The openingweekend of the college football season was a little like a campus kegger--good,unruly fun, with so much activity that it was hard to know where to look. Therewere supposedly cool kids who spilled their drinks all over themselves (hello,ninth-ranked California, a 35--18 loser at No. 23 Tennessee) and big men oncampus who looked a little awkward on the dance floor (presenting No. 2 NotreDame, a 14--10 survivor at Georgia Tech). But it was a pair of quiet newcomersto the festivities--a couple of coaches' kids, one with a Cajun drawl and theother with a West Texas twang--who turned out to be the life of the party. Themature, efficient performances of USC quarterback John David Booty and hisTexas counterpart, Colt McCoy, didn't guarantee return trips to the nationalchampionship game for their teams, but they did at least indicate that fans ofthe Trojans and the Longhorns won't have to spend the season pining for theirdeparted star QBs, Matt Leinart and Vince Young. McCoy, a redshirt freshmanmaking his college debut, coolly directed third-ranked Texas to a 56--7dismantling of North Texas last Saturday, a precursor to a far more definitivetest this Saturday, when No. 1 Ohio State visits Austin. Booty, a junior fromShreveport, La., who sat patiently for three years while Leinart was winningnational titles, picking up the Heisman Trophy and partying with Hollywoodcelebrities, was even more impressive in his first game as a starter, if onlybecause he faced tougher competition in the sixth-ranked Trojans' 50--14drubbing of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Next up for USC is a Sept. 16 date withNo. 20 Nebraska.
Since both teamsare brimming with talent in every other area, the play of Booty and McCoyconfirms--as much as anything can be confirmed in Week 1--that the Trojans andthe Longhorns are still of championship caliber, although their personalitieshave changed along with their quarterbacks. McCoy, who completed 12 of 19passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns, won't scramble for as manythird-down-and-forever conversions as Young--although he did have a nifty27-yard run against North Texas--but he appears more than capable of gettingthe ball to a variety of playmakers, including wideout Limas Sweed, who took aslant pass from McCoy and turned it into a 60-yard touchdown on the Longhorns'third play from scrimmage. It was one of the six touchdowns Texas scored on theseven possessions that McCoy played.
Booty, who was 24of 35 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, surely won't attract the Peoplemagazine reporters and paparazzi who tailed Leinart, but he showed some of thesame accuracy and unflappability that made his predecessor, like Young, afirst-round NFL draft pick. "I thought he really settled in after the firstquarter and made some outstanding throws," said Steve Sarkisian, theTrojans' quarterbacks coach, who compares Booty to a pitcher with pinpointcontrol. "He's like Greg Maddux in the way he can put the ball in the spotit needs to be."
Both McCoy andBooty have benefited from the advice of their famous predecessors. McCoy andYoung talk about once a week, "more for support than anything," McCoysays. Booty text-messaged Leinart the night before the Arkansas game for thesame reason. "I wanted some advice from him on how to approach this wholething," Booty says. "He told me I was going to do great, and that themain thing was not to be in a hurry, to let the game slow down a littlebit."
Booty had a hardtime putting that advice to use right away. He was shaky at the start, rushinga few first-quarter throws. The Trojans were up 16--7 at halftime mainly due totwo Arkansas turnovers that led to 10 points. But in the second half, Booty waspositively Leinart-like with two particularly sweet throws, a 14-yard touchdownpass to wide receiver Patrick Turner that he threw low and away from twodefenders, and a nine-yard toss to tight end Fred Davis that he lofted highinto the back of the end zone, where only Davis could reach it.
Unlike Booty,McCoy didn't have any early jitters to overcome. In fact he was worried aboutnot being worried. "Is it normal that I'm not nervous?" McCoy askedcoach Mack Brown last Thursday. "Yeah," Brown replied. "It meansyou've done your job and you're prepared. You should be eager and excited, butnot nervous."
Almost from theday that Young declared for the draft, Brown has made it clear that he doesn'texpect any Longhorn to duplicate his former quarterback's spectacular plays. Toreinforce that message he replaced last year's team motto--"Take deadaim"--with one that has a more modest feel: "Just do what you cando." But McCoy has already proved himself capable of a different type ofheroism.
