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November 8, 2006

Notebook: Rice making the difference

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Only a stunning upset may prevent undefeated Louisville from playing for the football national championship.

And if the Cardinals are indeed victimized, then Syracuse could be involved. Not as the culprit, but definitely as an accomplice.

Louisville knocked off the Orange on Oct. 21, but unbeaten Rutgers - led by explosive running back Ray Rice - will pose a major threat when they face the Cardinals on Thursday night.

After all, Louisville allowed West Virginia 318 rushing yards. Rutgers' running game is ranked No. 12 in the country.

That's where Syracuse comes into the story.

Two years ago Rice, a three-star recruit from New Rochelle, N.Y., was planning to sign a letter of intent with Syracuse. Then, Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni was fired.

"I decommitted from Syracuse at the 11th hour after coach Pasqualoni got fired," Rice said. "I guess everything happens for a reason."

Perhaps Rice was just meant to emerge as Rutgers' first Heisman Trophy candidate. He has rushed for 1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns through eight games. Rice has exceeded 200 yards in three games and has been recognized nationally as a legitimate Heisman contender.

"It feels good to be known among an elite group," Rice said. "It doesn't feel strange or anything like that."

However, it might seem strange to see Rutgers ranked No. 15 in the latest Associated Press poll. It is their highest appearance in the poll since 1961.

Maybe Rice was meant to be the fulcrum of the lever that lifts Rutgers from its history of mediocrity and provides hope for the future near and distant.

The Knights have a solid quarterback in Mike Teel and a pretty good run defense. However, Rice is the kind of player that can make a difference between a good team and an exceptional one. He can be the difference in a close game and a big upset.

Despite Rice's stellar season and Rutgers' perfect record, the Scarlet Knights were not taken seriously until they defeated Pittsburgh 20-10 on Oct. 21.

"Of course, we had doubters out there," Rice said. "It's up to them to take a deeper look at us. Our win (over Pittsburgh) definitely showed we can be a top-notch program."

Maybe local high school football players will take a deeper look at Rutgers, too. New Jersey football stars who shunned Rutgers for higher profile programs could make up an impressive roster.

Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier chose Nebraska. Heisman winner Ron Dayne went to Wisconsin. Highly recruited quarterback Chris Simms opted for Texas. Current New Jersey players who shunned Rutgers include USC All-American receiver Dwayne Jarrett, Purdue receiver Dorien Bryant, Miami tight end Greg Olsen, Tennessee defensive lineman Turk McBride, Penn State defensive lineman Jay Alford and Georgia defensive lineman Kade Weston, just to name a few.

If New Jersey players stayed in New Jersey, Rutgers could be a perennial top-20 team. The trend may be starting to subside. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano recently got a commitment from four-star linebacker Manny Abreu. If Schiano can keep players like Abreu in state, the Scarlet Knights' success may not be fleeting.

This week Schiano revealed he received a letter from a father whose son pretends to be Rice in pee wee football. Perhaps that's an omen that Rutgers' perception in its home state is changing.

Fate directed Rice to Rutgers, but maybe he was just destined to try to dash Louisville's championship hopes.


Trivia question

For what team did comedian Bill Cosby play fullback? (Answer at the end of the column.)


Finding the loophole

The NCAA's change of starting the game clock when the kicking team touches the football was wide criticized as a bad rule before the football season began.

Wisconsin proved it last week.

After the Badgers took a 10-3 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the first half, coach Bret Bielema instructed his team to intentionally be offside on the ensuing kickoffs. Twice the Badgers were penalized for offside, and each time precious seconds ticked off the clock. Time finally expired on the third kickoff, denying Penn State a chance for a final possession in the half.

Wisconsin eventually won 13-3.

Penn State cried foul, and Bielema was criticized by some for exploiting the rule. But the real problem is that the rule even exists. Undoubtedly, those in charge of setting the rules did not anticipate such a incident would occur.

