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November 30, 2007

LSU: Without A Flynn

Last weekend, LSU's triple-overtime loss to Arkansas did more than knock the Tigers out of the national championship race - it may have knocked Matt Flynn out of this weekend's SEC Championship game. Flynn suffered an injury to his right shoulder during last week's loss and head coach Les Miles informed the media on Friday that Flynn's ability to play would be a game-time decision. For a team down in the dumps after two overtime losses, including one at home on senior day, led by a coach who may be leaving at the end of the season, who insists on rationalizing away their losses by saying the team never lost in regulation, this is perhaps the worst piece of news LSU could receive on the eve of what has become their biggest game of the season.

If he plays on Saturday, Flynn, a senior, will be playing in his second-to-last game (the Tigers sould certainly go to a bowl game, even if they lose to Tennessee in the SEC Championship). He participated in pratices all week, but Miles said that Flynn will have to see how he feels when he reaches the field on Saturday before the coaching staff can say for sure who will get to play.

"If he's ready to play, we'll play him," Miles said. "If he's not, he'll watch. But I would expect that he may well play."

Miles said that if Flynn's ability to throw is hampered in any way, then backup Ryan Perrilloux will get the start.

"I think that we don't want a tender quarterback that's trying to get a ball there," Miles said. "We want to be able to sling it."

Perrilloux is not exactly in mid-season form. After an experiment that awry earlier in the year attempting to use Perrilloux in a vintage Tebow role (bringing him in to run the ball), Perrilloux was suspended for a game for some unsanctioned extra-curricular activity and has not seen any playing time in LSU's last four games.

Flynn is not exactly the ideal QB, with a 55% completion percentage, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but he's a senior who has run the LSU offense all season. No matter what these players may tell reporters, they are all disappointed about Saturday's game no longer being a stepping stone to the national title, and it's hard to get yourself up for games when you're in that state of mind. But that's nothing compared to the difficulty this team will face if it's up to sophomore Ryan Perrilloux to get the team revved up to play.

Perrilloux's passing numbers are actually better than Flynn's - he completes better than 68% of his passes with 7 touchdowns and only one pick - but he's only thrown 45 passes this season. With Tennessee patting itself on the back for squeaking by enough times to find itself a place in the conference championship game, the last thing LSU needs is for a sophomore with myriad off-the-field issues to take over the offense for the injured senior quarterback.

It would take an awful lot of pain for Flynn to be kept off the field during the SEC Championship game of his senior year, but should he not play, the Tigers are in trouble, and not just because Perrilloux hasn't played in a month.

November 28, 2007

Cal: Big Game Bruises

Cal receiver and returnman DeSean Jackson sat out of Tuesday's practice with a bruised right leg, and is uncertain as to whether or not he will play in the 110th Big Game on Saturday against Stanford. The Bears have lost five of their last six games and playing this one without Jackson would really hurt. Stanford may be outside anyone's list of the top teams in the nation, but the Cardinal did defeat USC in the Colisuem, and with Cal dangerously close to finishing its season at .500 (after falling like a rock from the No. 2 ranking they held earlier in the season), the junior is an essential piece in this weekend's puzzle.

Jackson sustained the injury to his quadriceps during the second quarter of Cal's loss to Washington on Nov. 17. He severly bruised his quads during a punt return and missed the rest of the game, and after a week of rehab, he's still feeling the effects of the injury whenever he moves on his knee. That's a big problem for a player whose biggest asset is his speed.

"I'm still not back to where I want to be," Jackson said. "Closer to game time, I'll see how I feel. Every year I've played in the Big Game, it's been one of those grest years. It would be good to keep that tradition going on. RIght now, I just want to protect my knee from whatever it is."

Through 11 games this season, Jackson has 60 catches for 681 yards with five touchdowns and another TD running the ball. He also has 12 punt returns for 129 yards, but never again matched the magic of the one he returned for a touchdown against Tennessee in the season opener. Jackson will most likely declare for the NFL draft after this season, so he wants to make a final regular-season statement (the half-game numbers against Washington are entirely forgettable) without running the risk of further injuring that precious knee.

If Jackson does not play, Cal's offense is in trouble. Freshman tailback Jahvid Best will miss the game, and most likely Cal's bowl game, as well, with a hip injury. The team's second-leading rusher, Best has 221 yards on the ground this season with 2 touchdowns. He was also hurt against Washington, during a blocking assingment on a kick return. It is still unclear whether or not Best will need surgery, but he's spending some time on crutches while team doctors figure that out.

November 26, 2007

Big 12 Title Game: Each Side Loses One

Saturday's Big 12 title game will decide more than a conference champion. Should Missouri win, the Tigers will remain No. 1 in the BCS and play for the national title. Should Oklahoma win, the Sooners will move up and knock the Tigers out, but the championship game then depends on the plight of West Virginia. Either way, it's a complicated situation, made all the more complicated by the injuries hampering both teams. Oklahoma will play without top running back DeMarco Murray, who is having surgery this week that will end his season, and Missouri may be without half of its tight end tandem, as Chase Coffman is questionable with an ankle injury.

Murray, a redshirt freshman, will miss both the Big 12 Championship game and the Sooners' bowl appearance because of the surgery he will have this week to repair his injured knee. He sustained the injury while trying to recover an onside kick in a loss to Texas Tech on Nov. 17.

His absence is a big hit to the Sooners, as Murray has been the key third wheel in Oklahoma's triple-threat running attack. On 127 carries, he rushed for 764 yards this season, good enough for 69.5 yards per game (second on the team). He led the Sooners in rushing touchdowns with 13, and also brought back two kickoff returns for scores.

Also questionable for the Sooners is defensive end Auston English, who has now missed three straight games with an ankle injury. The former Big 12 sack leader has 9.5 sacks through 9 games, and with Missouri's Chase Daniel looking particularly hot last weekend, Oklahoma would love to have English back on the field.

As for the so-called inexperienced underdogs, they may be without half of their most potent weapon, one of those 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight ends for which the Tigers are so noted. Coffman missed the second half of last week's win over Kansas with the ankle injury that may keep him off the field on Saturday, which would be a huge blow to the Tigers' non-stop offense.

Coffman is Missouri's third-leading receiver, having hauled in 51 catches for 523 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He holds the career TD reception record for the Tigers, with 20. His size and agility make him just as punishing a blocker as a pass-catcher, and the Tigers will certainly miss him if he is unable to play on Saturday.

"He will be in a boot until Wednesday morning, then he'll practice Wednesday and Thursday," head coach Gary Pinkel said on Monday. "We think he'll be back, but he would certainly be questionable at this time."

These two losses will not necessarily cancel out. Murray is an integral part of the offense, yes, but Oklahoma has already played one game without him. Missouri, on the other hand, needs all of its guns firing to overcome a team that beat them the last time around (41-31 on Oct. 14, in Norman).

Unless Coffman's ankle is broken, expect the junior to play. This is not just another outing - it's the Big 12 championship with a national title berth on the line. If Dennis Dixon played with a torn ACL, Coffman will take the field with a banged-up ankle. The Tigers need him.

