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October 25, 2006

Notebook: Smith saying all the right things

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In 1939, Iowa's Nike Kinnick accepted the Heisman Trophy with a poignant speech about the war looming in Europe.

In 1973 Penn State's John Cappelletti made America weep in an emotional speech in which he dedicated the trophy to his leukemia-stricken younger brother.

And in December, Ohio State's Troy Smith will almost certainly be presented the Heisman. He figures to give another memorable acceptance speech because so far, he's saying all the right things.

When asked his thoughts on the prestigious trophy that is all but his, Smith side-stepped the issue as deftly as he did Penn State linebackers before launching the touchdown pass that virtually assured he would become Ohio State's sixth Heisman recipient. "Things like that are definitely flattering to think about and sometimes talk about," Smith said Tuesday on a conference call. "But as of right now the focus is on finishing out the season, and sometimes it's hard if you start off strong to finish the same way. That's how my team and I are focused right now."

Maintaining the No. 1 ranking the Buckeyes have held all season and winning the national championship is the top priority for Smith. But whether he will acknowledge it or not, the Heisman Trophy is his to lose.

And this year he hasn't lost anything.

The Buckeyes (8-0) have upcoming games against Minnesota (3-5), Illinois (2-6) and Northwestern (2-6), and probably won't be seriously tested until facing rival Michigan (8-0) on Nov. 18 in Columbus.

By then, Smith's name should already be inscribed on the trophy.

He ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency and has already thrown for 1,715 yards and 21 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Although also a dangerous runner, he has been more inclined this season to distribute the football to explosive teammates Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie and Antonio Pittman and let them make big plays.

"One way I'd have to say I'm changing is I'm not taking as many blows downfield," Smith said. "That's not to say there is nothing I wouldn't sacrifice for my teammates. I understand that I have guys around me that are the best players in the nation and I just want to get them the ball."

Smith's Heisman candidacy has also been enhanced by attrition. Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson was the primary competition, but has been lost for the regular season with a broken collarbone.

Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe might have been a sentimental favorite among voters who would like to see a player from a small school win, but consecutive games in which he was held under 50 yards have eliminated him as a serious contender.

It also doesn't hurt Smith that he's the quarterback of the No. 1 team in the nation. In the history of the Heisman, six recipients were the quarterback of national champion teams the same year: TCU's Davey O'Brien (1938), Notre Dame's Angelo Bertelli (1943), Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack (1947), Florida State's Charlie Ward (1993), Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1997) and USC's Matt Leinart (2004). Several others led their teams into a national championship game.

But Smith would say his greatest asset is the team that surrounds him.

"The plays are designed to work so if one (first option) is not there, go to two," Smith said. "If two is not there go to three. If three is not there check to a tailback. The offensive line does a great job holding their blocks and I just distribute the ball."

See, he says all the right things.

Three questions with Clemson sophomore running back James Davis

Davis has rushed for 961 yards this season despite sharing running duties with freshman C.J. Spiller. Davis rushed for a career-high 216 yards in last week's 31-7 victory over Georgia Tech.

Was there any happening leading up to the Georgia Tech game that would indicate that you were going to have a breakout game?

"Just coming into the season I knew, with the offensive line we had back, that there was the capability of me having a big season. I came in against Georgia Tech, read a lot of keys and we game planned really well. We just happened to hit it. We came out and played a good game and it worked out well."

How will the team be affected by the loss of guard Roman Fry, who last week sustained a season-ending injury?

It's not going to affect us a lot. Our second team gets a lot of reps. Chris McDuffie (Fry's replacement) came in and played well and played a tremendous game. I saw him working harder than anybody on the practice field. He's ready to step up and make that move."

How do you feel about sharing playing time with C.J. Spiller. What is your relationship like with him?

"We have a great relationship on and off the field. We came from the same family situations (single parent families). He's a great guy and it's great to have a guy like that on the team. He can come in and he's capable of having big games like I am. It keeps you rested and keeps the other teams off balance because I'm more of a power and speed guy. He's a speed guy, and once you miss him he's going to take it to the house."

Trivia question

What two college football stadiums traditionally have many fans arrive by boat?

Cheer up

Prior to every game, an announcement is made in the press box to remind those in attendance that it is a working environment and that cheering will not be tolerated. Those that break the rule are often removed from the press box.

This is such a steadfast rule that I know a Sports Information Director who once had to ask his mother to leave the press box because she couldn't contain herself from cheering. Really.