The rule likely will be repealed or rewritten in some form next season, but the incident illustrates a complete lack of thought and foresight by those who put the rule in place.

Quick hits

West Virginia running back Steve Slaton, who fumbled twice in the Mountaineers' loss to Louisville last week, was found to have a bruised nerve in his left forearm and a sprained left wrist.

As if this season hasn't been difficult enough, Miami may be without quarterback Kyle Wright for Saturday's game with Maryland. Wright sprained the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in last week's loss to Virginia Tech.

Sophomore quarterback Xavier Lee will get his second consecutive start for Florida State. In the last two games Lee has completed 34 of 61 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He's starting in place of Drew Weatherford, who has been slowed by a foot injury the last two weeks. The Seminoles are also anticipating the return of receiver De'Cody Fagg and linebacker Geno Hayes for this weekend's game against Wake Forest.

Mississippi State is on a high after upsetting Alabama last week, but coach Sylvester Croom is glad the Bulldogs won't be on the field Saturday. Mississippi State has an open week, which Croom said couldn't have come at a better time because of injuries. The Bulldogs' next game is Nov. 18 against Arkansas.

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, hampered by a sprained right ankle, acknowledged he may not be healthy enough to play on Saturday against Arkansas. Ainge played in just three series in last week's loss to LSU before re-injuring the ankle. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton will start for the Vols if Ainge cannot play.

Georgia receiver Demiko Goodman is out for the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He apparently sustained the injury in the first quarter of last week's loss to Kentucky, but played the rest of the game.

Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English's name has surfaced as a possible replacement for Michigan State head coach John L. Smith, who will not be back next season. Under English, in his first season as defensive coordinator, Michigan is fourth in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense.

Wisconsin figures to be without quarterback John Stocco for Saturday's game against Iowa. Stocco, who has started 35 consecutive games, endured an unspecified injury to his right shoulder in last week's victory over Penn State.

Wondering why your team isn't moving up the BCS standings? Want to know why your favorite player isn't higher in our power rankings?

Rivals.com senior college football writer Olin Buchanan answers your questions every week in his Friday Mailbag. Click here to send him a question.
Michigan running back Mike Hart lost a fumble out of the end zone that went for a safety in last week's win over Ball State. But because Ball State never had possession and Michigan retained the ball on the next play (a free kick) he wasn't charged with losing a fumble. Because of that technicality his string of touches without losing a fumble was extended to 688.

Missouri running back Earl Goldsmith, who got his first starting assignment last week against Nebraska, is questionable for the Tigers' Nov. 18 game against Iowa State because of a broken right hand. Tony Temple, who Goldsmith replaced in the starting lineup, rushed for 99 yards against the Cornhuskers.

Washington is 0-3 with Carl Bonnell as the starting quarterback, but coach Tyrone Willingham indicated he's still leaning toward starting Bonnell against winless Stanford on Saturday. Johnny DuRocher will get the call if Willingham changes his mind. Bonnell was elevated to the starting job when Isaiah Stanback suffered a season-ending foot injury.

UCLA quarterback Ben Olson, sidelined since suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee in a win over Arizona on Oct. 7, has recovered sufficiently to where he could play against Oregon State on Saturday. However, Patrick Cowan will remain in the starting lineup. Olson had completed 79 of 124 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns prior to his injury.

USC might have lost some respect when it fell to Oregon State on Oct. 28, but the Trojans have ample opportunities coming up for redemption. USC, which is ranked seventh in the Bowl Championship Series standings, will play its next three games against Oregon, Notre Dame and California. All three are ranked among the top 20 in the BCS standings. No other team in the BCS top 10 will play more BCS ranked teams all season. Overall, USC will play five teams that are listed in the current BCS top 25.

Texas redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy, who has thrown 27 touchdown passes, has lately been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender. But McCoy said the Heisman is a non-issue. "(Ohio State quarterback) Troy Smith has it sewed up if they keep winning," he said.


Trivia answer

Temple

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.



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