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September 26, 2007

Olin's notebook: Freshmen under fire

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Previous notebooks
Sept. 19: Big Ten blues
Sept. 12: Texas takes steps
Sept. 5: Breakthrough day for Choice

The Bible said a child shall lead them. But it wasn't legendary college football coach D.X. Bible.

College football players the same age as many soldiers in Iraq aren't children, despite what Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says. However, the fact remains that college coaches historically haven't been quick to entrust their teams to teenage quarterbacks.

Coaches once abided by the theory that every freshman starter equates to a loss. But that way of thinking appears to be ancient history and as obsolete as the flying wedge, the wishbone and Notre Dame in the top 25.

Quarterback, the most vital position in football, is more frequently being entrusted to first- and second-year players. Even the starter at Florida International is named (Wayne) Younger.

About 50 teams in Division I-A roughly 40 percent started a freshman or sophomore quarterback last week. Some underclassmen started because of injuries to older players, others because they won the job outright, and some perhaps because coaches feared they might transfer rather than sit.

Whatever the case, that seems like a significant trend, especially considering the last underclassman to win a national-championship game was Alabama's Jay Barker in 1992 (although Matt Leinart was a sophomore when USC was voted national champion by The Associated Press in 2003).

"I don't know any scientific reason for it any philosophical reasons," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who starts sophomore Todd Reesing. "I know coaches are putting their best players on the field.

"Ten or 15 years ago, maybe you'd redshirt a guy and bring him along slowly. Maybe you'd go with a more mature guy that's not as talented and doesn't make as many mistakes. Now, whether it's a freshman or a sophomore, you go with the most talented guy."

There are many reasons for the change.

Rising salaries have affected how coaches handle quarterbacks. Now that coaches typically earn in excess of $1 million annually, they're under more pressure to win immediately and might not have the luxury of waiting for a quarterback to develop.

The opening of the NFL Draft to underclassmen is a factor. In the past six years, 16 quarterbacks have entered the NFL Draft early. Quarterbacks who leave early would have been starting as seniors, and their backups now are playing sooner than they would have.

Another factor is that high schools seem to be running more sophisticated offenses. As a result, more quarterbacks are entering college with a better understanding of the offense and are better prepared to play.

That can have an adverse effect, too. Quarterbacks who feel they're ready to play may not be as inclined to wait their turn, which could force a coach's hand.

Mangino said that's not an unrealistic scenario.

"Unfortunately, when you get a talented freshman, you're forced to play them because they don't stick around," he said.

Demetrius Jones is an example. Just last week, he transferred to Northern Illinois from Notre Dame after he felt he wasn't given a fair shot in competing with freshman Jimmy Clausen for the starting job.

As Mangino said, there are no scientific reasons for the apparent increase in younger starting quarterbacks. But before that trend is viewed as a wave of the future, there should be a nod to the warning of the past you know, the one about freshmen equating to losses.

Only six teams ranked in The AP's Top 25 did not start an upperclassman at quarterback last week. The six:

• Florida sophomore Tim Tebow
• Georgia sophomore Matthew Stafford
• Oklahoma redshirt freshman Sam Bradford
• Texas sophomore Colt McCoy
• USF sophomore Matt Grothe
• Virginia Tech true freshman Tyrod Taylor

Trivia question

There are 20 Division I-A teams that are 4-0. Of those, which has gone the longest since its last 4-0 start? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Oklahoma is OK

Although Oklahoma has lost defensive end John Williams for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, Sooners coach Bob Stoops said the impact will be minimal.

"I feel bad, I really do," Stoops said. "But we have other guys that have played a lot of football, too. We'll be fine."

Williams had started three games and had posted seven tackles, including four for losses. Alonzo Dotson, who has two sacks, likely will move into the starting lineup opposite Auston English. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Beal will get more time in the rotation.

Oklahoma has 16 sacks this season.

Speaking English

Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English enjoyed perhaps one of the best performances by a defensive player ever in last week's 42-35 win over Idaho.

English posted 12 tackles including 10 solos and that included five sacks for 29 yards in losses. He also forced a fumble, which he recovered for a touchdown. English was also credited with five quarterback pressures.

By the way, his final sack was late in the fourth quarter with Idaho at Northern Illinois' 18.

Punting problems

California's DeSean Jackson seems to intimidate punters much in the same way New York Mets stolen-base threat Jose Reyes drives pitchers crazy.