November 25, 2007

Oregon: Worse Than Feared

Everyone knew Dennis Dixon was important to Oregon's offense, but few thought he WAS the Oregon offense. Turns out, those few were right. Without Dixon, the Ducks (also minus backup quarterback Brady Leaf), could not score a single point in a 16-0 loss to UCLA that exposed the team's worst fear - without Dixon, Oregon is a bunch of sitting ducks.

Oregon is out of the Rose Bowl hunt after their second-straight conference loss, but this one really hurt. Brady Leaf was supposed to have the talent (and the gene pool) to lead Oregon to two wins over run-of-the-mill Pac-10 opponents and keep the Ducks above water long enough to still make a Rose Bowl appearance, now that their national championship hopes have sunk. Except Leaf didn't really get the chance, since the injury bug bit him, too.

Leaf was already battling an ankle injury heading into Saturday's game against UCLA, and he didn't last long. After being sacked in the first quarter, Leaf rolled on his right ankle, the uninjured one, taking him out of the game. He threw a few passes on the sideline but never made it back onto the field. Two bad ankles do not allow for a positive output in Oregon's spread out, run-when-you-can offense. He is questionable for next week's game as well, the season finale against Oregon State.

Next in the QB pecking order was redshirt freshman Cody Kempt, who lasted two quarters before being knocked out on a hit by All-American defensive end Bruce Davis. Redshirt freshman Justin Roper came in to relieve Kempt until he stopped seeing stars, and Kempt was able to finish the game.

Kempt was an abysmal 6 of 23 passing with 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a sack, while Roper didn't give him much help, completing 1 of 5 passes for 8 yards, taking 2 sacks and throwing a pick in his brief stint under center. Oregon will spend this offseason searching for a suitable backup quarterback - or three - because these guys clearly could not get it done, injuries or no.

And then there is the issue of the run game. Running back Jonathan Stewart entered the game struggling with shoulder and toe injuries, and the Pac-10's leading rusher felt a whole lot worse when he walked off the field on Saturday. He had just 33 yards on 13 carries, turning in an average of 2.5 yards per carry, nearly 4 yards per carry below his season average. And all this came against UCLA, not USC. Perhaps those lingering injuries are worse than Stewart is willing to admit.

Now the Ducks are down to just one healthy quarterback - though Kempt should get the final start - with the Civil War approaching next week, and they desperately need a win to salvage what is left of this season and get into a respectable bowl game.

Florida: Superman Is Human

Turns out college football's Superman is human, and he's got a broken right hand to prove it. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will be in a cast for at least two weeks after breaking his non-throwing hand during Saturday's I'm-gonna-win-me-the-Heisman performance against Florida State. After doing some preliminary sideline tests, team doctors told the sophomore he could stay in the game, but X-rays later showed the injury was far more severe than originally thought.

Tebow sustained a non-displaced fracture in his right hand during a 5-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter. It could not have been too debilitating, since Tebow did throw a 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, after sustaining the injury, but that also speaks to the toughness of the Heisman Trophy hopeful. Tebow finished the day with another eye-popping performance, 89 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 13 carries to go with 19 of 28 passing for 262 yards and another three scores, and the performance is all the more impressive knowing that Tebow's hand was broken for half of it.

For the Gators, the timing could not have been better. The win over Florida State marked Florida's final game of the regular season, and Tebow will have plenty of time to rest that hand before taking the field again in January. The Gators will most likely play in either the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl, both on New Year's Day, and Tebow's hand should, barring any further complications, be back to full strength in plenty of time for him to put on another show in the new year. Not that he needs that hand, apparently, to lead his team to victory.

If only Dennis Dixon could have waited until his final game of the season to tear his ACL, the Heisman race might look a whole lot different right now. But as it stands, even with a broken hand, Tebow still appears to be Superman.

November 23, 2007

LSU: Beat Up And Beat Down

It was a painful day for LSU and all of the former No. 1 team's fans. The Tigers put on a poor showing in their final regular season game, giving up a triple-overtime 50-48 decision to Darren McFadden -- err, Arkansas. It seemed that every time LSU ran a play in this one, a different player was hobbling around trying to get off the field. I counted at least six Tigers hurt over the course of this contest, to varying degrees, but that is certainly on the conservative side of the injury count.

Most prominent in his pain, and not just because of his size, was defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Dorsey was said to be hampered with a tailbone injury, and he certainly looked uncomfortable throughout the game. He finished with six total tackles, good enough for fourth on the team, but was not the force that he has been in prior weeks. The entire LSU defense looked rather lethargic on the day, especially as the later overtimes played out, but Dorsey was especially un-Dorsey-like, which played a big role in LSU allowing Arkansas 385 yards rushing.

Something had to have been wrong with quarterback Matt Flynn. He's no Tom Brady, to be sure, but he is not a 22-of-47 quarterback, either, and that's just where he finished on Friday, passing for a mere 209 yards. Flynn left the field for a few frightening moments heading into overtime with pain in his right shoulder, but did not miss any playing time. He was back on the field in time to play all three overtime stanzas.

Junior safety Curtis Taylor took a helmet to the hip late in the game, knocking him to the turf for a few moments, senior safety Craig Steltz pulled a hamstring that sent him to the sideline briefly and offensive tackle Carnell Stewart was also banged up over the course of the game. And that was all before senior wide receiver Early Doucet gave Tiger fans everywhere a huge scare when he crumpled to the turf on the Arkansas side of the field. Luckily, by the time the TV broadcast had returned from commercial, Doucet was up and jogging again, despite nagging pain in his re-pulled groin muscle.

Injuries are never an excuse for a poor performance, especially a performance as uncharacteristically poor as LSU produced against a suddenly energized Arkansas squad, at home, but all these knicks and bruises certainly add up, especially when dealing with triple overtime situations.

November 22, 2007

UCLA vs. Oregon: New Faces Behind Center

UCLA is used to quarterback changes, which should give the Bruins the advantage in this weekend's matchup with Oregon, where both teams will be sporting out-of-practice signal callers. Redshirt junior Ben Olson will not be starting for the Bruins after missing five weeks of practice with a knee injury, but he has practiced all week to try to earn back his backup role (Osaar Rasshan is the unquestioned starter). As for Oregon, the Ducks will have to rethink their offensive strategy after Dennis Dixon tore his ACL, taking him off the field for the rest of the season. Brady Leaf will make his first start on Saturday in a game that has Pac-10 implications for both squads.

The Bruins have used no less than four quarterbacks this season (Olson, Rasshan, Pat Cowan and McLeod Bethel-Thompson) as not a single man under center has lasted for more than four consecutive games before being cast aside by injury. Olson, who was the team's go-to guy at the beginning of the season, is suddenly playing to be a backup, a role he certainly was not expecting.

Rasshan was not listed as a quarterback at season's start. He was originally converted to a receiver, then moved back to QB when Cowan was hurt several weeks ago, sustaining a concussion and the collapse of his right lung in a loss to Arizona on Nov. 3. Cowan has been cleared for conditioning, but is not available to play against Oregon, so Rasshan, who started last week's game, will have his second start as a Bruin on Saturday.

Olson may not be ready to play this weekend - head coach Karl Dorrell has said there is an outside chance that he will be available for the Oregon game - but either way, the Bruins fit right into the quarterback-instable world of the Pac-10. Just two quarterbacks in the conference have started every game (Arizona's Willie Tuitama and Washington's Alex Brink).