He was spendingthe final night of last Memorial Day weekend with his family at their home onTimber Ridge Lake near Graham, Texas, when he and his father heard a womanshouting for help from across the lake. The two McCoys didn't have a boat andjudging by the urgency of the cries, they felt it would take too long to drivearound the lake. So they swam 300 yards in the dark to the woman's home, wherethey found her husband collapsed on the deck, suffering what would later bediagnosed as a grand mal seizure. "I did what anybody else in the samesituation hopefully would have done," Colt says.
Once there, Coltclimbed, shoeless, up the steep, craggy canyon path to the main road, where heflagged down the ambulance that neighbors had called. Then he and his fatherhelped the paramedics carry 60-year-old Ken Herrington to the vehicle. After aone-week hospital stay, Herrington is at home, en route to a full recovery.
The two McCoyshad been fishing most of that day, which is typical of Colt's non-footballpursuits. He's partial to the things you might expect of a kid named Colt fromTuscola, Texas, a town so small (pop. 714) it has only one blinking stoplight.That would include hunting white-tailed deer and listening to country music onthe jukebox. But it's football that is in McCoy's blood. One of his earliestmemories is of standing on the sideline as a four-year-old water boy for thehigh school team his father then coached when a play came his way. He wasflattened by a runner heading out-of-bounds and broke his collarbone. "Ithought I was old enough to take it," he says. "I guess Iwasn't."
There was someconcern that he was a bit young to lead the Longhorns, especially consideringthat McCoy, who turned 20 three days after the win over North Texas, has beenknown to have his voice crack while he's calling plays in the huddle. But he'sused to being underestimated. He played for his father at Tuscola's Jim NedHigh in Texas's 2A classification, three levels below the top high schoolcompetition in the state, and he was considered something of a consolationprize when he signed with Texas after the blue-chip quarterback the Longhornsthought they had locked up, Ryan Perrilloux, didn't honor his verbal commitmentand went to LSU. "This game won't be the first time I've had to provemyself," he said last week.
McCoy and Bootyhave hungry understudies waiting to take over if they falter, though it'sunlikely that either will get a quick hook. The Longhorns' backup, Jevan Snead,is a true freshman who enrolled at Texas in January so he could participate inspring practice. Not only would Brown be reluctant to turn the job over to aquarterback so green, he's also determined to avoid the kind of quarterbackcontroversy that has cropped up in past years, when the Major Applewhite--ChrisSimms and, briefly, the Young--Chance Mock tandems split time and, to somedegree, the team.
The Trojans' MarkSanchez, a redshirt freshman who was impressive in spring practice, is a moreviable candidate to take over should the need arise, but after three years inthe program, Booty is well-versed in the offense, and he's more of a knownquantity to the coaching staff. "John David has a very clear, very thoroughunderstanding of what we're doing," USC coach Pete Carroll said last week."I'm more comfortable with him now than I was with Leinart when he tookover three years ago."
Booty, 21, is inmany ways the perfect replacement for Leinart--seasoned, mature and well enoughrespected by his teammates that they voted him co-captain during the preseason,a rarity for a player who had never started a college game. He graduated earlyfrom Evangel Christian High in Shreveport in 2003, bypassing his senior seasonafter his father, Johnny, was fired as an assistant coach, and joined theTrojans for spring practice before his freshman year, then nearly beat outLeinart for the starting job that fall. While Leinart blossomed, Booty mostlysat, throwing 14 passes in five games of mop-up duty as a freshman and beingredshirted as a sophomore. He had hopes of taking over as the starter whenLeinart considered leaving for the NFL after his junior year, but he had tostay on the sideline again last season when Leinart returned.
"Maybe Icould have been playing more somewhere else, but I have no regrets," Bootysaid last week. "I have two seasons left with some of the best talent inthe nation around me, so I don't think I could be in a better position."Still, another year of playing only at the end of blowouts was difficult todeal with at times last fall, which is why Booty often stopped by the HermosaBeach apartment of his brother Josh for some Cajun cooking and counsel. "Itold him to make sure he prepared, I mean really prepared, as if he were goingto play every week," says Josh, who was a backup quarterback with theCleveland Browns for three seasons. "You can still improve as a quarterbackeven if you're not playing a lot in the games, and I think he didthat."
