A Real Laugher
USC quarterback Carson Palmer's return was a pratfall, but that
didn't stop the Trojans
Someday USC quarterback Carson Palmer will look back on his
performance last Sunday against Penn State in the Kickoff
Classic and laugh. But he figured, why wait? The USC sophomore
quarterback bounced his first pass off a receiver and threw an
interception on his second attempt. Palmer got on the headphones
with quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson after the Trojans' opening
series. "We were laughing," Palmer said later. "I told him,
'Don't let me throw anymore.' Hey, sometimes you just don't have
In his first appearance since breaking his right collarbone in
the third game of last season, Palmer completed 10 of 20 passes
for a scant 87 yards. After losing Palmer last September, USC
dropped five of its next six games and finished 6-6. Against the
Nittany Lions, with Palmer underachieving, the Trojans
nevertheless dominated, winning 29-5.
USC was as effective at running the ball, gaining 164 yards, as
it was at stopping the rushing game of Penn State. The Trojans
held the Lions to six yards on the ground, the fewest in Joe
Paterno's 35 years as Penn State coach. Given Sunday's
performance, there's no guarantee that this year the Lions will
get Paterno the seven victories he needs to surpass Bear Bryant
as the winningest coach in major-college football history.
When Paterno arrived at his postgame press conference, he was
asked if he wanted to stand behind the lectern or sit at the
table. "I think I'll sit," he said. "I'll be a smaller target."
He then acknowledged how poorly his team had played before he
took questions about the five false-start penalties committed by
his offense, the punt that got blocked for a USC touchdown and
the ragged play of senior quarterback Rashard Casey (seven
completions in 24 attempts for 106 yards).
The Trojans, meanwhile, laid the first brick in the restoration
of the Pac-10's sagging reputation. But if they're going to
finish the job, they'll need a lot more from Palmer, who looks
like a quarterback that Hollywood would draw up. He's 6'5" and
220 pounds with blond hair, a strong jaw and humility. Jackson
and USC coach Paul Hackett love his attitude. After his injury
last season, Palmer became so intent on learning the West Coast
offense, which Jackson had installed but Palmer had hardly
bothered to study, that he all but sublet the couch in Jackson's
office. "That's very unusual," Jackson said after Sunday's game.
"It's hard to be [on the team] and not play. He was there
morning, noon and night.
"I had to call on our relationship [during the Kickoff Classic],"
Jackson added. "I told him, 'Hey, buddy, if it's not going the
way we want it to, we'll put you on our back. Hand off the
Tailback Sultan McCullough, a speedy sophomore, proved in his
first start that he could gain the tough yards inside, finishing
with a game-high 128 yards on 29 carries. "We all know at some
point this season we'll have to jump on Carson's back," said
Jackson. "He'll be ready."
Palmer endured rehab, he endured wearing the yellow don't-hit-me
jersey during preseason practice--"We wear yellow practice pants,
too; I looked like a banana," he said--so he should survive this
setback. "I've seen guys sulk when they play poorly," said
Jackson, "but after the game Carson was laughing."
No matter how you looked at it, the Trojans won a laugher.
Seminoles War Cry
Give Us Our Props!
Cornered in the Florida State locker room after the Seminoles'
29-3 rout of BYU in Jacksonville last Saturday night, senior
quarterback Chris Weinke faced a critical multiple-choice
question: Who's going to replace All-America wideout Peter
Would it be 1) lithe, speedy senior Marvin (Snoop) Minnis, who
had a game-high nine catches for 137 yards? 2) highly touted
junior college transfer Javon Walker, who caught eight passes,
including one for a touchdown? 3) junior Atrews Bell, a former
walk-on who had four receptions and scored two TDs, one
receiving, one rushing? or 4) promising sophomore Anquan Boldin,
a converted quarterback, like Warrick, who had four catches? "All
of the above," said Weinke. "It's too early to tell if any one of
them will become a superstar like Peter, but they were highly
motivated to prove that as a group they can be just as
Any concern that heavily favored Florida State would not be
highly motivated for its earliest game ever was allayed on Aug.
23. That's the day BYU sophomore quarterback Bret Engemann, who
entered the season with nine career completions and whose main
claim to fame is being Larry King's brother-in-law, predicted on
a Provo, Utah, radio show that the Cougars would beat the
Seminoles 35-21. Tallahassee, Florida...hello! If that wasn't
enough, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden spooked his defense with
the story of the program's last season-opening defeat--a 30-26
loss on Sept. 2, 1989, in Jacksonville, to Southern Mississippi
and another unknown quarterback, Brett Favre.
The day before the game against BYU, Bowden talked warily about
how his offense had manhandled his defense in preseason
scrimmages. Yet that defense shut out the Cougars' potent offense
in the first half--the first time that had happened to BYU in 24
games--and produced five sacks, four turnovers and a safety.
"Their defense is so fast that sometimes it seems like 15 guys
are out there," said Engemann, who was propped up on crutches
after suffering a sprained left knee in the game. "I know I'll
never make a prediction again."
In his postgame comments Bowden expressed disappointment in the
Seminoles' rushing, which produced only 57 yards on 36 carries.