Jackson has returned six punts for touchdowns in his career, including one for 77 yards earlier this season against Tennessee.

The four punters that Cal has faced Tennessee's Britton Colquitt, Colorado State's Jim Kaylor, Louisiana Tech's Chris Keagle and Arizona's Keenyn Crier have averaged 5 yards less per attempt against Cal than they have in their other games.

All four also had at least one punt that covered 25 yards or less against Cal.

Coaching outbursts

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's post-game tirade about a column in the Daily Oklahoman got us wondering where it would rank among the greatest college football coaching meltdowns of all time.

Here's our top five:

1. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punches Clemson's Charlie Bauman after Bauman's interception clinches a 17-15 victory in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

2. Michigan State coach John L. Smith loses control on the sideline during the Spartans' loss to Ohio State in 2005. At halftime he rants to a reporter about "the kids playing their tails off and the coaches are screwing it up."

3. UNLV coach Mike Sanford screams to his team not to leave the field, then trips and falls as he protests a call that resulted in a 16-10 loss at Iowa State last season.

4. Gundy screams at an Oklahoma City columnist last Saturday, accusing her of writing false information and questioning whether she has children.

5. In February 2004, Colorado coach Gary Barnett responds to questions about former kicker Katie Hnida, who had claimed that she was raped by Buffaloes players, by blasting her kicking ability. "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they'll respect you. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it." Barnett later acknowledged that he said "the wrong thing, the wrong way at the wrong time."

Quick hitters

  • Notre Dame sophomore tight end Konrad Reuland has quit the team. Reuland has no receptions this season. A former four-star recruit, Reuland was the nation's third-rated tight end in 2006.

  • Quarterback Ben Olson is back in the UCLA starting lineup after Pat Cowan partially tore his right MCL lat week. The Bruins will need Olson to play much better than he did in his most recent outing, when he threw three interceptions in a 44-6 loss to Utah.

  • Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, who missed the Wolverines' past two games with a sprained right knee, has been given clearance to play. There may not be a need to rush Henne back into the lineup. Michigan won both games that true freshman Ryan Mallett started in Henne's absence. Henne is 31-of-60 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

  • Michigan State figures to be without its two starting guards this weekend against Wisconsin. Left guard Kenny Shane injured his right knee last week against Notre Dame, and right guard Roland Martin missed last week's game after hurting his ankle against Pitt two weeks ago. That could present serious problems against Wisconsin, which ranks 27th nationally in run defense.

  • Georgia Tech ranks next to last nationally in third-down conversions, making only 11 of 53. The Yellow Jackets are just 1-for-20 when facing third-and-10 (or longer).

  • Northwestern tailback Tyrell Sutton this week saw a specialist for his ankle injury, which has forced him to miss the Wildcats' past two games.

  • Cynics would say the most shocking aspect of the resignation of Texas Tech defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich following last week's loss to Oklahoma State was that Texas Tech had a defensive coordinator. The Red Raiders allowed 610 yards in the 49-45 loss to the Cowboys. Defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill has been named interim defensive coordinator.

  • Injuries are forcing Iowa to make major changes in its lineup. True freshman wide receiver Colin Sandeman will replace starter Andy Brodell, who pulled a hamstring in last week's loss to Wisconsin. Also, Brandon Myers will start at tight end in place of Tony Moeaki (dislocated elbow).

  • Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said his sprained right ankle has improved and that he would be ready to play Saturday against Idaho. Brennan sat out last week's 66-10 victory over I-AA Charleston Southern.

  • Florida State coach Bobby Bowden announced Tuesday that linebacker Geno Hayes will be demoted to second team Saturday against Alabama. Hayes, the Seminoles' second-leading tackler, was arrested last Friday after a disturbance outside a bar. Linebacker Anthony Kelly, who missed the first three games because of academic issues, is available to play.

  • For the fourth week in a row, a Conference USA team is playing host to a team ranked in the top 10. This week, it's LSU at Tulane. The others: West Virginia at Marshall on Sept. 8, Texas at UCF on Sept. 15 and Oklahoma at Tulsa on Sept. 21.

    Trivia answer

    Cincinnati is undefeated after four games for the first time since 1954. The second longest span is Hawaii, which hadn't started 4-0 since 1988.

  • Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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