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Inside College Football

April 22, 2002
April 22, 2002

Table of Contents
April 22, 2002

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Inside College Football

Spring Fever
The reigning Big Ten champion, Illinois, is itching to discover
a new quarterback

This is an article from the April 22, 2002 issue Original Layout

Minutes before his defending Big Ten champs burst onto the muddy
turf for their first spring practice, Illinois coach Ron Turner
corralled his five young quarterbacks in his office and stared
each of them in the eye. Then Turner said something he hasn't
needed to say in the last four years: "I'm looking for someone
to step up and be a leader."

It matters little that Illinois has one of the nation's slickest
receiving duos in Brandon Lloyd and Walter Young, and a defense
as well-rounded as any in the league. To make a run in next
fall's ultracompetitive Big Ten race, the Illini need someone who
can operate Turner's fast-moving, pro-style offense as smoothly
as four-year starter Kurt Kittner, who last season guided
Illinois to its first outright conference title since 1983.

Heading into the Illini's spring game on Saturday, juniors Jon
Beutjer and Dustin Ward have separated themselves from the pack.
While Ward better understands the offense, Turner says that
Beutjer, a transfer from Iowa who completed 61.6% of his throws
for 841 yards for the Hawkeyes in 2000, is the more promising
athlete. "They both need more reps," says Turner. "Not flash,
just consistency."

Beutjer's shaky but improving grasp of the Illini offense is the
only factor preventing him from clinching the starting job. What
isn't in question is his desire to reestablish himself after
throwing a state-record 60 touchdown passes at Illinois's
Wheaton-Warrenville South High in 1998. He was redshirted his
first year at Iowa and threw 125 passes as a backup to Scott
Mullen the following season. He expected to start for the
Hawkeyes in 2001 but suffered two setbacks. First, he was knocked
unconscious in a parking lot last July by his roommate and
teammate, Sam Aiello, over a cable bill. No charges were filed,
but Beutjer felt the coaching staff let Aiello, Iowa's starting
center, off too easy by requiring only that he apologize. Beutjer
decided to move on shortly afterward when he lost the quarterback
battle with senior Kyle McCann. "We joke with Jon that he should
have come here in the first place," says Lloyd. "He can be an
explosive player for us."

Determined to take command of the first team, Beutjer reviews
Turner's prodigious playbook before bed each night. Last week he
was joined in the film room by Kittner, who was between predraft
workouts. For two hours he tutored his likely successor on
everything from making reads to calling audibles. "No one can
replace Kurt," says Beutjer, "but I know I can win games for
Illinois."

Impact Transfers
Fargas and Suggs Try Again

Like Jon Beutjer of Illinois, senior tailback Justin Fargas, who
transferred to Southern Cal from Michigan last year, and junior
quarterback A.J. Suggs, who came to Georgia Tech from Tennessee,
couldn't wait for spring ball to begin. Both were high school
All-Americas who showed promise in college before running into
roadblocks. Now Fargas and Suggs are eager to make the most of
their second chances, and both could figure prominently in their
new teams' plans this fall.

"The more I get adjusted to this program, the more I realize I
should have been here a long time ago," says Fargas. "Don't get
me wrong, I had a good experience at Michigan, but I should have
followed my gut and come to USC in the first place."

While growing up in Encino, Calif., Fargas dreamed of playing for
Southern Cal and orally committed to the Trojans before his
senior year at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks. Then USC fired
coach John Robinson after the 1997 season, and Fargas signed with
Michigan. He rushed for 277 yards as a backup and averaged a
team-high 19.8 yards per kickoff return before breaking his right
leg in the 10th game of the '98 season. He ended up missing the
'99 season after undergoing three operations on the leg, began
the following season as tailback Anthony Thomas's backup and then
became a backup safety after four games. He decided to transfer
the following spring to be closer to family and to try his hand
at tailback again. This fall Fargas, a 6'1", 210-pound power back
who runs a 4.26 in the 40, will be a welcome addition for USC,
which averaged 87.7 rushing yards per game last season, 109th in
the nation.