He also acknowledged that freshman walk-on kicker Matt Munyon,
who missed his first PAT (wide right!) as well as 34- and
27-yard field goal attempts, is no Sebastian Janikowski. Also,
Bowden couldn't resist taking issue with the preseason polls: He
questioned how his Seminoles, who haven't lost in nearly 20
months and have 14 starters back, could be ranked second behind
Nebraska in both major polls. "I told our boys, 'They don't
think we're any good, so poor old us, we've just got to go out
and show them,'" says Bowden. "Our guys always want to be Number
1, whether it's August or January or anytime in between." --Tim
Reloading in Wyoming
Stoner Learning Another Offense
In four-plus years at Wyoming, senior quarterback Jay Stoner has
had one serious girlfriend, one car, three head coaches and four
offensive coordinators. How confused has he been? A
four-wide-receiver set was at first called 93, then 69 Go and
then 60 Y-Streak. Stoner's not saying what it's named this year.
No sense in tipping off the Cowboys' opponents.
"I know quite a bit about quite a bit," says Stoner, who's tied
with Ryan Kealy of Arizona State for the most career starts (31)
among returning quarterbacks. As a redshirt freshman in 1996 he
studied the spread offense of coach Joe Tiller, who left after
that season to become the Purdue coach. Tiller's successor, Dana
Dimel, had two coordinators in three years before departing for
Houston after a 7-4 finish in '99. Now Vic Koenning, who favors a
multiple offense, is in charge.
Still, Stoner, who has thrown for 6,122 yards, says he won't give
in to frustration or wonder what might have been had he spent
four years in one offense. "I'm not going to judge my career on
that," he says. "If we end up going to a bowl, that will be more
special than passing records."
If nothing else, Stoner figures he might have found his calling.
"It's made me think I could be a pretty good coach," he says.
For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus more news from
Ivan Maisel and B.J. Schecter, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
Alabama at UCLA
Remember the Rose Bowl, we'll win then, says the Alabama fight
song. More than 20,000 Crimson Tide fans are expected to attend
'Bama's first appearance in Pasadena in 55 seasons. Relax: The
game's on Sept. 2, not Jan. 1, and Alabama will play a team that
went 4-7 last year. The Bruins are improved, but the third-ranked
Tide has too much speed and depth for UCLA.
Texas A&M at Notre Dame
Skeptical about new Irish starting quarterback Arnaz Battle?
Here's a better battle to watch: Notre Dame's seasoned offensive
line against Texas A&M's veteran defensive front. Give the Irish
the edge and, with the home crowd to boot, a win.
Colorado vs. Colorado State (in Denver)
Oh, the humiliation. For Buffaloes fans, living with last
season's 41-14 loss to the Rams has been like coping with the
fact that your prom date left with the class nerd. Colorado State
has won 42 games over the last five seasons, Colorado 40. The
Buffaloes have a lot of unanswered questions on offense, but
motivation should carry them on this day.
Southern Mississippi at Tennessee
The Golden Eagles, one of the nation's most underrated teams over
the past five seasons, will scare the Volunteers before falling
short. The difference could be Vols wideout Leonard Scott, who
will occasionally line up in the backfield. More likely it will
be 106,000 fans singing Rocky Top.
When Alabama coach Mike DuBose ordered more contact in August
workouts, his assistants worried that someone would get hurt.
Sure enough, in the final preseason scrimmage, on Aug. 24,
starting left defensive end Kindal Moorehead ruptured his right
Achilles tendon and was lost for the season. DuBose is off the
hook, though--no one touched Moorehead, who was turning to throw a
block after an interception. Sophomore Jarrett Johnson, an end
who had been shifted inside, is the likely replacement....
The linebacking career of Miami freshman D.J. Williams, the USA
Today high school defensive player of the year last season, was
put on hold last week after Williams told Hurricanes coaches he
wanted to play fullback. Huh? Williams did rush for 1,974 yards
and 33 touchdowns last season at De La Salle High in Concord,
Calif., but Miami was counting on him to add depth to an already
strong defense. The 6'2", 235-pound Williams is now the
third-team fullback in an offense that doesn't showcase that
Among players making their summer school grades to become
eligible to play this fall were two junior college transfers who
could give the Mountain West race a jolt. Utah gained the
services of 6'1", 230-pound tailback Adam Tate, who performs
like former Ute bruisers Jamal Anderson and Chris
Fuamatu-Ma'afala. UNLV now has the services of wide receiver
Bobby Nero, who caught 10 passes as a freshman at Oregon in 1998
before running into academic trouble. He'll be a deep threat for
strong-armed quarterback Jason Thomas....
When the Black Coaches Association Classic between Virginia Tech
and Georgia Tech wasn't played on Sunday night because of heavy
thunderstorms and lightning in Blacksburg, Va., the Hokies came
out ahead. Virginia Tech, which plays Akron on Saturday and then
at East Carolina on Sept. 7, avoided having to play three games
in 12 days. The Yellow Jackets had agreed to the extra game in
part to prepare for No. 2 Florida State on Sept. 9. Instead,
playing Central Florida the week before will have to do.