National Notebook

Tenn., LSU try to stay part of big picture

College Football

November 04, 2006|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,Sun reporter

Today's matchup between No. 8 Tennessee and No. 13 LSU features two Southeastern Conference teams that are good enough to entertain thoughts of a national title or at least a bid to a high-profile bowl.

But they need help from others to stay in the mix because of losses to higher-ranked teams. So today's winner gets to dream some more while the loser becomes an official also-ran.

"We're totally focused on LSU," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Any player or coach or anyone else that wants to think otherwise about other things at this point, it's really just a waste of time and a waste of breath. If we don't take care of our business, that's all it is, talk."

Normally, the Volunteers (7-1) -- unranked in the preseason poll -- would be high on the list of national contenders, with convincing wins over No. 10 California and traditionally strong Georgia.

This year, however, Tennessee's 21-20 loss to Florida on Sept. 16 created a mountain that might be too steep to climb. With a month remaining in the regular season, the Vols are eighth in the queue of one-loss teams, behind Cal in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Even an SEC championship might be out of reach, because Florida holds the tiebreaker in the Eastern Division. But the hope in Knoxville is that a strong November would put Tennessee in solid position, with No. 12 Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left.

"I think we've been a team during the season that's continued to improve," Fulmer said. "We'll see how we do. But we're looking forward to it. And there are some nice things that happen when you play well in November."

LSU (6-2) was ranked sixth in the preseason poll, but lost two of its first three conference games, against Auburn and Florida.

Those losses put LSU one game behind No. 6 Auburn in the SEC West and two games behind division leader Arkansas, which the Tigers visit in the season finale Nov. 24.

"With a victory at Tennessee, we have a place to stand in this conference," LSU coach Les Miles told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. "It's a chance to establish who we are in the West and play ourselves into contention. Then we might be playing for a little more than just the win at Arkansas."

The arm of Texas

Although Vince Young was unforgettable last year as Texas' quarterback during a national title run, Colt McCoy is proving that Young is far from irreplaceable.

McCoy, a redshirt freshman who in the preseason battled freshman Jevan Snead for the starting spot, has thrown 24 touchdown passes, two short of the school mark shared by Young and Chris Simms.

He's completed 68 percent of his passes, and the No. 4 Longhorns are 8-1 thanks to his performance last weekend at Texas Tech. With his team down 21-0 after the first quarter, McCoy threw four touchdown passes in a 35-31 win.

Such work is putting McCoy in line for the Big 12's Player of the Year award, which would be a first for a freshman. "This talk has caught me off-guard," Texas coach Mack Brown told the Austin American-Statesman, "because nine weeks ago, I was trying to figure out who to start."

Late-season substitute

For the program that seems destined to have everything -- a Heisman Trophy for Troy Smith, BCS title for the team -- two turf transplants in one season seem par for the course at Ohio State.

This week, Buckeyes groundskeepers laid down a $60,000 layer of sod to replace the $75,000 layer installed in late September.

Cold and soggy weather led to clumps of grass visible to spectators at Ohio Stadium. The plan is to have the field ready for the Nov. 18 game between the No. 1 Buckeyes and No. 2 Michigan.

"My first reaction was, that's a lot of money," sophomore linebacker Marcus Freeman told the Dayton Daily News. "But I'm happy. The field wasn't in the best condition."

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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