Cash Talks, They Walk
Michael Vick and 27 other underclassmen decided to cash in early
with the NFL

On the same day last week that quarterback Michael Vick climbed
out of his new silver Lexus GS300 in his hometown of Newport
News, Va., to announce he would skip his last two seasons at
Virginia Tech to go to the NFL, Hokies junior Grant Noel drove
his 1996 Pontiac Sunfire GT onto campus to meet with offensive
coordinator Rickey Bustle. The choice of ride isn't the only
difference between the electrifying Vick and Noel, whose
experience as a college signal-caller consists of two junior
varsity starts and some mop-up duty. "He's made plays in
scrimmages," Bustle says of Noel. "He's a big kid [6'1", 222
pounds] who has a knack for pulling down the ball and making a
play. He has never done it with our best people. We'll give him a
chance to do that."

College coaches across the country were rearranging their depth
charts similarly last week after the number of underclassmen
declaring they would leave for the NFL grew to 28. The total,
which was 20 fewer than the record number who entered the draft
early in 1992, left gaping holes at such schools as Clemson,
which lost All-America junior linebacker Keith Adams; Florida,
which lost All-SEC junior offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker and
All-SEC junior defensive tackle Gerard Warren; Georgia, which
lost junior quarterback Quincy Carter; Michigan, which lost
All-Big Ten junior wideout David Terrell; Nebraska, which lost
All-America junior center Dominic Raiola; Texas A&M, which lost
All-Big 12 junior wideout Robert Ferguson and junior fullback
Ja'Mar Toombs; UCLA, which lost All-America junior wideout
Freddie Mitchell; Washington, which lost All-Pac 10 junior safety
Hakim Akbar; Wisconsin, which lost Thorpe Award-winning junior
cornerback Jamar Fletcher and junior running back Michael
Bennett; and, of course, Virginia Tech, which had enjoyed
back-to-back 11-win seasons with Vick at the controls.

If Hokies coach Frank Beamer feels any self-pity, he should
remind himself that it could be worse. Auburn lost not only
junior tailback Rudi Johnson, the SEC Player of the Year, but
also junior fullback Heath Evans and sophomore wide receiver
Ronney Daniels. Throw in the graduation of All-SEC quarterback
Ben Leard, and the Tigers have no one returning who ran for a
touchdown last season. "That's not very good, is it?" Auburn
coach Tommy Tuberville deadpanned last Thursday.

Johnson, who rushed for 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns, carried
the 9-4 Tigers to the SEC West title. Without him and Evans, a
good blocker who didn't lose yardage on any of his 42 carries
last season, Auburn faces more of a rebuilding year than it had
planned. Tuberville points out that the Tigers will have all
their offensive linemen and tight ends back, plus all of their
receivers except Daniels, but they may start freshmen at both
quarterback and tailback.

Blame the exodus at Auburn and other schools on--what else?--the
lure of money. Vick admits he could have used another year of
seasoning, but he departed after learning he could be the first
pick in the draft and command at least $50 million over seven
years. "I realize I have a lot to learn," he said last week. "But
the opportunity was presented to me, and I said to myself, Be a
man, not a boy, and take advantage of the opportunity. My family
is so important to me, and now I have an opportunity to take care
of it."

Wisconsin's New Look
Badgers Will Use the Spread

Is nothing sacred? Wisconsin, the last believer in Big Ten
smashmouth offense, is going to the spread--not entirely but,
coach Barry Alvarez says, substantially. The Badgers worked on it
during bowl practice and used it a little in their 21-20 Sun Bowl
victory over UCLA. "We never see a six-man defensive front. We
have to block nine guys at the line of scrimmage," says Alvarez,
who, despite defenses' stacking up against the run, has had a
1,000-yard rusher in each of the last eight seasons. "When you
look at the spread, there are natural seams [for a runner]. We're
not going to compromise on being physical. We can [still] open
some lanes."

Alvarez persuaded himself to change after Wisconsin's 47-44
overtime loss to Northwestern on Sept. 23. The Wildcats went 8-4
and tied for the league crown using the spread, which made room
for Damien Anderson to rush for 1,914 yards, second best in the
nation. Third highest was Wisconsin's Bennett, who gained 1,598
yards but is leaving early for the NFL. "Michael would have been
especially good in this offense," Alvarez says. The Badgers' top
returning rusher is sophomore Broderick Williams, who gained 26
yards last year.

Crimson Tide Accused
Is Alabama a Team of Means?

The Memphis Commercial Appeal report last week that Alabama paid
$200,000 to a Memphis high school coach to have him deliver
defensive tackle Albert Means to the Crimson Tide is a cautionary
tale on two accounts. One: The NCAA has been investigating
Alabama and the alleged payoff for months. Two: Means, a high
school All-America, was a bust last season. Listed in the Crimson
Tide media guide as 6'6", 310 pounds, Means actually reported to
Tuscaloosa last August weighing 377. He didn't play regularly
until midseason and finished with 18 tackles in seven games. Last
week he withdrew from the school.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Gator Bowl rivals Vick and Adams are jumping to the NFL, leaving their teams with big holes to fill.
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