Yet last Saturday during the Texas-Nebraska football game, an otherwise quiet gentleman shouted out each time the Cornhuskers made a big play. He would also groan with each positive play for Texas, and quite frequently another reminder would be announced that the cheering in the press box was forbidden.

When it was time to go down to the field in the fourth quarter I couldn't help my curiosity. I walked by and I glanced at the name plate on his seat. It read: Johnny Rodgers.

I figured the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner earned the right to cheer whenever and wherever he wants.

Quick hitters

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said star sophomore receiver Mario Manningham, who has been out since undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn meniscus two weeks ago, will be back in action this season. However, Manningham won't play this Saturday against Northwestern. Also, tight ends Mike Massey (shoulder) and Tyler Ecker (ankle) won't play and tackle Rueben Riley (leg) is questionable.

Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said several factors went into his decision to kick an extra point and send last week's game against California into overtime after the Huskies scored a touchdown on the last play of regulation. He noted two-point conversions have a 42 percent success rate and his teams previously were 3-1 in overtime. Now, it's 3-2 after Cal captured a 31-24 victory.

When the season started, Washington State coach Bill Doba was included on the "coaches on the hot seat" list. But after a 34-23 upset of Oregon last week, the Cougars need just one more victory to clinch bowl eligibility. They're thinking bigger than that, however, with remaining games against UCLA (4-3), Arizona (3-5), Arizona State (4-3) and Washington (4-4).

Backup defensive end Stryker Sulak moves into Missouri's starting lineup to replace Brian Smith, who fractured his hip in last week's victory over Kansas State. A Lombardi Trophy finalist, Smith was three sacks away from setting the Big 12 record. Sulak has 31 tackles this season, one sack, five quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.

After last week's 34-33 victory over Oklahoma State, Texas A&M is 4-1 in overtime games under coach Dennis Franchione. The one loss was two years ago against Baylor in Waco, where the Aggies are headed this week.

Although just 1-6 this season and 25-42 in six seasons, fired North Carolina coach John Bunting has maintained the Tar Heels program is improving. He has redshirted the majority of a talented 2006 recruiting class and his 2007 class is currently ranked No. 15 nationally by Rivals.com.

No team loves instant replay more than Boston College. The Eagles defeated Clemson after a replay overturned a lost fumble on a game-tying drive, and they beat Brigham Young after a review showed BC safety Jamie Silva made a game-ending interception in overtime. Then, last week a replay confirmed Larry Anan's game-clinching interception against Florida State.

The early bird gets the Wolfpack. North Carolina State is 0-3 in games with noon kickoffs, having fallen to Akron, Wake Forest and Maryland. N.C. State faces another noon kickoff this week against Virginia.

Florida defensive tackle Javier Estopinan's season officially came to an end on Monday when he had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

In two games since coming back from a two-game suspension, Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas has posted 18 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. Even more impressive, he did that against LSU and Auburn.

There is good news and bad news for Florida State. The good news: tailback Lorenzo Booker should play this week against Maryland despite sustaining a deep thigh bruise in last week's loss to Boston College. Defensive tackle Alex Boston and tight end Brandon Warren also are likely to return from injuries. The bad news: linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) and receiver De'Cody Fagg (sprained ankle) probably are won't play this week.

Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford saved his job by leading the Seminoles to a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Boston College. Weatherford was told if the Seminoles didn't score on that drive he would be replaced by backup Xavier Lee.

USC All-American receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who separated his shoulder against Arizona on Sept. 23, said he benefited from the Trojans' open date last week and feels like his season is just starting. Trojans' receiver Steve Smith, linemen Chilo Rachal and Kyle Williams and linebackers Oscar Lua and Thomas Williams have all returned from injuries.

UCLA quarterback Ben Olson hoped to be back in action by this week, but he's still not recovered from a medial collateral ligament tear in his right knee. Patrick Cowan will remain the Bruins' starting quarterback for the third consecutive week.

Virginia Tech backup quarterback Ike Whitaker, third on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, will get more playing time on Thursday night against Clemson. Though Sean Glennon remains the starter, Whitaker will be used in different situations to take advantage of his speed and mobility. In last week's victory over Southern Mississippi, Whitaker came on to offer a change of pace and completed two passes for 14 yards and ran five times for 26 yards.

Trivia answer

Tennessee's Neyland Stadium and Washington's Husky Stadium.

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