John David'simprovement was on display against Arkansas, but his teammates saw it longbefore that even in minor areas. When he came to USC, Booty had a relaxedLouisiana lilt that wasn't well-suited to getting plays called quickly in thehuddle, and center Ryan Kalil, his roommate, warned him that he'd have to pickup the pace of his speech. "He did it," Kalil says. "Listen to himnow, and you hear a little more L.A. and a little less Louisiana." McCoyhas some work to do on his own huddle presence. The only time he raised hisvoice in the huddle last Saturday, said Sweed, was "when we told him totalk louder."
If that happened,McCoy doesn't recall it. "I'm trying to remember what I did because I don'tknow," he said after the game. He isn't the first college student to have afuzzy memory after the first bash of the year, and it doesn't really matter,anyway. For college kids and quarterbacks alike, the only party that matters isthe next one.
Countdown to Kickoff
Read everything you need to know about this Saturday'sOhio State--Texas showdown, from Stewart Mandel and Luke Winn, includinganalysis and predictions at SI.com/collegefootball.
Ohio State Versus Texas: the Sequel
The defenses will be challenged when the Buckeyesinvade Austin for a rematch with the Longhorns
Is this¬†one epic enough for you? This Saturdaynight college football delivers its first apocalyptic showdown of the season:No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 (according to the coaches' poll, at least) Texas. Thegame is the back end of one of the most inspired home-and-home series inmemory. The Longhorns, you recall, kick-started their drive for the '05national title with a gutsy 25--22 win at the Horseshoe last Sept. 10. In aprelude to glorious victories to come, Vince Young drove Texas 67 yards in thefinal minutes for the game-winning touchdown.
With Young having departed for the NFL, Ohio State'sTroy Smith--who has started every game since that loss--has become the finestdual-threat quarterback in college football (SI, Aug. 21). The Buckeyes willdefinitely have the edge at QB, but it might not be as big as they'd hoped, atleast based on how redshirt freshman Colt McCoy played in the Longhorns'season-opening win over North Texas.
McCoy, it bears noting, had his team's longest runfrom scrimmage (27 yards) against the Mean Green. If Texas is to keep up withthe Buckeyes, he will need more help from running backs Selvin Young and JamaalCharles. Good news for the Longhorns: Run defense appears to be the biggestquestion mark on an Ohio State unit that is replacing nine starters from lastseason. Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe carried 26 times for 171yards (he also caught five passes for 114 yards) in the Huskies' 35--12 loss tothe Buckeyes last Saturday.
It was against Texas last year that OSU wideout TedGinn Jr. was essentially erased by Michael Huff, the safety with cornerbackspeed. With Huff's having taken his skills to the NFL, the Longhorns have noone of his caliber to cover Ginn, who caught a pair of touchdown passes againstNorthern Illinois, and who will almost certainly be spending time behind theTexas secondary.
On the other hand, the Horns have been effective atcontaining dual-threat quarterbacks. (Indeed, they spent three years practicingagainst one of the best.) They've won 21 in a row overall and 11 straightagainst ranked opponents in Austin, though they'll be playing at home against aNo. 1 team for the first time since they hosted SMU in 1950.
"It gets a lot tougher next week," allowedBuckeyes defensive end Jay Richardson after Ohio State had polished offNorthern Illinois. "It's going to be a whole different level and caliber ofplayers. This was a solid start. I don't want to say it was a greatstart."
That claim will belong to whoever wins onSaturday.
"I'm more comfortable with (Booty) now than I WASWITH LEINART when he took over three years ago," Carroll said.
Photograph by Darren Carroll
BIG STEP McCoy was in on four TDs and got the Horns in the end zone on all but one of his seven possessions.
PASSING MARK A tentative Booty started slowly, but he heated up with three touchdown passes in the second half.