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Tuesday, March 8

Irish lose; why the green jerseys?

Since the victories started to add up for Notre Dame, I've been steadfast in my belief that the Fighting Irish were an overrated football team that would have been an underdog to a number of teams they were ranked ahead of in the top 25.

However, before their Saturday meeting in South Bend against Boston College, I said Tyrone Willingham's squad had transitioned from "overrated" to "overachieving." A team is no longer overrated when it wins as many games as the Irish did, with their impressive road victory over Florida State putting an exclamation point on that belief.

Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant and the rest of the Irish had a rough, mistake-filled game against Boston College.
"Overachieving" was a more accurate definition of the 2002 Fighting Irish. While they are a veteran squad that will send a number of players to the next level, there isn't a member of the junior or senior class who qualifies as a definite first-round draft choice. That's why Willingham, who is the leading candidate for national coach of the year honors, and his outstanding staff are held in such high regard.

On Saturday in South Bend, though, the Fighting Irish saw their Cinderella season hit a major bump in the road, with history repeating itself as the Boston College Eagles once again spoiled things.

Beyond all the mistakes and turnovers, I can't understand why the decision was made to go with green jerseys, which hadn't been worn by Irish football players in 17 years. Why tamper with success? I'm not overly superstitious, but changing anything at this stage of the season would have been completely out of my thought process. Had there already been a loss and the team was beginning to struggle some, a change would have been something to consider.

I felt the exact same way about the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Why go to the incredibly sharp, powder-blue jerseys when they have surprised observers, winning six of their first seven games, including all three previous games at Qualcomm Stadium?

Now, with the one-sided loss to the underdog Jets, I just hope the Charger brass doesn't put the powder blue jerseys on the shelf for good. In my opinion, this is the best looking jersey/helmet combination in the NFL and should be the Chargers' regular attire.

As for the Irish's green jerseys, I have a completely different viewpoint. In this case, I would suggest leaving them on the shelf until the Fighting Irish become desperate for any type of lift.

The Michigan Wolverines bounced back from their 34-9 loss to Iowa, dominating a Michigan State squad that has fallen on hard times.

The key performer in the passing game wasn't sophomore sensation Braylon Edwards, but rather 5-foot-11½, 198-pound senior Ronald Bellamy, who continues to enjoy a steady rise up the NFL draft board.

Against the Spartans, Bellamy hauled in five of John Navarre's aerials for 124 yards, including TD receptions of 38 and 47 yards.

On Saturday night, the Wolverines go on the road to face a Minnesota Golden Gophers squad that has its sights on proving to the world that it shouldn't be referred to any longer as a paper tiger. In order to do so, however, they'll have to come away with an upset victory against either Michigan, Iowa or Wisconsin to close out the campaign.

Dave Revsine and I, along with the entire College GameDay crew for ESPN Radio, were in Lincoln on Saturday when Nebraska played host to the Texas Longhorns. In what turned out to be a riveting, down-to-the-wire nail-biter, Texas hung on for a thrilling 27-24 victory.

Overall, this was a game that saw the high-profile, marquee stars for both teams rise to the occasion.

For Nebraska, junior signal-caller Jammal Lord turned in a superior performance. However, his final pass of the game was intercepted by the Longhorns' Nathan Vasher as the Cornhuskers were positioned to kick the game-tying field goal and send the game into overtime.

Throughout the game, Lord ran the option to perfection while also making some plays in the passing game. At 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, Lord has the size, speed and natural running skills to take over a game in the same way their former Heisman Trophy-winning QB Eric Crouch did throughout his brilliant career in Lincoln. Lord finished the night with 234 yards rushing on 23 carries while also competing seven of 14 passes, two for TDs.

Heading into the 2003 campaign, there is no question that Lord should be at or near the top of any Heisman Trophy lists going into the season. What Frank Solich and his staff now have to do is recruit and develop a few more players who rival Lord's skill level and hard-nosed approach.

At 6-2, 213 pounds, (Jammal) Lord has the size, speed and natural running skills to take over a game in the same way their former Heisman Trophy-winning QB Eric Crouch did throughout his brilliant career in Lincoln.

