Curfew could sack Florida QB

Heisman runner-up Grossman unsure if he'll start vs. Terps

Orange Bowl

MARYLAND vs. FLORIDA

January 01, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Steve Spurrier has always enjoyed a good game of quarterback musical chairs, and Rex Grossman has dared him to start another round.

Grossman became the Florida starter midway through the 2000 season, but had to hold off Brock Berlin last August to maintain that pecking order. The winner of that competition figured to put up outrageous passing statistics this season.

That's what Grossman did as he nearly became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy, but his support may have wobbled when he missed curfew last week.

Spurrier could not be reached for comment, and it is unsure if he will start Grossman, the Associated Press National Player of the Year, against Maryland in tomorrow's Orange Bowl. If Grossman doesn't start, the Gators would go with Berlin, a fellow sophomore who recently visited Miami and might transfer there.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen," Grossman told the AP yesterday. "I was a couple minutes late the second night I was here, but I don't know what he's [Spurrier] going to do. He wasn't happy, but we'll see what happens."

Grossman was not exactly a preseason favorite to be Player of the Year.

He began the 2000 season behind senior Jesse Palmer, but became the starter midway through the year and put up some of the best numbers ever by a Southeastern Conference freshman. After Florida lost to Miami in the Sugar Bowl, however, Spurrier declared that the position was open again.

Six days before the 2001 opener, Spurrier finally named Grossman the starter over Berlin, and he did little to disappoint. He is the only college quarterback ever to throw 55 touchdown passes by his sophomore year, and the first to lead the nation in passing efficiency and total offense since 1983, when Brigham Young's Steve Young achieved that feat.

He has completed 65.6 percent of his attempts while racking up 3,896 yards and 34 touchdown passes, but the number Grossman dwells on is two, Florida's losses to Auburn and Tennessee. The Gators put up 32 points in their loss to the Volunteers, but Grossman took much of the blame for a 23-20 loss at Auburn.

The 6-foot-1 Grossman is constantly compared to Danny Wuerffel, another quarterback on the short side whose quick release bedeviled Florida State and Peter Boulware in the 1996 championship game. When Auburn intercepted Grossman four times, however, Florida fans raised the specter of Terry Dean, an earlier Gators quarterback who fell out of favor with Spurrier.

"There was a lot of pressure on me to play well, or I wouldn't play at all," Grossman said. "There were times early in the season when he [Spurrier] could have pulled me, but he stuck with me and I got better because of that. I didn't get down. As the season went on, I was less worried about the fact that I could get pulled. Remember, coming into this season it was neck and neck just competing for this job."

Guiding a football team is in his blood, as he is the third generation of Grossmans to achieve acclaim as a college quarterback. His father, Dan, quarterbacked Indiana University from 1970 to '72. After World War II, the IU signal-caller was his grandfather Rex, who spent a few seasons with the Baltimore Colts in the old All-American Football Conference.

"My grandfather died before I was born," Grossman said, "but my father has told me a lot of stories about him."

Dan Grossman is the ophthalmologist for the Indiana athletic department, and a longtime friend of the most prominent figure in the history of that college, former basketball coach Bobby Knight. The younger Grossman grew up in Bloomington, but Hoosier Hysteria and also-ran status in the Big Ten wasn't going to be good enough for him.

Amid an assortment of Southern drawls, Grossman's flat Midwestern accent sticks out among the Gators.

When Grossman expressed an interest in spending his college apprenticeship at Florida, its recruiting staff answered that they don't recruit Indiana, but the Grossmans persisted and made a recruiting visit to Gainesville anyway.

Rex was wowed by a highlight film of Wuerffel, and Spurrier liked what he saw on the video of Rex's handiwork at Bloomington South High.

Spurrier won the Heisman in 1966. Thirty years later, so did Wuerffel, and after finishing second to Nebraska's Eric Crouch last month, Grossman is the early favorite to take next year's award.

"I knew if I was getting all of the snaps, I would get a chance to make a lot of big plays," said Grossman, who insists he was unfazed by Heisman hype. "I dealt with it this year, and hopefully I'll be able to deal with it next year, too. If I play well, I'll probably be there again."

Game data

No. 6 Maryland (10-1) vs. No. 5 Florida (9-2)

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Florida by 16

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