Suggs, a 6'4", 220-pound native of Powder Springs, Ga., played in
seven games for Tennessee in 2000 but decided to transfer when it
became apparent that Casey Clausen, also a freshman at the time,
was the Vols' quarterback of the future. This spring Suggs is
battling with redshirt freshman Damarius Bilbo to become Georgia
Tech's starter. The Yellow Jackets will employ the same offense
under coach Chan Gailey that they used last season with coach
George O'Leary, and Gailey says Suggs and Bilbo are so talented
that he can envision alternating them.

"I really wish things had worked out at Tennessee, but I'm happy
where I am now," says Suggs. "I have two years ahead of me to
prove I can be a winner at this level. I can honestly say if I
could do it all over again, I'd do the same thing." --B.J.
Schecter

Miami's Young Secondary
Greener than The Everglades

National champion Miami has a flaw that's irritating defensive
backs coach Mark Stoops. At times this spring the young,
athletically gifted group that is replacing 2001's dominant
secondary played with an intensity befitting a first-period P.E
class. "It's 180 degrees from last year, when the defensive backs
motivated the team," said Stoops last Thursday. "These kids need
to grow up, and fast."

The Hurricanes lost five defensive starters from last year's 12-0
squad, and no area was hit harder than the secondary, where three
seniors--free safety Ed Reed, strong safety James Lewis and
cornerback Mike Rumph--and junior corner Phil Buchanon (an early
NFL draft entry) departed. That foursome accounted for 20 of
Miami's 23 interceptions last season and set an example by doing
voluntary push-ups after lackluster performances.

By contrast the six players now vying for spots in the
secondary--including juniors Alphonso Marshall and Maurice Sikes
and sophomores Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor--don't have a single
college start among them and sometimes appeared to be spaced out
in drills. "I thought I saw a hunger in their eyes early in
March, but after a couple scrimmages I wasn't so sure," says
Stoops. "The receivers took it to us, and we sat around looking
at each other."

Heartened by improved coverage and focus in Miami's April 6
spring game, Stoops hopes that some of his backs, especially
playmaker Taylor, can be effective come fall. "The thing is, we
expect our defensive backs to be more than good," says Stoops. "A
standard of dominance has been set."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN DIXON/CHAMPAIGN NEWS-GAZETTE (2) Beutjer (7) and Ward seem likely to finish spring practice sitting one-two on the Illini depth chart.COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT J. SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES Miami baby backs Taylor (far left) and Rolle will get a chance to show they've grown up.

Many Happy Returns

Many of last season's statistical leaders were back on their
colleges' fields this spring, including Florida junior
quarterback Rex Grossman, who paced the nation in total offense
(354.9 yards per game) and pass-efficiency rating (170.8) in
2001. Here are the top returning players in 10 other important
categories.

CATEGORY PLAYER, CLASS WHAT HE DID IN 2001
SCHOOL IN '02

Rushing Chance Kretschmer, So. Redshirt freshman led
Nevada the nation with 157.4
yards per game

Scoring Dwone Hicks, Sr. Tailback was second
Middle Tenn. St. in the country with
148 points

Receptions Kevin Curtis, Sr. Only player to average
Utah State nine catches a game

Receiving Curtis, Sr. Wideout was No. 3 in
yards Utah State the nation with 139.1
yards per game

All-purpose Bernard Berrian, Sr. Wideout averaged 199.3
yards Fresno State yards, second-best in
nation

Kick returns Massey, Sr. Led the nation with
Oklahoma State 34.8 yards on 15
attempts. Had one TD

Punt returns Powell, Sr. Brought back 19 boots
Stanford for second-best 16.0
yards per return

Kicking Sievers, Sr. Made a nation-high 1.91
Miami field goals a game,
hitting 21 of 26 attempts

Punting Mullins, Sr. Booted the ball 50 times
Utah State for
fourth-best 44.82-yard
average

Interceptions Vasher, Jr. Finished fifth a year ago
Texas with .58 per game (seven
total)