As for the Longhorns, let's give Mack Brown and his staff a great deal of credit for once again rallying the troops after the Oklahoma loss in mid-October. Since that time, the Longhorns have come away with hard-fought victories on the road against Kansas State and Nebraska, while also defeating Seneca Wallace and the dangerous Iowa State Cyclones in Austin.

Against the Cornhuskers, QB Chris Simms put on quite a show, displaying the toughness to stand tall in the pocket and withstand a number of bone-jarring hits. Simms completed 29 of 47 aerials for 419 yards and a pair of TDs, re-establishing himself as a potential second-round draft choice.

Also coming through with a stellar effort was gifted junior wideout Roy Williams. I've always regarded Williams as one of the elite natural talents in college football, but nagging injuries have held him back the last two years. Even Saturday night, he was less than 100 percent, still bothered by a lingering hamstring injury.

However, he still went out and produced big-time results against the Cornhuskers, hauling in 13 receptions for 161 yards and two TDs. You could see from the first play of the game that Williams was on, bringing his "A" game that night. He was playing with passion and intensity, even showing a great deal of frustration following a series when the football wasn't thrown his way.

Great players want to be fed the ball as much as possible. And with Williams, I had the opportunity to witness his competitive desire first hand. Roy, all I can say is, great job, and keep it up. If that was Roy Williams at less than 100 percent, the opposition doesn't want to have to deal with this supremely gifted young man when he's at full strength.

Another stellar effort was turned in by Iowa State senior signal-caller Seneca Wallace. In the Cyclones' exciting 42-35 victory over Gary Pinkel's improved Missouri Tigers, Wallace accounted for nearly 500 yards of total offense, completing 31 of 47 passes for 425 yards and one TD. He also rushed for an additional 68 yards.

At 5-11½, 195 pounds, Wallace may not have prototypical size for the NFL, but folks, he's big enough, while possessing natural instincts for the position that just can't be coached or taught.

Going into Saturday's action, I thought it would be an uphill battle for Wallace to get back into the Heisman race following the Cyclones' back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Texas. But when you break it down, Wallace is the definition of a true MVP of college football, since he elevates the ISU squad to heights it wouldn't come close to reaching if he wasn't a part of the mix.

As for the NFL draft in April, I view Wallace as no worse than an early-to-mid second-round draft choice.

When you talk about underrated wideouts, make sure you put Washington State senior Jerome Riley at or near the top of the list.

The 6-1½, 196-pounder has been a vital target for Heisman Trophy candidate signal-caller Jason Gesser, coming through with a spectacular effort against Arizona State on Saturday when he had eight receptions for 131 yards, including TD catches of 31 and 39 yards.

Defensively, how about the effort turned in on Saturday by Oklahoma's junior FS Brandon Everage and Pittsburgh's senior MLB Gerald Hayes?

With stellar performers such as LB Torrance Marshall, LB Rocky Calmus and DB Roy Williams setting the tone over the previous seasons, Bob Stoops and the Sooners' defensive staff were looking for a true difference-maker to emerge this season. While the overall group should be commended for a job well done, the secondary is dotted with stars, highlighted by Everage. The rugged 6-foot, 190-pound fourth-year junior was credited with 17 tackles against Colorado, along with two pass breakups and an interception he returned 64 yards.

For the year, Everage is third on the Sooners' defense with 56 tackles, while ranking sixth in the nation and leading OU with five interceptions. He also broke up eight passes and has one QB sack.

Everage, along with superlative CBs Andre Woolfolk and Derrick Strait, deserve strong consideration for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top DB. Woolfolk, by the way, has a chance to be an early first-round draft choice come April 26.

As for Hayes, he has been delivering All-America performances from his MLB spot week after week for the surging Panthers, who handed Virginia Tech their first loss of the season in Blacksburg, Va. Hayes finished with seven tackles against the Hokies, including two stops behind the line of scrimmage and one QB sack.

With the upset victory over Virginia Tech, Walt Harris' Panthers moved to 7-2 and now have a chance at their first 10-win season since 1981 when they finished 11-1. By the way, that was Dan Marino's junior campaign.

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