Brady Leaf is in much better shape than Dennis Dixon, but he is far from 100 percent himself. Leaf was hampered with an ankle injury for much of last week's loss to Arizona, and will have to play through the pain on Saturday.

With the season nearing its end, teams are ready to put everything they've got on the table, including semi-injured players (just ask Dixon). But with an outside chance for a share of the Pac-10 title still dim on the horizon, UCLA - and Oregon, for that matter - will attempt to use any firepower it can get, including from the injured arm (and leg) of Olson. Don't be surprised to see some of these injured players take the field for the Bruins between now and year's end.

November 21, 2007

USC vs. Arizona State: Banged-Up QBs Back In Action

After Oregon fell to Arizona a week ago, USC's stock rocketed upwards in the suddenly close Pac-10 conference race. If the Trojans can pull out a win over Arizona State on Thanksgiving night, at Arizona State, they put themselves in perfect position to finish in a tie for the top spot in the Pac-10. Both teams are coming off a bye with two formerly banged-up quarterbacks ready to prove that their injuries have healed. USC's John David Booty should start his second straight game after missing three weeks with a broken finger, while Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter threw last weekend for the first time in nearly two weeks, having spent time allowing his injured thumb to heal.

Arizona State controls its own post-season destiny, and with a healthy Carpenter back under center, the Sun Devils are in good shape to win out and claim their third-ever conference title. Carpenter has been hampered for the past few weeks with a thumb injury originally sustained against Oregon, then re-injured against UCLA on Nov. 10. He is ranked third in the league in passing with 252 yards per game, and should be back to full strength in time for the Thanksgiving battle.

The Trojans' quarterback issues are a bit further removed. Booty was back in the lineup two weeks ago after missing time to heal his right middle ringer, and although he missed three days of practice earlier this week, the missed time was mostly precautionary. Plus, Booty has three of the best running backs in the conference to hand off to, and left tackle Sam Baker has a chance to start this week after sustaining a hamstring injury against Oregon. Linebacker Keith Rivers is still questionable.

Assuming both quarterbacks are fully healthy this week, the edge should still go to Carpenter. ASU and USC are Nos. 2 and 3 in scoring offense in the Pac-10, respectively, but Booty had some horrendous games before sitting out to heal his finger. Booty's TD:INT ratio is 14:8, while Carpenter's is 20:8. Both QBs are completing 63 percent of their passes, but Carpenter is far ahead of Booty in pass efficiency. Luckily, Booty does have that trio of talented running backs to compensate for any bad day he might be having, but the edge in this QB battle looks, from the outset, to belong to Carpenter.

November 19, 2007

Oklahoma: Terrible Timing

Just two days after Oklahoma's national title hopes slipped away with a 34-27 loss to Texas Tech, the Sooners' Big 12 South title, which was all but locked up before Saturday, now appears to be hanging in the balance. Oklahoma's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, has a dislocated kneecap that will keep him out of Saturday's all-important game against Oklahoma State. With QB Sam Bradford questionable after sitting out three quarters-plus of the loss with a concussion, the Sooners' conference title hopes are suddenly in jeopardy.

Murray, a redshirt freshman, has 764 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns this season to go with his two kickoff returns for touchdowns. His 15 total scores match the record Adrian Peterson set for a Sooner freshman, but Murray will now miss the chance to surpass that, unless his team can win this one without him and earn a trip to the Big 12 championship game.

Murray was injured in the final minute of Saturday's loss while attempting to recover an onside kick. He led the team with 92 yards on 19 carries, while starter Allen Patrick had only two carries for 9 yards, and one very costly fumble.

On his first carry, Patrick fumbled the ball and quarterback Sam Bradford was hit hard by Red Raider linebacker Marlon Williams as Williams recovered the loose ball. Bradford left the game with a concussion and did not return. Head coach Bob Stoops said Monday that Bradford's playing status will be determined later this week, which is terrible news for Oklahoma for more reasons than the sub-par performance of backup Joey Halzle. Bradford is the nation's most efficient passer and with offensive weapon No. 1 (Murray) missing from this week's lineup, the Sooners are going to need to find additional offensive firepower elsewhere. Bradford was a prime choice to step up his game, but if he does not play, Oklahoma may find itself out of the Big 12 picture.

And another thing - with Bradford on the bench and a healthy Murray, the Sooners rushed for a season-worst 106 yards on Saturday. And that was against Texas Tech, not LSU. With Murray on the bench, Oklahoma's rushing prospects look bleak, to put it lightly, even against Oklahoma State.

Receiver Adron Tennell also went down in the game, tearing his ACL to take him out of action for the rest of the year. He caught five passes this season for 114 yards with a touchdown.

On the defensive side of the line, Alan Davis became the third defensive end Oklahoma has lost to injury this year when he went down against Texas Tech. John Williams is out for the year after having surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon and Auston English has missed the last two games with a hairline fracture in his leg. The Sooners are hoping to have English back this week, but the medical staff is making no guarantees.

The Sooners went from national title-promised to injury-pummeled in a very short 60-minute span. If the Oklahoma coaching staff does not come up with something brilliant over the course of this week of preparation, the Sooner nation will be decidedly unforgiving of the way the 2007 season ended.

Florida: There's More

As if having Superman on the team weren't enough, Florida just got another hero back. Wide receiver Percy Harvin worked out on Sunday for the first time in two weeks and head coach Urban Meyer expects Harvin, the team's second-leading receiver, to be back on the field for Saturday's game against Florida State. If Harvin starts, that will mark the first time in more than two months that the defending national champions have had all of their pass catchers healthy in the same game.

Harvin has been hampered by injury all season. It started with tendinitis in the knee and the Achilles tendon during fall practices, and turned into a sinus infection and painful migraines that have kept Harvin, responsible for 45 catches for 714 yards and three TDs, off the field for the last two weeks. He stayed home while his team traveled to South Carolina before spending five days in the infirmiray on campus. The sophomore had a CT scan and an MRI to try to find the source of his headaches, and the tests ultimately helped.

"They've done all kinds of tests on him, and they were trying different medicines and they finally found the one that knocked the migraine out," Meyer said. "I think they've tried three or four different IV medicines, and they found the one that kind of made it at least bearable."

Harvin spent Saturday's win over FAU on the sidelines but stepped foot in the weight room on Sunday for the first time in weeks, bringing a smile to Meyer's face.

In Harvin's absence, Bubba Caldwell has become quarterback Tim Tebow's go-to guy. Caldwell caught 11 passes for 147 yards and a TD against South Carolina and added 13 more catches for 164 yards last week. But he has not been injury-free, either -- the senior sprained a ligament in his right knee in Week 2 and missed the next four games. Also on the list of injured receivers this season are Riley Cooper, who went five games without a catch following surgery to repair his broken finger, and Cornelius Ingram, whose sprained ankle kept him in and out of games against Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

But all that should change against the Seminoles, when the Gators will have their full arsenal healthy, barring any further complications this week.

That is, on offense - defense is another story.

Cornerback Joe Haden has a sprained ankle, defensive tackle Mike Pouncey has a hyper-extended knee and defensive lineman Lawrence Marsh has an injured foot. Meyer said he should know more details on all three players' conditions later in the week.

