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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
September 23, 2004

SEC NOT LOOKING SO TOUGH

Long billed as the nation's best conference from top to bottom, the SEC appears to have no real contender for the national title this fall. No elite team has stepped forward to take charge of the conference as of yet.

The usual candidates in the Eastern Division, teams like Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee, all look very human this year. None of the three looks unbeatable. In fact, UT got the best of Ron Zook's Gators just this past weekend. Georgia was the early favorite, but the Bulldogs had to come from sixteen points behind to beat South Carolina and then only took out Marshall by a score of 13-3 this past weekend. Florida has always been inconsistent under Zook, and Tennessee is led by freshmen at quarterback, something that always tends to catch up with teams once the SEC schedule gets going good.

Over in the West, LSU, last year's co-national champion, knocked off Oregon State in their season-opener only because the Beavers missed three extra points. Then the Tigers fell on the road at Auburn this past weekend, officially showing they don't have the magic that last year's club did. Auburn may be the best team in the SEC, but QB Jason Campbell has been consistently inconsistent during his tenure on the Plains. The Tiger backfield, which also includes RBs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, will win some games for coach Tommy Tuberville along the way, but in the opinion of this young writer, AU is not a national title contender.

IT'S EARLY BUT...

Sure, it's not even October yet, but why not take a look at a few possible Heisman candidates who have stood out so far this season? Here's a quick look (in no particular order) at several offensive players who have performed well so far in 2004 and who could make a move at the nation's most prestigious individual award for a college football player...

- Kyle Orton, QB, Purdue : Leader of a very good Boilermaker team...completing nearly 70% of his passes...9 TDs, 0 INTs

- Aaron Rodgers, QB, California : Will stand a chance as long as Cal stays in the top 25...completing over 73% of his passes...0 INTs

- Jason White, QB, Oklahoma : Last year's winner...completing 72% of his passes...Sooners are a national title contender

- Vernand Morency, RB, Oklahoma State : Doing a great job of replacing Tatum Bell...averaging 187 YPG...4 TDs...7.4 YPC

- Marion Barber III, RB, Minnesota : Averaging almost 150 yards per game for unbeaten Gophers...6 TDs and nearly 7 YPC...splits time with Laurence Maroney

- Cedric Benson, RB, Texas : Has scored 3 TDs in two games...averaging 185 rushing yards per game...8.5 YPC average

- Derek Hagan, WR, Arizona State : Not well-known but stands a chance as long as ASU plays well...5 TDs and 128 YPG average

- Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan : Has scored 4 TDs for an underachieving UM team...nearly 120 YPG this season

Ten more to keep an eye on: Andrew Walter, QB, Arizona State...Matt Leinart, QB, Southern Cal...Matt Jones, QB, Arkansas...Ryan Moats, RB, Louisiana Tech...Darren Sproles, RB/RET, Kansas State...J.J. Arrington, RB, California...Kay-Jay Harris, RB, West Virginia...DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis...Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma...Maurice Drew, RB, UCLA

THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN WEEK FOUR

(1) One Big Ten team's conference hopes are going to fade quickly after this weekend. Iowa travels to Michigan, and both teams have been anything but impressive so far this season. The Hawkeyes, after just barely knocking off in-state rival Iowa State the week before, went on the road last weekend and were demolished by Arizona State. Michigan, meanwhile, was knocked off by Notre Dame in South Bend two weeks ago and then just slipped past San Diego State in South Bend last week. Something has got to give.

(2) CUSA has a really big matchup this weekend. The Memphis Tigers might have been caught looking ahead to this week's game last Saturday when they had to come from behind to beat Arkansas State. That game this week will be played on the campus of UAB, and the Blazers, often overlooked in CUSA, have a star QB and the potential to put a scare in the Tigers. Will Memphis continue to live up to expectations, or will Tommy West's Tigers falter early?

(3) Last week, the referees got a little too involved in the deciding of college football games. The SEC, in fact, admitted that a penalty was wrongly called on Florida in last week's UF/Tennessee game. Not only was the wrong penalty called, but the clock was never restarted. Because of that, the Volunteers had about 25 extra seconds to kick the game-winning field goal. So what will happen this week? Will the refs go unnoticed or again leave their mark?

WHAT WE WATCHED LAST WEEK

Here's a look back at the three things we watched for last week and what took place...

(1) We said Hurricane Ivan might affect games along the East Coast. The good news turned out to be that although Ivan left death and destruction across the southeast, college football seemed undaunted by the storm once Saturday's games got underway.

(2) SCS.com said LSU/Auburn would be the game of the week, and the two groups of Tigers did not let us down. AU scored a TD late in the game to tie it up, missed the extra point the first time, and then converted on attempt number two. Tuberville's Tigers are now the SEC West favorites.

(3) We put you on Upset Alert. The possibilities we listed that didn't pan out: Boise State over UTEP, Wisconsin over Arizona, Ohio State over NC State, and West Virginia over Maryland. The upsets we alluded to that did take place: Texas A&M over Clemson and Arizona State over Iowa.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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