Just how difficult is it to run a clean program? Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum offers this response to that question: "Remember the story of original sin? Two people. One rule. One serpent. And look what happened."
Last January the NCAA (an organization of thousands of rules), having found that nine people (all Aggies) had been paid for no-show jobs during the summers of 1990, '91 and '92, banished A&M to the netherworld of probation. Sanctions included no TV appearances, no bowls and no shot at a fourth straight Southwest Conference title this fall. So what have Slocum's sinners done since? After opening with an 18-13 win over LSU, they went out last Saturday and scorched 15th-ranked Oklahoma 36-14. "People counted us out, but we're on a roll," says senior linebacker Antonio Armstrong. "The NCAA, bowl games, they don't matter. All that matters is these 11 games."
Wait a minute, haven't we heard that before? Why, yes, it was only a year ago that Terry Bowden led Auburn to an 11-0 record while the Tigers were on probation—an achievement that did not go unnoticed by Slocum. During the off-season he asked Bowden for guidance and was advised, "Use the adversity to unify the team and make every game an event."
The Oklahoma game was certainly an event. The Sooners' 44-14 win last year in Norman was the Aggies' lone regular-season loss since 1991, and as senior tailback Rodney Thomas said about this year's meeting, "This was our Cotton Bowl."
Thomas and sophomore teammate Leeland McElroy provide Slocum with an abundance of talent at tailback. McElroy, who last year ran back three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 39.3 yards per return, is cited in the A&M media guide as "perhaps the most spectacular player to don the maroon and white ever." And he's the backfield backup. Thomas's 8,439 yards rushing at Groveton High remains the fourth best ever for a high school player anywhere.
Thomas is happy to share the spotlight. In fact he has been known to ask the coaches to give McElroy more carries. But then Thomas's ethics—which he refuses to discuss—are legendary. Two years ago a vending machine in the athletic dorm went berserk, spewing out free candy bars. Thomas, unlike many of his teammates, did not partake of the windfall, but waited for the horde to disperse and then inserted all his spare change into the machine.
Tailbacks like Thomas and McElroy and, before them, Greg Hill and Darren Lewis, have helped Slocum put together a 29-1-1 home record and a 51-12-1 overall mark since he took over in College Station six years ago. And what have these achievements brought the Aggies? Around the country they are still known more for sinning than for succeeding.
"We're a lot like Willie Nelson," says Slocum. "Texans always knew that Willie was a gifted musician. We just had to wait for the rest of the country to catch up."
Going into Penn State's game against 14th-ranked Southern Cal, Nittany Lion fans had some questions. Could the defensive line, which had only one starter back from last season, stand up to top competition? Was the team deep enough to survive a tough game? Even though three players were listed in the program as starters at tailback, could anyone doubt who was really No. 1?
By the end of the first quarter Penn State led 21-0, and all three questions had been answered. The defense was dominating the line of scrimmage; the Lions were substituting freely and still taking it to the Trojans; and tailback Ki-Jana Carter had started and already rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Although last season he ran for 1,026 yards—the most ever by a Penn State sophomore—Carter has been listed as a costarter with classmates Mike Archie and Stephen Pitts. And while he finished with 119 yards against USC, after having rushed for 210 yards against Minnesota in the season opener, Carter's name will still be followed by that pesky "or" on the most indecisive depth chart in college football when the Lions go against Iowa this weekend.
Just as Penn State's 38-14 demolition of the Trojans was answering those questions of Nittany Lion fans, another one came up: What does OG ETATS TAEB CSU mean? Answer: It was the failed effort of the flip-card section at Beaver Stadium.
Could it possibly be that the Prairie View (Texas) A&M Panthers, who had a 36-game losing streak entering Saturday's game at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, had become overconfident? In their season debut, at Texas Southern a week earlier, the Panthers had come within two yards of a game-tying touchdown as time ran out. Afterward, Prairie View senior linebacker Alphonse Provo was heard to say, "There are a lot of good 10-1 teams out there."
What's more, Prairie View had revenge as motivation. The Panthers, a Division I-AA team, were still a tad indignant that Pine Blulf, an NAIA school, had spoiled their homecoming last season by beating them 12-8. "We want some payback for that," said wide receiver Kerwin Owens.
Meanwhile, a Houston television station was all set to report on the Panthers' triumphant return. Alas, they lost 51-0.