November 18, 2007

The Week Of The Broken QB

Week 12 was the week of the broken quarterback. After Oregon's Dennis Dixon went down with a torn ACL on Thursday night, Hawai'i's Colt Brennan lasted only two snaps before leaving his game on Friday to nurse the concussion that took him out of the last few minutes of the previous week's win. Then on Saturday, the barrage continued, as Michigan's Chad Henne was in and out of his team's loss to Ohio State with a shoulder injury and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford was knocked out of his team's loss to Texas Tech with a first-quarter concussion.

The worst casualty of the day was Bradford, Oklahoma's out-of-nowhere star quarterback who had led the Sooners to a 9-1 record and a No. 3 ranking. Bradford, who completed 70 percent of his passes through 10 games, left the first half of Saturday's game with an apparent concussion and did not return, although he spent the second half on the sideline. The redshirt freshman (and the nation's most efficient passer) took a hard hit as he tried to make a tackle following an Allen Patrick fumble, but got up extremely slowly. He then left the stadium area on a golf cart, and did not take the field for the rest of the afternoon.

Joey Halzle came in to replace him, but could not lift the Sooners out of the hole they continued to dig for themselves, eventually dropping a 34-27 decision to the Red Raiders. Oklahoma lost its top-five ranking and its QB in one foul swoop.

Hawai'i could have suffered a similar fate on Friday when quarterback Colt Brennan left the Warriors' game after just two snaps. Brennan was knocked out of the previous weekend's game with a punishing concussion and although he was cleared to play on Friday, he left the field in favor of backup Tyler Graunke after just two plays.

Given that the Warriors were able to pull out a victory on a last-second field goal, the decision to use Graunke may do the Warriors good, because it gave Brennan a chance to rest before next weekend's winner-take-all WAC matchup at home against Boise State. Had Hawai'i lost that one, the decision to sit Brennan would have been met with far more scrutiny, but the Warriors escaped with the victory, so all is well.

Over in Ann Arbor, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne saw his entire senior season flash before his eyes as he moved in and out of the starting group throughout Saturday's home loss to Ohio State. Henne was hampered by a shoulder injury that forced him out of the game in the third quarter, but let him back onto the field in the fourth. Before his first bow-out, he completed just 10 of 25 passes for 60 yards, throwing plenty of off-target passes and not looking anything like the Heisman candidate he was supposed to be at the season's start.

Freshman Ryan Mallett took over the Wolverines' offense in the third quarter but gave the reins back to the senior in the fourth, where Henne was no more effective. Henne has been in and out of games since separating his right throwing shoulder on Oct. 20 in the team's win over Illinois. He started last weekend's loss to WIsconsin but ducked out of that contest early, as well.

With so many signal-callers suddenly having to be leaders from the sidelines, offensive coordinators are going to have to come up with something brilliant to keep their point scorers scoring. Dixon's backup simply cannot run the offense the way Dixon did, and obviously Bradford's second-in-command could not get the job done either, but with the Big 12 championship game still a possibility for the Sooners, Oklahoma's staff is going to have to find an antidote to the QB epidemic, and soon.

November 16, 2007

Oregon: The Worst Is Yet To Come

Oregon's worst fears have become reality. Former Heisman hopeful and star quarterback Dennis Dixon will have surgery on the left knee that buckled under him during Thursday night's loss to Arizona. Dixon can now kiss the Heisman goodbye, and Oregon has hopefully already said its farewell to the team's national championship hopes. But with Dixon out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL and its accompanying surgery, things in Eugene have gone from bright to bleak.

Dixon officially tore his ACL two weeks ago, during the team's Nov. 3 win over Arizona State, but after two weeks of rest, Dixon felt he was ready to play on Thursday night. That decision cost him the rest of the season and, perhaps, a shot at the coveted hardware.

For the season, Dixon completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, but he was just as deadly on his feet, rushing for 741 yards and nine TDs. Although running back Jonathan Stewart is just as much a part of the Ducks' fifth-ranked total offense, it's no secret that Dixon was the face of the offense and Stewart cannot do it alone (as demonstrated in the latter three quarters of the team's loss to Arizona). He's going to have to take a stab at it, though, if backup Brady Leaf cannot do better than 22-of-46 passing for 163 yards with two interceptions.

With games against UCLA and Oregon State still on the schedule for the Ducks, that coveted trip to the Rose Bowl is no longer the lock that it was two days ago. Leaf is going to have to play far better than he performed against Arizona if he plans to pick up this Ducks squad and squeeze out a few more victories before the month break between regular season and bowl season. Dixon will do all he can to be a leader from the sideline, but it's the players between the lines that need to produce to keep Oregon's magical season from sinking into oblivion.

Oregon: Cringe Time

Oregon fans nationwide cringed right along with their starting quarterback as Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon crumpled to the ground in the first quarter of Thursday night's Pac-10 matchup with Arizona. On an option play with about five minutes remaining in the opening stanza, Dixon tried to plant but his knee buckled and he fell, untouched, to the turf, having sprained the same knee that he hurt Nov. 3 against Arizona State. With backup Brady Leaf under center, the Ducks would never recover, dropping a 34-24 decision to Arizona and, just as importantly, fearing the loss of their franchise player for the rest of the season.

Dixon wore a brace before and during the game but said prior to kckoff that he felt good, and certainly looked that way as he ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run on the game's opening series.

"Coming into the game, I felt totally confident," Dixon said. "My foot got caught in the ground. That's just the way football is."

Head coach Mike Bellotti said he did not know whether or not Dixon would return for the team's remaining games this season, but he was rather skeptical about Dixon's ability to suit up for next week's game at UCLA. In his words, "It's obviously not a happy deal."

Dixon is set to undergo tests on Friday that will determine whether or not the star QB's collegiate career has officially come to a close. Either way, Oregon's national title hopes are over.

Playing in Dixon's spot, Leaf completed 22 of 46 passes for 163 yards with two interceptions, a far cry from Dixon's usual numbers. Leaf also sustained an injury in the game, a sprain to his ankle early in the second half, but he finished out the game under center.

Oregon's star tailback Jonathan Stewart could only do so much to replace the lost Dixon. His 28 carries for 131 yards were not enough to lift the Ducks over Arizona, but much of the offensive load will rest on Stewart's shoulders for the rest of the season, whether or not Dixon can return to the gridiron.

November 15, 2007

Kentucky: A Little Luck

It's been a rough couple of weeks for No. 22 Kentucky. A triple-overtime win over LSU put the Wildcats on top of the world, but back-to-back losses to Florida and Mississippi State - the latter of which head coach Rich Brooks described as an "all-systems failure" - slammed the team back down to earth. After last week's win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats still have a lot to prove about just who they are as a team, and this wekeend's test at Georgia will go a long way towards revealing their true character. Luckily for Kentucky, running back Rafael LIttle should be ready to play by Saturday, which means the Wildcats can play their game against the No. 8 Bulldogs.

Little suffered a back injury during last week's win over Vanderbilt, but only after rushing for 70 yards and catching four balls for 49 yards in the first half. Little, a back whose stature fits his name at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, has had a fabulous season. Even only playing in seven of the team's 10 games (he missed three with an injured thigh prior to last week's matchup with Vandy), he leads the team in rushing with 752 yards, averaging more than 100 per game. He also has 18 receptions for 164 yards and has returned 13 punts on the year. He has scored 3 rushing TDs on the season, but his presence on the field is integral to the Wildcats' ability to successfully run their offense.

