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Circle the Wagons

Was that a picture of former vice president Dan Quayle or current Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs on the front page of The Oklahoma Daily, the school's student newspaper, last week? Tough to tell, since the two do look alike and since last week both felt the need to defend their records to Oklahoma audiences. Turns out the story was about Quayle, but the comments quoted in the paper could just as easily have been made by Gibbs.

"I've never shied away from controversy."

Gibbs has certainly found plenty of it. In August he dubbed this year's Oklahoma team "our best since '87," referring to a bunch that went 11-1. Last week, his team having lost to Texas A&M and Texas, Gibbs was given the opportunity to alter his assessment. Did he regret it? "No. I want to be honest and truthful," he said. "Isn't that what you want?"

"It always comes down to education."

Gibbs may believe in the validity of this pronouncement, but do his employers? When Gibbs took over in 1989, the Sooners were on probation and perceived nationally as a cadre of thugs. Now the graduation rate for the most recent class for which figures are available is 57%, tops in the Big Eight. If only Gibbs had won 57% of his duels with Colorado, Nebraska and Texas. Instead. Gibbs is 2-14-1 against that troika, including last Saturday's 45-7 spanking by the Buffaloes in Boulder. Had the Sooners not scored a late touchdown, the loss would have been the worst they have ever suffered to any of those schools—the schools that a coach at Oklahoma must beat to remain a coach at Oklahoma.

"It is in the best interest of the children that the family stay intact."

Gibbs enrolled at Oklahoma in 1970, one year alter Sooner running back Steve Owens won the Heisman. He has been in Norman ever since, and Owens resides there, too, but last week on a local radio show. Owens wasn't very neighborly. "We should have a better team," Owens said. "Hey, [Gibbs has) had six years. Maybe we need to make some changes."

Oklahoma fans came to expect success under Gibbs's predecessor. Barry Switzer. But for better (in the classroom) or worse (on the field), Gibbs is no Switzer. Senior linebacker Tremayne Green offers this contrast between the two: "When I first got here, I lived across the street from Switzer on Imhoff Road. I wanted to meet him, so I brought over a copy of his book to have him sign it. Before I could knock on his door, Switzer spots me and says, 'How ya doin', Tremayne? Get your big ass in here and let me sign that book.'

"Coach Gibbs knows the game, but he's so businesslike. Nobody questions his commitment. It's just that a lot of players have a hard time giving their all for a coach like that."

Last Friday, Owens told The Daily Oklahoman, "I'm certainly not an enemy of Gary Gibbs. But I don't want us to get into a situation where mediocrity is O.K."

With a record of 3-3, Oklahoma is O.K. Bui in Norman, that's not enough.

Committed to Run

It was only a year ago that Arnold Mickens was informed that he lacked the skills to be a running back. Last October Mickens, then a sophomore linebacker and wannabe tailback at Indiana, sat in on something akin to a parent-teacher conference between his mother, Brenda Wagner, and Hoosier coach Bill Mallory.

Mrs. Wagner was blunt: "Coach Mallory, you recruited my son as a running back. Why don't you give him a chance to carry the ball?"

Mallory's reply was equally blunt: "He's not good enough. He's not good enough. He's not good enough. He's not good enough."

"Four times he said it," recalls Mickens. "I lost all respect for him then."

Whether he was good enough for Division I-A, the world will never know, but after transferring to I-AA Butler, the six-foot, 220-pound Mickens, now ensconced at tailback, is the leading rusher in all of college football. He has run for 200-plus yards in a Division I-record six straight games, and his 229.1 per game average is 53.5 yards more than that of Colorado's Rashaan Salaam, the Division I-A leader. On Saturday his 203 yards led the Bulldogs to a 31-24 win over Dayton.

"I'm happy for Arnold," says Mallory. "The key word here is maturity. We weren't pleased with his commitment here. I le was not a butt-buster."

Mickens, in other words, was not an Alex Smith. A redshirt freshman and former Mr. Football in Indiana, Smith is playing the position that Mickens so highly coveted—tailback for the Hoosiers. And like Mickens, he's running well. Smith's 147.2 yards per game average is fourth in Division I-A, and he is on pace to break the I-A freshman record for rushing yards, set by Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1980.

Smith's work ethic took root when he was six and, under his parents' tutelage, undertook a training regimen that could have been lifted out of a manual from Parris Island. Young Alex ran a timed mile before and after school and had to do 100 push-ups each night, "if Alex stopped at 63," says his mother, Carolyn, "he had to start all over."

Mickens had to start all over on May 8, when he packed up his maroon 1980 Buick and put Bloomington in his rear-view mirror. He headed for his hometown of Indianapolis and Butler, his last hope of being a running back.

"Indiana let me try out for fullback near the end, but my heart wasn't in it," he says. "Do you know how often the fullback carries the ball at IU?" Indeed, through six games Hoosier starting fullback Steve Lee has zero carries.

