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November 10, 2006

The experts size up the home stretch

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The College Football Wire

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As the regular season begins to hit the home stretch, many college football staffs are working on strategies and making unorthodox coaching decisions in order to try and maximize their teams' success this season.

At Arkansas, Casey Dick has made enough progress in practice to take the starting job from Mitch Mustain - who was unbeaten as the No. 1 quarterback. At Oklahoma, Bob Stoops is working his magic on a team that had several opportunities to give up on the season.

And at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier is downplaying his homecoming to Gainesville, Fla.

In Ames, Iowa, Dan McCarney's days on the Iowa State practice field are numbered.

We asked our experts from Rivals.com's team sites to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes action and other topics.

The Experts' Views
Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com talks about Arkansas::
Why did Houston Nutt replace quarterback Mitch Mustain with Casey Dick last week against South Carolina?
"We were surprised, but I wouldn't say we were shocked. They both get a lot of snaps in practice. Mitch threw an interception early against Louisiana-Monroe and then again on his first pass last week. Casey started four games last year and had more experience going through spring practice. He would have been the starter if not for a back injury. I think you would have seen Dick as starter if that had not been the situation. Casey is the better quarterback right now. They feel good about him throwing the ball. They feel more confident with him with his experience. Mitch has played very good games, but he only threw 10 times against Auburn. They need more confidence in passing game. As far as Mitch's future, he is the future at Arkansas. Casey is the present."

What impact will the change have on the offense?
"It can improve the running game. Teams will have to respect the passing game. Arkansas might throw on a first down, which he might not have done in the past this year. It wouldn't surprise me if Casey struggles that Mitch will come in. They will continue to give Mitch some reps. I don't think the only time you'll see Mitch is in mop-up duty."

Carey Murdock of SoonerScoop.com talks about Oklahoma:
How has Bob Stoops kept Oklahoma's season from going into a freefall despite the ineligibility of Rhett Bomar, the controversial loss to Oregon and the injury to Adrian Peterson?
"In the beginning Paul Thompson played better than a lot of people thought he was capable of playing. He passed better while Adrian Peterson wasn't running for 200 yards per game. Thompson and Malcolm Kelly got on the same page. That's what carried them early. They had a chance to be a dominating defense. Ever since the Texas game they've made the big plays. They've actually become more conservative on offense last few weeks. The defense has played well and held on to leads. The other thing was just how good the offensive line has been - last week they ran it down Texas A&M's throat. There's only one senior on the line. It's the best young line since Stoops has been here. There have been players in waiting capable of stepping up. The defense is coming together."

Where did Allen Patrick come from?
"He came in as safety, but he didn't take to the position real well. He was kind of floundering, and they didn't have an I-back behind Adrian after Tashard Choice went to Georgia Tech and Courtney Tennial went to Tulsa. Last year he would sub for Peterson and take off on some long runs. A year ago he averaged more yards per carry than anyone on the team (5.4 yards per carry). They knew he was a good player. They raved about him. When they tested over the summer, he was just off the charts. He's a freak athletically."

South Carolina
Scott Hood of GamecockCentral talks about South Carolina:
What is the atmosphere in Columbia for Steve Spurrier's return to Florida?
One thing Spurrier always preaches is consistency against any opponent. He prides himself that this team is always prepared to play against any opponent. On the outside, he's telling media and players to approach this game the same way as any other. Inside, I'm sure he's excited. He's in the Ring of Honor. He won the Heisman Trophy there. He coached a national championship team. But he doesn't want the players to succumb to the hype of the game. He doesn't want them to win one for Spurrier, because then they're not focused on the game. He took a low-key approach to the game last year and it worked. Strangely, South Carolina has played better on the road. They're 0-4 in conference home games this year. They seem to think the players concentrate on the road a little more. Maybe they can relax a little bit.

How does this game week compare to last year's atmosphere?
"There were probably a little more (members of the Florida media) last year. There were several Florida writers here last year. I haven't seen any Florida TV stations here this year. Florida has already clinched the East this year. Florida still had that to play for last year. Since Georgia lost later that day, had Florida won that game, they would have won the division. I think the fact that Spurrier has already been (to Gainesville) twice this year - for the 1996 championship reunion and to be inducted into the Ring of Honor - has blunted that atmosphere a bit. He's already been there twice and the crowd has seen him. I'm sure it will be a frenzied atmosphere. Some fans still don't forgive him for leaving, and some think he was disloyal by coming back to a team that plays in the same division. Coach Spurrier definitely expects a positive reaction. Most fans appreciate what he did while he was there."

Iowa State
Paul Clark of CycloneReport.com talks about Iowa State:
How expected was the resignation of Coach Dan McCarney?
"I'd say maybe over the last couple of weeks we saw it coming from hearing whispers and having conversations with high-level boosters. You could start to feel it coming. Things started to go south after the Texas Tech game (a 42-26 Iowa State loss on Oct. 21). I think they knew before the Kansas game if they couldn't salvage a bowl season, McCarney would be in trouble. Not only did they lose, they were dreadful (the Cyclones lost 41-10 at home last week). I think it goes back to Iowa State's 2003 season. Iowa State had been to three bowl games in a row and absolutely tanked, going 2-10. McCarney got it turned around and had decent seasons in 2004 and 2005. This year has not been quite as bad as 2003, but that's two seasons in four years Iowa State could go 0-8 in the Big 12. The highs have been moderately high and the lows have been extremely low. This is a cumulative thing over the last four years."

What's next for Iowa State?
"I don't know if it's going to be as quick a deal as when (athletic director Jamie) Pollard made the change in basketball. Then, it was four- or five-day deal. I anticipate this will be a little different. There is already a short list, but they are keeping the net out. Who out there is interested? Which coaches will initiate contact with Iowa State? Some of the names that appear to be valid are Tim Brewster (Denver Broncos tight ends coach), Jim Harbaugh (head coach at University of San Diego) or Paul Rhoads (the defensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh). Those are three they have at the top of the list now, but it's still pretty early."

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