Kentucky has not beaten Georgia in Athens since 1977, and this would certainly be the year for the Wildcats to do it, as Georgia has won four straight games and is looking to remain a strong runner in the SEC East race. Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs last year in Lexington, and they have a much better shot of repeating that performence in Athens with a healthy Little on the field.

If Kentucky pulls this one out, it will mark the first time in program history that the Wildcats have beaten three top-10 teams in a single season. Hopefully, all they need is a Little luck.

November 13, 2007

Wisconsin: Back On Track

Wisconsin was pretty banged up when they beat up on Michigan last weekend. Starting tailback P.J. Hill played only sparingly and starting quarterback Tyler Donovan left the game midway through the fourth quarter after a helmet hit the back of his throwing hand so hard it left some Wolverine-colored paint marks. But head coach Bret Bielema is optimistic that the Badgers will get back on track in time for this weekend's game, their last of the regular season, and at 8-3, will be in good shape for whatever bowl game they are anointed to attend.

Bielema said on Monday that Donovan rested his hand all day Sunday and was expected to see only limited practice time for the early part of the week. Trainers wanted to see how his hand would progress before putting him into full-contact practices this week.

Hill has missed all of the last two weeks' practice time with a leg bruise, but is expected to come back to the practice field this week. he won't be a part of the game plan against Minnesota, however, until he proves that he is really ready to play.

"It will be kind of controlled what P.J. can do this week," Bielema said. "For us to have a plan with him on Saturday, he's got to be able to show us during the course of the week what he can and can't do."

Fair enough. In his absence, freshman tailback Zach Brown has quietly been making a name for himself in the backfield. Brown rushed for 108 yards against Michigan and will remain a part of the offense even when Hill is back up to speed.

Also returning to practice this week should be right tackle Eric Vandenheuvel, who missed the Michigan game with a right ankle and foot injury. He may not be able to start on Saturday, in which case Kraig Urbik remain his replacement at the right tackle spot, where Urbik played well against the Wolverines. A decision on Vandenheuvel's status will be made by Thursday.

In the sad news category, junior wide receiver Marcus Randle El has officially decided to end his career early. Randle El has not been the same player since sitting out all of the 2006 season with a torn ACL, and he told Bielema after the Nov. 3 loss to Ohio State that he will pursue a medical scholarship to finish school, but his gridiron days are done. The junior has caught just one pass for nine yards and returned three punts for 32 yards this season.

November 12, 2007

Arizona State: Nagging Thumb

Arizona State appeared to be in good shape Saturday afternoon. The Sun Devils held off UCLA, 24-20, to secure a 9-1 record and avoided what some predicted would be an inevitable drop-off after the previous week's loss to Oregon. But the Sun Devils may be in worse shape as they are letting on, as quarterback Rudy Carpenter's thumb is still not 100 percent healthy, and the Sun Devils don't want anyone under center but the guy that brought them this far.

There was no official news released on the state of Carpenter's thumb, which he initially hurt in the win over Cal two weeks ago, but Carpenter told the East Valley Tribune that his thumb "popped."

"It hurts like hell right now," Carpenter said after the win. "It doesn't feel good."

Carpenter will undergo further evaluation this week to determine the state of that sore thumb, which was definitely bothering Carpenter during the game. He sat out an entire series halfway through the final quarter after hitting the thumb during the third down play of the Sun Devils' previous possession.

The QB, known for showing his passion on the field, will most likely keep playing unless he can't effectively grip the ball, which was the case during that missed series on Saturday. During the final series he played, Carpenter did not throw a pass, which does not bode well for the No. 9 Sun Devils. It also does not bode well that Carpenter was sacked five times on Saturday and spent a signficant amount of time grabbing at his thumb, but he did complete 16 of his 31 pass attempts for 200 yards, a touchdown and no picks.

There is no question that Carpenter is a warrior, and thankfully, the Sun Devils have a full 10 days to rest before they take on USC on Thanksgiving night. Hopefully, Carpenter's thumb will be back to full strength by then and Arizona State can play itself into a trip right back to where the team came from this week - the Rose Bowl.

November 11, 2007

Hawai'i: Colt Takes A Concussion

Hawai'i won again on Saturday, keeping its perhaps (given its absurdly easy schedule) far-fetched dream of a BCS Bowl alive for one more week, but the Warriors were definitely not happy as they took to the locker room after a 37-30 win over Fresno State. The problem was their star quarterback, Colt Brennan, who sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of the game. He took the hit after throwing his 121st career touchdown pass, tying the NCAA career mark, but his status was not immediately get-up-and-go.

Brennan left the game with 11 minutes left to play after completing 28 of 39 pass attempts for 396 yards and two scores. Linebacker Marcus Riley flattened him on a third and 7 play in which he scrambled towards the Fresno State sideline, then stayed face-down on the turf for the breath-stopping five minutes while trainers tended to him. Brennan eventually walked off the field, with help, and into the locker room, but he was clearly in pain.

The QB officially suffered a mild concussion and gave a statement to reporters that he was "looking forward to getting back on the field for next week's game." He was scheduled for plenty of testing on Sunday to see just how much field time he will see in the next few weeks.

This is the crucial stretch for Brennan's Warriors as they continue tiptoeing toward a bowl berth. They next face Nevada before the showdown with No. 17 Boise State that will determine the WAC Champion, and which of the two BCS-buster darlings will make it to one of the biggies (if either of them). If there is any single player that this team needs on the field in that Boise showdown, it's the man responsible for 3,296 yards passing and 28 touchdown passes.

Head coach June Jones was certainly confident in Brennan's ability to bounce back:

"If you play football you're going to have concussions," Jones said Saturday night. "I just talked to him. He's ready to play right now."

Just because Brennan thinks he's ready to go does not mean that he is ready. The senior suffered a sprained right ankle earlier this season that limited his playing time and hampered his performance perhaps more than he was willing to admit. The Warriors would do well to ensure that Brennan is healthy enough to play, and pick their spots - not to say that Nevada is a gimme win, but they will absolutely, positively need their signal-caller behind center if they are going to knock off blue-turf Boise State in two weeks.

Washington: Locker Update

A day after taking a huge hit on a helmet-to-helmet collision during Washington's loss to Oregon State, Huskies quarterback Jake Locker flew home early, boarding a private jet with a doctor before his team left town. He was scheduled for a series of tests on Sunday to evaluate his injury and determine whether or not he will be able to play for the rest of the season, much less take part in Saturday's matchup against Cal.

Locker was hit on a third-down play in the second quarter, after which he remained face-down on the turf for 15 minutes, immobile. He was placed onto a stretcher and put into an ambulance, but returned to the sidelines with 3 minutes to play in the fourth quarter sporting a neck brace and a very slow gait.

"We will look over the next few days to see how intensive the injury his," Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham said after Saturday's loss. "We felt confident after talking with the doctors that the injury was not permanent."

Locker is known as a running quarterback, having logged 807 yards rushing in 10 games this season.

With this season all but washed up for 3-7 Washington (1-6 in the Pac-10), the team's biggest worry should not be getting its freshman quarterback back on the turf for the final three contests of 2007, but making sure he is at full strength in time to take the field in 2008. Locker has showed plenty of promise this season, and the worst decision the Huskies coaching staff could make would be to force the QB back onto the field before he is healthy enough to do so, simply to get him some more playing time.