Instead of clearing swaths for Smith, Mickens chose Butler, only four miles from where he grew up. There are no football scholarships at Butler, so he foots the bill for his education through loans, financial aid and by working in the off-season. "This is about being happy," says Mickens. "I will pay $18,000 a year, I will leave the Big Ten. I'll even go to DePauw or Division IV to be happy."

Mickens didn't have to go that far. He is back home again, in Indiana. Just not at Indiana.

Studying Understudies

After Florida quarterback Terry Dean threw his fourth interception early in the second half against Auburn last Saturday (page 34), coach Steve Spurrier replaced him with sophomore Danny Wuerffel. Not only did the Gators not miss a beat, but Wuerffel also threw three touchdown passes to take them from a 22-14 deficit to a 33-29 lead. Though the Tigers eventually won 36-33, Wuerffel, a starter for seven games last season, proved himself a more than capable backup.

Florida is not the only powerhouse that has had to plumb its depths at quarterback. Unbeaten Nebraska has been starting a backup quarterback since Tommy Frazier was sidelined with blood clots in his right leg on Oct. 1.

What if your favorite unbeaten team suddenly lost its starting quarterback? Here's a list of the second-stringers from the country's remaining unbeaten teams—in descending order of their ability to till the cleats of the starter.

•Koy Detmer, sophomore. Colorado. Career stats: 73 completions in 131 attempts for 1,084 yards, nine touchdowns. Has a strong arm, excellent pedigree (brother Ty won the Heisman at BYU in 1990) and experience, having appeared in seven games in '92.

•Brian Burgdorf, junior, Alabama. Career stats: 64 of 119 for 735 yards, four TDs. Was named MVP of the 1993 Gator Bowl after starting in place of injured Jay Barker and leading the Tide to a 24-10 win over North Carolina.

•Wally Richardson, sophomore, Penn State. Career stats: 35 of 70 for 438 yards, two TDs. Played in four games in 1992 alter John Sacca was injured. Acquitted himself well but hasn't done much since.

•Joe Pickens, senior. Duke. Career stats: 42 of 102 for 562 yards, three TDs. A transfer from Ohio State. Started two games in '93: a 45-7 loss to Florida State and a 26-18 loss to Maryland.

•Dameyune Craig, freshman. Auburn. Career stats: 14 of 29 for 185 yards, one TD. Was good enough to press Patrick Nix for the starter job during preseason.

•Moses Moreno, freshman, Colorado State. Career stats: 3 of 8 for 27 yards, no TDs. Made his debut last week as the Rams trounced UTEP 47-9.

•Steve Emerson, senior, Texas A&M. Career stats: 1 of 5 for 14 yards, no TDs. Didn't exactly get a vote of confidence when, with 40 seconds left last Saturday and the Aggies leading Baylor 41-21, they recovered a fumble and put in starter Corey Pullig to run out the clock.

•Brandon Jones, sophomore. Utah. Career stats: 1 of 5 for 16 yards, no TDs. A walk-on whose great claim to fame is that he was the Utah state high jump champion as a junior in high school.

Luck of the Irish

Docs a 7-4 Notre Dame team deserve to play in a major bowl game? Well, it doesn't matter if the Irish deserve to or not. According to the rules of the bowl coalition, a Notre Dame team with seven wins is assured a berth in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Sugar Bowl.

Of course, after losing to Brigham Young 21-14 last Saturday in South Bend, the Irish will have to win three of their last four games to wind up 7-4, and since two of their remaining games are against Florida State and Southern Cal, achieving even that record won't be easy. Well, certainly the Irish wouldn't go to a major bowl with, say, a 6-5 record, would they?

Could be. According to the coalition contract, a 6-5 Irish team could appear in a major bowl "by mutual agreement" of Notre Dame and the bowl. With its large national following, Notre Dame—with almost any record—would be tempting to any bowl committee.

Within the coalition conferences, there are currently 22 teams with fewer losses than Notre Dame. How many will remain by December is anyone's guess, but there figure to be quite a few teams more deserving of a spot in a major bowl than Notre Dame—and chances are one of them will be snubbed in favor of the Irish.



The Sooners and tailback Jerald Moore were overrun in a 45-7 shellacking by Colorado.



Unhappy as an Indiana linebacker, Mickens is right at home as a record-setting Butler tailback.

Players of the Week

Vanderbilt quarterback Ronnie Gordon, a sophomore, rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 65 yards and another TD in the Commodores' 43-30 upset of Georgia. The last time Vanderbilt won in Athens was in 1961.

Safety Ray Farmer, a junior at Duke, made seven tackles, broke up a pass, and blocked a field goal and a punt in the Blue Devils' 19-13 defeat of Clemson. He recovered the blocked punt in the end zone with 3:37 remaining to give his team the win.

Small Schools
Mark Thompson, a sophomore quarterback at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., completed 20 of 36 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another TD as the Hustlin' Quakers came from behind to beat Kenyon 35-34 in a Division III game.