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Tuesday, March 8

Red Raiders eye Texas-sized upset

NEWS & NOTES: Nov. 13

Editor's Note: Come along for the ride as Mel Kiper Jr. previews these key weekend games: Texas-Texas Tech, Maryland-Clemson, Arizona State-USC, South Carolina-Florida, Arizona-Cal.

Texas Tech has a chance to play spoiler -- not only in the Big 12 but also nationally -- when it hosts Texas on Saturday and travels to Oklahoma on Nov. 23. The Red Raiders have won three of four games to go to 7-4 on the season.

Kliff Kingsbury
Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury threw 42 TDs and completed 66.8 percent of his passes this season.
Texas has won the past three meetings by a combined score of 129-31. But in 1998, the Red Raiders pulled out a 42-35 victory in Lubbock, where they are extremely dangerous.

This season, the Red Raiders have struggled with elite opposition. In fact, their four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 34-9. That group includes Ohio State, which could be playing for the national championship. Of their seven victories, only one has been against a team with a winning record (Texas A&M, 48-47 in overtime). The combined record of the seven teams they've defeated is 28-41.

Texas Tech senior QB Kliff Kingsbury could still push his way into the first day of the draft.

Currently, though, senior QBs such as Marshall's Byron Leftwich, USC's Carson Palmer, Louisville's Dave Ragone, Iowa State's Seneca Wallace, Cal's Kyle Boller and Texas' Chris Simms rank higher on my draft board. But Kingsbury certainly has shown the skill level to make the grade as an effective starting QB in the NFL.

To say he's a product of the system, which calls on Kingsbury to complete a high percentage of underneath aerials, is not an accurate assessment of how he projects to the next level. Kingsbury has a live arm, with the ability to complete passes to any point on the field. This season, he leads the nation in passing. He has thrown for 35 TDs (and 10 interceptions) and just under 4,000 yards, completing 68.6 percent of his aerials.

To pull the upset in Lubbock on Saturday against the Longhorns, Kingsbury needs to continue to have a hot hand, and the Red Raider defense -- which has allowed over 30 points in six games -- has to step up.

The focus will be on the Red Raiders' marquee defensive stars. Senior DE Aaron Hunt, sophomore DE Adell Duckett, senior MLB Lawrence Flugence and senior CB Joselio Hanson all must perform at a high level.

Hunt has five sacks this season and holds the Big 12 career sack record (30 and counting). Duckett has also shown impressive outside pass-rush ability in certain games.

Flugence has been a tackling machine during his brilliant career with the Red Raiders. Currently, he leads the nation with 159 stops (averaging 14.8 tackles per game), and he should close things out by leading the Big 12 in tackles for the third straight year.

Hanson, who broke up eight passes last week in the Red Raiders' victory over Oklahoma State, has 22 pass breakups on the season and three interceptions. On Saturday, Hanson figures to match up against Texas' superstar junior wideout, Roy Williams.

On the injury front, the Red Raiders are in good shape, although the status of senior wideout Anton Paige will be a game-time decision due to a knee injury.

The Terrapins, who moved to 8-2 with a critical 24-21 victory over N.C. State, are looking to extend their winning streak to eight games Saturday when they travel to Death Valley to take on Clemson. The multidimensional, high-octane Maryland offense has averaged a whopping 41.7 points over the past seven games despite a patchwork O-line.

Against Clemson, however, injured center Kyle Schmitt could return. If that's the case, versatile senior Todd Wike would shift from the pivot to LG, with blue-chip sophomore C.J. Brooks moving from LG to LT. Brooks is a budding All-American; the physically gifted 6-foot-5, 310-pounder is able to get the job done at a high level at either guard or tackle. Keep in mind also that starting RT Matt Crawford had missed two games due to a knee injury before returning last week.

In the backfield, I doubt seriously if any team in the country has more depth than the Terrapins. This is especially true now that junior Bruce Perry is working his way back to full strength from his most recent injury (sprained left shoulder).