Washington: Locker Leaves Field In Ambulance

Jake Locker has given the football world another injury scare. The Washington quarterback left the field in an ambulance in the second quarter of Saturday night's game against Oregon State after sustaining a shattering hit near his own sideline. The sophomore, who has started every game this season, was scrambling on a third-down play when Beaver safety Al Afalava hit him hard. Locker stayed face-down on the turf for several minutes, apparently immobile, while emergency workers attended to him. He was taken to the hospital, and no additional details have been released on his condition.

Florida: Harvin MIA

Just when things were starting to look up for Florida's three-loss season, the Gators were primed to take another hit on Saturday, but all turned out for the best. No. 17 Florida had no trouble putting away South Carolina, 51-31, despite the fact that star receiver Percy Harvin stayed home sick. Harvin had a sinus infection that kept him in Gainesville while the rest of the team made the trip to Columbia to take on the Gamecocks.

Bubba Caldwell picked up the slack in Caldwell's absence on Saturday, catching 11 balls for 148 yards and a touchdown.

Harvin is leading the Gators in receiving with 45 catches for 714 yards and is third on the team in rushing, averaging 49.1 yards per game. Last week, Harvin ran for 113 yards and added another 110 receiving yards in a 49-22 win over Vanderbilt.

November 09, 2007

Texas: Battered Defense

Texas squares off against Texas Tech this weekend in what should be another tough test for a Longhorn team that has underperformed all season, but this matchup adds some injury intrigue. The Red Raiders are known for their wide-open, spread-em-out offense, which requires a quick and athletic defense, especially the secondary, to stay with their high-speed receivers. But with an injured defense taking the field in Austin on Saturday, the Longhorns can't be looking forward to this Big 12 test.

Backup safety Drew Kelson has a left knee strain that will keep him out of the game, placing a hit on the depth at secondary that is crucial when facing a fast team like Tech. Keep in mind that after a couple of series, every one of these defensive players will be tired. Two key linebackers, Jared Norton and Sergio Kindle, are dealing with shoulder injuries that may keep them off the field as well, which spells disaster for the Longhorns -- Norton and Kindle are routinely named two of the best athletes on the team. And last but not least, starting defensive end Eddie Jones will have to sit this one out as well, which means Texas can't pass rush the way it wants to, and needs to, on every play.

Co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina has been quite busy figuring out how to compensate for his ailing players against Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, who leads the nation in passing yardage (4,412) and touchdown passes (38). Texas is going to have to blitz the daylights out of Harrell to slow him down, but that is easier said than done with a bunch of backups on the field.

Texas has won seven of its last nine meetings against the Red Raiders, including the last four straight. They'll need to make it five if the Longhorns are going to have any shot at a BCS at-large bid, but having a bunch of banged-up players on the nation's 43rd-ranked defense as they take on the best passing offense in the country does not bode well for this Texas team.

USC: Good Injury News Better Late Than Never

After weeks of novel-length injury reports took their toll on the no-longer-title-bound Trojans, in the form of two losses, USC finally has some good news to report. And it comes just in time for this weekend's used-to-be-huge matchup with Cal, too. All-American offensive lineman Sam Baker is still battling injury, this time a sore hamstring, and fullback Alfred Rowe will miss this game as well, but quarterback John David Booty's finger is feeling fine and tailback Stafon Johnson is healthy for the first time since Sept. 29.

Johnson sprained his foot against Washington on Sept. 29 and has not been the same since. He has been limited in his playing time and sat out of two games all together, but still leads the team in rushing, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on his 63 touches with four touchdowns. He has also caught four passes for 15 yards.

This week's game certainly does not mean what virtually everyone thought it would at the season's outset, but every time these bitter rivals take to the gridiron, expect a slugfest. With Booty's broken finger inflammation-free and Johnson healthy for the first time in six weeks, the Trojans should certainly be feeling a leg up as they travel to Berkeley.

"His spirit is different now," head coach Pete Carroll said of Johnson. "You could tell by his energy out there."

Carroll recognizes that this season may have turned out differently, had he immediately pulled Booty after the quarterback smashed his finger on a player's helmet in the first half of that unbelievable upset loss to Stanford on Oct. 6. Booty went on to throw four picks in the second half of that game before sitting out the next three, and Carroll said this week that he made a mistake in not recognizing just how badly Booty's throwing was affected by the break.

When backup Mark Sanchez stepped in for the injured Booty against Arizona on Oct. 13, it was the first time in Carroll's seven-year rein at USC that the No. 1 quarterback sat out a game. Clearly, the absence affected the Trojans more than they thought it would, and they are hoping that the return of Johnson will help them to salvage the rest of this season.

Back on the injured list, with Baker still out at the left tackle position, freshman Butch Lewis will get the start, with sophomore Charles Brown backing him up.

November 08, 2007

Cal: Longshore Will Never Be The Same

Cal quarterback Nate Longshore will get the start against USC on Saturday. Despite his lingering ankle injury, Longshore is the logical starter (especially after his backup's bonehead scramble against Oregon State lost the Bears the game and started their three-game downward sprial). But it is anything but comforting to Cal fans that head coach Jeff Tedford does not think his starter's ankle will ever fully recover, but he expects his QB to play through the pain for the rest of the season.

"It's probalby something that's going to stick with him here," Tedford said. "It's very difficult to let something completely heal like that. Maybe in a couple of weeks, when we get a bye, it'll let him recover a little bit. But I don't see him recovering that much in the next couple of weeks."

Longshore is completing 62.5 percent of his passes through 8 games, while backup Kevin Riley's completion percentage is down around 54. Longshore's 11:8 TD:INT ratio is far from ideal, but Longshore gives the Bears the best chance to win. Playing a healthy but green redshirt freshman over an injured but seasoned junior is not smart for the Bears' offense, and Tedford is smart enough to realize that.

Hopefully Tedford and his offensive staff can come up with some creative plays that will minimize the scrambling Longshore has to do on that bum ankle, at least until Nov. 18, when the team gets a week off. Until then, Longshore wil just have to play tough and hope teams don't go after his ankle.

Arizona State: Devils Took The Linebackers

Arizona State can attribute some of last week's basting at the hands of Oregon to the semi-MIA status of linebackers Morris Wooten and Gerald Munns, who were both on the injured list last week. Wooten's thumb and Munns' knee are not tweaked seriously enough to keep them out of this week's game at UCLA, which is good news for the Sun Devils' rotation. Mike Nixon can now go back to filling in at all three linebacker positions, instead of starting, and Arizona State can go back to its winning ways.

Wooten ranks fifth on the team in tackles, with 37, has one broken up pass and a forced fumble on the season. A redshirt junior, Wooten has six starts this season but has seen time in all nine games. He stepped back into his middle linebacker position in mid-week practices after Nixon had taken over the starting role at that spot for the past two weeks. Nixon moved to the strong side, but the two should rotate on Saturday along with Munns, Travis Goethel and Robert James for a total of five linebackers.

Wooten is still wearing a cast on his right hand, which has kept him limited for two weeks.

"I didn't feel comfortable out there," Wooten said. "But after seeing the team take a loss, I want to come back and have a role in helping the team win some big games down the stretch."