Although they did not return as victors, they did not hang their heads. Says coach Ron Beard, "These guys aren't losers. Losers are people who quit. These guys will be at practice on Monday."
It's not whether you win or lose.... SMU, which had its football program shut down by the NCAA in 1987 and '88 for myriad violations, was 2-7-2 last fall under coach Tom Rossley. This summer, interim athletic director Bill Lively tore up Rossley's contract and extended it for five years—with a 25% raise. Why?
"Tom has built the football team with student-athletes who will graduate," says Lively, neglecting to mention that Rossley, who is in his fourth year with the Mustangs, has also turned SMU into a respectable team that almost upset UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. "This says that we believe in Tom's values and in what he's trying to accomplish."
Yes, it is whether you win or lose.... Three weeks ago Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who is in his eighth season in Blacksburg, received a written agreement calling for a five-year contract extension. But unlike Rossley's extension, Beamer's is conditional: It takes effect only if the Hokies finish with a winning record this fall. Never mind that Beamer has made Tech a Top 20 team. "We're just being honest," says athletic director Dave Braine. "Frank's doing what he's supposed to do, and I'm protecting the interests of the athletic department, which is what I'm supposed to do."
What distinguishes Florida freshmen roommates Reidel Anthony and Fred Taylor from Elmer Fudd—other than their athletic talents and their proficiency in pronouncing the letter r—is their success in catching bunnies. "After the sugarcane harvest, the farmers burn the fields," says Taylor, who, like Anthony, grew up in a small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. "The rabbits scatter, and we chase 'em."
Like the rest of the Gators, Taylor and Anthony are now chasing records. After two games Florida's offensive numbers are downright mind-boggling: 7.4 yards per snap and 19 touchdowns in 28 possessions. After the Gators routed Kentucky 73-7 last week, Wildcat defensive back Steven Hall said, "It was almost like we were playing a Sega game, but we couldn't press reset."
Against Kentucky, Taylor, a tailback, carried 15 times for 88 yards, and Anthony, a split end, caught a 65-yard touchdown pass. The two have been teammates and friends since the fifth grade. Taylor has always been a running back except for a two-year hiatus that began during sixth grade in Belle Glade. "On one carry Fred got stuffed," recalls Anthony, "and he'd heard a rumor about this kid on the other team who had an iron helmet." Says Taylor, in confirmation, "Yeah, Chris Cunningham. I quit after that game and didn't play again until eighth grade." He came back with a vengeance. At Glades Central High he averaged 10.3 yards per carry.
Anthony had no reason to fear anyone or anything growing up. His dad, Clarence, is the mayor in his hometown of South Bay, and his mom, Kathleen Collie, totes a rifle at work. She's a guard at Glades Correctional Facility. "I've always had someone looking out for me," says Anthony, who returned eight kicks for touchdowns at Glades Central.
So which player is better? "They're both so gifted," says Florida coach Steve Spurrier. "It's impossible to say."
That would be like splitting hares...uh, hairs.
Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman's stupendous speed (4.31 in the 40-yard dash) is matched only by the speed of his Heisman hype. On the evening of Sept. 3, a few hours after Kaufman had run for 152 yards on 26 carries in the Huskies' 24-17 loss to Southern Cal in Los Angeles, Washington's assiduous sports information director, Jim Daves, mailed postcards with Kaufman's stats to schools and media across the nation. Upon returning to his office two days later—on Labor Day—Daves found a fax awaiting him from Tim Bourret, the sports information director at Clemson.
"Got your postcard," Bourret wrote. "How did you ever pull this off?"
Says Daves, "Let's hear it for the United States Postal Service."
The Aggies, obscured by probation, took out their frustrations on Oklahoma.
Carter convinced Southern Cal and almost everyone else that he is the Nittany Lions' No. 1 tailback.
Florida freshmen and boyhood buddies, Taylor (left) and Anthony share an affection for hare-raising chases.
Players of the Week
Central Michigan running back Brian Pruitt, a senior, rushed for 274 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries in the Chippewas' 35-23 victory over UNLV.
Reggie Tongue, a junior safety at Oregon State, made 10 tackles and intercepted three passes, two of which he ran back for touchdowns, in the Beavers' 44-31 defeat of Wyoming.
In a 53-28 win over California (Pa.), senior Chris George of Glenville (W.Va.) State had 12 catches to become the alltime collegiate reception leader, with 315, passing Jerry Rice.