-horse team in the national-title chase? Look to the Northwest, to Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State has some flaws, sure, but the Beavers have a lot of speed and a star runner in sophomore TB Stephen Jackson. The Beavers have a huge game this week, traveling to USC. Oregon State will have to overcome a lot of history, as USC leads the series 54-8-4. The Beavers have won once since 1967 UNLV QB Jason Thomas went into the 2001 season as a dark-horse Heisman guy. But he struggled mightily as UNLV finished 4-7. Unfortunately for the Rebels, his struggles have continued. He is completing just 48.8 percent of his passes, with one touch down and three picks as UNLV has started 1-3MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst has to be happy with Bowling Green. The Falcons have won back-to-back games over Big 12 members Missouri and Kansas. Iowa State is readying for the biggest on-campus game in school history: The Cyclones host Nebraska this week.