Several other Sun Devils were banged up against the Ducks, as well. Defensive lineman Dane Gunthrie suffered a concussion, but no one realized it until Tuesady. The oversight makes the junior end questionable for this week, and should raise some questions about just how thorough Arizona State's medical staff is in its post-game player assessments.

Guard Paul Fanaika, who has been out with an ankle injury, was moving well on the sidelines during mid-week practices and should play against UCLA on Saturday, as should receiver Chris McGaha, who is recovering from a knee injury. Safety Jeremy Payton's ankle injury will keep him off the field for at least another week.

November 07, 2007

Oklahoma: Losing Their English

Oklahoma will face Big 12 bottom-feeder Baylor this Saturday without one of their top players. Defensive end Auston English, the Sooners' leading sack leader and Big 12 sack leader, suffered a hairline fracture in his right leg against Texas A&M, and will miss at least the Baylor game, although he should be on the bench for a 1-2 week recovery, at least.

English, a redshirt sophomore, has 9.5 sacks this season on his 34 tackles, 3 broken up passes and 4 quarterback hurries. He is tied for sixth in the nation in sacks and is athletic enough to play linebacker, as well.

"He could be a stand-up outside linebacker," head coach Bob Stoops said. "He could be an inside linebacker, He could be a tight end or fullback for us. The guy could do anything."

English saw little playing time as a true freshman, but did make the two-deep, which is not a common occurrence at a program with as much depth and talent as Oklahoma. English then redshirted the 2006 season to build up his strength.

English was able to walk off the field in the second quarter of last week's game after recording one sack and a tackle for loss, but did not return. The good news, says Stoops, is that linebacker Rocky Calmus suffered a similar injury several years ago and only missed minimal time, so Stoops is hopeful English will be back on his feet in time for the Big 12 championship game on Dec 1., in which the Sooners are all but guaranteed a spot.

Oklahoma could certainly use English back on his feet sooner rather than later. Backups Alan Davis and Jeremy Beal played fine in English's absence, but he is the second DE downed by injury this year. Starting defensive end John Williams had season-ending surgery earlier in the year to repair a torn Achilles tendon, and Oklahoma would certainly like to have one of the nation's best sack-masters back in the lineup as soon as humanly possible.

Florida: Wishful Thinking

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow needs both shoulders to play his best. Yes, he's got a powerful left throwing arm, but just as powerful is his head-down, hit-you-in-the-mouth running style that has not been quite the same since he suffered a bruise to that non-throwing shoulder three weeks ago. He was not himself in the team's loss to Georgia, and it became apparent how much the Gators need a healthy right shoulder on their QB. It looks like Vanderbilt was nice to Tebow, however, as the sophomore told head coach Urban Meyer that he is within striking distance of feeling 100 percent because he did not take a single hit against Vandy last Saturday. Except that Meyer isn't sure he believes his starting QB.

The Gators take on South Carolina this weekend, and Meyer would really like to believe that what Tebow said is true, but when it comes to injuries, with this slick Gator, one never can tell.

"Tim's not the most honest guy when it deals with injuries," Meyer said. "He's going to be so defensive about it - I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine. He made the comment to me this week he thinks it's as close to 100 percent as it's been because he did not get hit one time."

Tebow carried just six times for 35 yards against Vanderbilt, his lowest number of rushing attempts of the season. He made up for it throwing the ball, completing 22 of 27 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns, but Tebow's game has decidedly not been the same since he bruised his shoulder against Kentucky on Oct. 20.

The Florida coaches decided to limit his carries to minimize his chances of taking further hits to the shoulder, but all has not gone according to plan - against Georgia two weeks ago, Tebow carried 13 times: four called runs, three scrambles and six sacks. The offensive line needs to get the memo, also; if Tebow's not going to run, they're going to have to protect him.

Tebow has taken a pain-killer injection before each of his last two games, but hopes he can get back to his regular running self, averaging 20 carries per game, for South Carolina. But Meyer might have other plans.

"Ideally, we do not want to [have] a 20-time-a-game quarterback run," Meyer said. "We want to have him be a threat."

On the bright side, Tebow's injury has unquestionably helped his reads in the pocket, forcing him deeper into his progressions than he went when the possibility of running was always staring him in the face. The difference showed against Vanderbilt, where Tebow redirected his protections better than he's done all season, and the O-line did not give up a single sack against the conference's leading sack defense.

If Tebow's pocket improvement continues, he will have a choice once his shoulder is fully up to speed - does he want to go back to his reckless running ways, or can he be a pocket passer? This injury may have succeeded in elevating Tebow's game like nothing else could have, and for a sophomore Heisman candidate, that's a scary though for the rest of the SEC.

November 05, 2007

Oregon: Lame Ducks

Oregon may be flying high after handing Arizona State its first loss of the season and securing a No. 3 BCS ranking, but there are plenty of lame Ducks on this squad. Aside from Dennis Dixon's can't-be-that-bad twisted knee that kept him off the field for the final minutes of Saturday's win, junior middle linebacker John Bacon is the seventh big-time contributor to go down this season, as he tore his ACL on Saturday and will miss the rest of the year. Luckily, the Ducks' talent pool is deep enough to survive the injury barrage, at least for now.

When Bacon went down on Saturday, freshman Casey Matthews did not miss a beat in moving up the depth chart. Matthews registered three tackles in his backup role, including two for a loss and a sack.

"You talk about a freshman, a kid who was playing in high school last year playing against an 8-0 team in a gigantic game and I didn't see any flaws," defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "Our depth is getting thin there at linebacker, but Casey's got a little moxie to him so I think he'll be just fine."

Through nine games this season, Bacon ranks seventh on the team in tackles, compiling 42, including 1.5 for loss. He has also pulled in an interception, which he returned for 49 yards.

As for Dixon, the official diagnosis from Saturday was a strained left knee. The quarterback will undergo a series of tests on Monday to make sure the injury is not worse than it appears, but he is expected to practice all week. Dixon was sore on Sunday, but team doctors diagnosed a minor strain. Since Oregon has 11 days off before playing at Arizona a week from Thursday (Nov. 15), the team has the day off on Monday, which gives Dixon plenty of time to heal without losing any practice reps.

Even though Dixon should be fine, head coach Mike Bellotti is concerned about the growing number of injuries plaguing his national title contenders.

"We're already at the razor's edge at depth and that's a scary deal," Bellotti said. "Hopefully we get A.J. Tuitele back at some point. Obviously, the sooner the better."

Tuitele, the team's most seasoned linebacker, has been hampered with a foot injury and will have a bone scan on Monday. He may be ready to go in time for the Dec. 1 date against Oregon State, but certainly not before then. Punt returner Andiel Brown's hip injury kept him off the field on Saturday, but Bellotti expects him to practice this week.

The Duck faithful can breathe a sigh of relief about their receiving corps, as receiver Garren Strong's shoulder injury should be "fine," according to Bellotti. The Ducks have already lost two receivers for the season due to injury - Brian Paysinger went down with a knee and Cameron Colvin's ankle is keeping him off the field - and pass-catching running back Jeremiah Johnson's knee is also keeping him out of action for the rest of the year, so the Ducks did not have a lot of wiggle room in their receiver lineup. Keeping Strong healthy is essential, as Strong is the team's third-leading pass-catcher.

November 03, 2007

Oregon: What's Up With Dixon?

Oregon put together an impressive performance to hand Arizona State a 35-23 loss in Saturday's big-time Pac-10 matchup, but Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon was not part of the last few minutes. Dixon left the game when he appeared to hurt his left leg after being tackled on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter. Holding a comfortable 35-16 lead, Dixon stayed on the sideline for the remainder of the contest, but had his helmet on. Brady Leaf stepped in under center after Dixon went out.

Dixon left the field before the rest of the team to avoid the Duck fan rush, having completed 13 of 22 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 57 yards.

If the QB was limping as he jogged off the field, he hid it very well. Because the Ducks were ahead by 19 points, the Oregon coaching staff had no compelling reason to put their Heisman-caliber QB back into the game, and the fact that he stayed on the sideline and out of the locker room for the rest of the game bodes well for his health. And all of that hopping up and down he was doing while cheering on his teammates leads one to believe that whatever he did to his knee, it was not that serious.

"I kind of twisted my knee," Dixon said after the game. "It's a little bit sore. But I didn't hear a pop, so that's good."

Good indeed.

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti told reporters after the game that Dixon had a thigh bruise and a sprained knee, but said that Dixon could have returned to the game if his team needed him. Luckily, the Ducks did not.

"It's nothing to stress," Dixon said.

With Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State the only teams standing between the Ducks and a Pac-10 championship, it may really be nothing to stress, but that does not mean that Oregon is okay with its most dangerous playmaker having an injury of any kind, no matter how insignificant.

November 02, 2007

Virginia Tech: Wheeler To The Exit

After last week's abominable finish against No. 2 Boston College, the Hokies got a bit of a lift on Thursday night, handily defeating Georgia Tech 27-3. What Virginia Tech did not count on was losing tight end Sam Wheeler for the season, which they did on when the redshirt sophomore tore the ACL in his left knee during the game.

Wheeler had started all nine games for the Hokies this season, catching 15 balls for 211 yards and a touchdown for an average of 14.1 yards per catch. He will schedule his surgery once the swelling around the tear reduces far enough to allow it. He is questionable to return for spring practices, but should be back on his feet in time for preseason workouts for his junior year.

The Hokies have now lost two tight ends to season-ending ACL injuries. Against William & Mary on Sept. 22, true freshman Chris Drager tore his ACL, knocking him out for the rest of the season. That leaves the offense with two tight ends to work with, Greg Boone and Andre Smith.

Boone, also a redshirt sophomore, has two starts this season but has seen action in all nine games. He has seven receptions for 90 yards and presents a step up from Wheeler in blocking potential, as his 6-foot-3, 291-pound frame gives him about 25 pounds on Wheeler (6-foot-3, 267). Redshirt freshman Andre Smith, the leanest of the three at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, has seen time in eight games with no starts, but he has caught five passes for 67 yards.

Barring any further injuries to the tight end corps, the Hokies should be able to finish out the season reasonably well-equipped.

USC: Booty Back

John David Booty has missed the last three of USC's games with a broken middle finger, bowing out to backup Mark Sanchez. In that time, the Trojans have snuck by Arizona, blown out Notre Dame and lost last week to Oregon to knock them out of the national championship picture, and most likely the Pac-10 race, for good. Now that Booty is healthy and ready to start on Saturday, it's up to the senior to use that healed hand to pick up the pieces of this not-so-untouchable-anymore USC team and try to make something out of the rest of this season.

USC head coach Pete Carroll said after Thursday's practice that Booty had a solid week and that even after his few weeks off, the senior is ready to jump back in where he left off. Well, maybe not right where he left off, since that would put the Trojans back on Oct. 6, when Booty threw four interceptions in the second half of a mind-boggling loss to Stanford.

Sanchez has not looked awful this season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 665 yards with seven TDs, but the problem is his five interceptions, which are a mark of poor decision-making and inexperience. Booty's 12:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't much better, but Carroll has faith in the senior's ability to step up and lead his team through the season's four remaining games.

And let's remember, Oregon State is no slouch team. After beating Cal on a last-second mishap by the Bears' inexperienced backup quarterback, the Beavers are on a three-game winning streak. And this is the same team that beat USC 33-31 last season to snap the Trojans' 27-game conference winning streak. This week would be an excellent time for Booty to have a breakout game and put together something that might scare conference opponents down the stretch.

Booty may be feeling better, but offensive tackle Sam Baker is definitely feeling worse. Baker will miss the game against Oregon State with a hamstring injury, leaving freshman Butch Lewis to start at left tackle, again. Offensive guard Chilo Rachal also missed practice time this week with tightness in his calf, but should be okay to play.

November 01, 2007

Florida: A Fighting Chance

As beaten and banged up as Florida's defense is, Thursday offered some good news to the Gator faithful. Even with his broken thumb, safety Major Wright will play this Saturday against Vanderbilt, and offensive lineman Mike Pouncey may be offering some help to the flailing defense by getting into the rotation at defensive tackle.

Wright, a freshman, played sparingly in last week's loss to Georgia as he nursed the broken thumb, but head coach Urban Meyer said that Wright will play on Saturday. He will keep his thumb wrapped in a "little bit of a club," according to Meyer, which may keep him out of a starting role, but he will see field time. Any time is good news for the Gators, who have lost defenders like flies in recent weeks.

Wright has 40 tackles and two forced fumbles on the season.

Wide receiver Riley Cooper, also nursing a finger injury, should also get in the game this week (his fracture is less serious than Wright's break).

Elsewhere on the line, offensive lineman Mike Pouncey may be switching sides. With so many Florida defenders hurting, Pouncey has practiced at defensive tackle for the last two days, and with an effort level Meyer calls phenomenal and a 6-foot-4, 313-pound frame, Pouncey may be just what the Gators need up front.

LSU: Dorsey In The Dark

Saturday's Saban vs. Miles - err, Alabama vs. LSU - game is a big one, but one of the biggest players is not letting us know whether or not he'll be taking part in the action. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey sprained his right knee against Auburn two weeks ago, and although he's been forthright about how the injury occurred - on an illegal chop-block - he has not been so forthcoming about his status for Saturday. All we know is that Dorsey has been practicing in a brace and, according to head coach Les Miles, if the game were scheduled for last week, Dorsey would not have been able to play.

Luckily for LSU, the Tigers had an off-week last week, so Dorsey, who has 39 tackles including 6.5 for a loss and four sacks, had some extra time to heal. Miles said on Thursday that Dorsey will not play unless he is 100 percent healthy, but made it seem like he will be ready on Saturday.

"If he's limited, we're not going to put him on the field," Miles said. "The open week gives us that opportunity."

With off-the-field issues most likely keeping two of Alabama's offensive linemen off the field this week, Dorsey can have a field day ripping through an inexperienced line, assuming he gets to play. Alabama's backup line did not allow a sack against Tennessee two weeks ago, but Tennessee does not have Dorsey, nor does its defensive front have 22 sacks to its name.

Odds are, Dorsey will play. LSU has already given up its one alotted loss of the season, so the Tigers should be looking at every game from here on out as a championship game. And Dorsey will do everything in his power to play in the championship game, so expect to see him on the field on Saturday.

 

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