With Perry's injury status, senior Chris Downs was able to come out of nowhere and establish himself as a quality ACC tailback. Last season, Downs played mostly on special teams, carrying only four times the entire year. This season, Downs has taken the ACC by storm, rushing for 894 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He also has hauled in 12 passes out of the backfield.

Freshman Josh Allen has made significant contributions as well, rushing for just under 400 yards while averaging an impressive 7.0 per carry and scoring eight TDs. Next year, keep an eye on talented youngster J.P. Humber, a 5-11, 205-pounder out of the prep ranks in Florida. He's red-shirting this season.

In the mix at tailback is red-shirt freshman Mario Merrills and sophomore Jason Crawford, although the presence of Perry, Allen and Humber next season figures to create a major logjam at this spot. With only one football and so many options to chose from, some talented performers likely will watch from the sidelines.

The Sun Devils, who are coming off a 55-38 home loss to Cal, have to regroup in a hurry on the road against a talented, confident and well-coached USC squad. Complicating matters is Arizona State's injury situation. To say the Sun Devils are banged up is an understatement.

Starting tailback Cornell Canidate is sidelined due to a high ankle sprain, and safety Riccardo Stewart (their leading tackler) has been lost for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery on Friday. Also, junior CB Brett Hudson, who could be matched up against elite USC freshman wideout Mike Williams, will play with a broken hand.

Sun Devils LB Mason Unck figures to be limited due to a high ankle sprain, as does LB Josh Amobi, who missed last week's game because of a similar injury. DT Phil Howard, a key backup on the D-line, is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery on Monday.

Keep in mind, this will be the Sun Devils 12th game in a season that began back on Aug. 24.

Despite losses to Miami (Fla.), Ole Miss and LSU, coach Ron Zook's Gators still have a chance to win the SEC East.

The problem is, they don't control their own destiny. The Gators have to hope that Auburn defeats Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. If that happens and they take care of business on homecoming in Gainesville against 5-5 South Carolina, the Gators will head to Atlanta for the SEC championship game Dec. 7.

Offensively, the Gators were short-handed last week against Vanderbilt, as standout senior WR Taylor Jacobs sat out with a knee injury he sustained the previous week in the Gators' upset victory over Georgia. Jacobs, who hasn't yet returned to practice, could be back on the field against South Carolina on Saturday.

If Jacobs returns and is able to perform up to the level he's capable of attaining, QB Rex Grossman would then figure to expand things beyond the short, underneath throws that were often evident last week. Up until his 17-of-32, 170-yard effort against Vanderbilt, where wind was a factor, Grossman was coming off superlative back-to-back performances against Auburn (27-of-35 for 242 yards) and Georgia (36-of-46 for 339 yards). After being intercepted 14 times in the first seven games, Grossman has thrown just two picks in three games.

With Jacobs sidelined, the Gators weren't able to stretch things vertically and therefore relied more heavily on the TE combo of senior Aaron Walker and junior Ben Troupe. The talented pair have combined for 33 receptions.

The Gators will also look to maintain a productive ground attack. Against Vanderbilt, senior RB Earnest Graham rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries and junior Ran Carthon picked up 83 on 14.

Cal moved to 6-4 with a huge road victory over Arizona State last week, setting up the possibility for an eight-win campaign under astute first-year head coach Jeff Tedford. This would be a dramatic turnaround of fortunes for a Golden Bear squad that finished 1-10 last season and 3-8 in 2000.

Keep in mind, the Golden Bears are currently ineligible for postseason action but have taken their case to the NCAA. A final determination is expected prior to the Stanford game on Nov. 23.

Led by a pair of seniors, QB Kyle Boller and tailback Joe Igber, Cal has scored 30 or more points in six games, with their battle-tested QB throwing 24 TD passes compared to seven interceptions. Boller also has become Cal's career leader with 60 TD tosses. Entering the 2002 campaign, he had thrown 36 TD passes with 38 interceptions. Igber, who rushed for 144 yards last week against the Sun Devils, also has 27 receptions out of the backfield.

Defensively, senior DE Tully Banta-Cain has been a consistent performer off the edge, recording 10 sacks and 17½ stops behind the line of scrimmage. FS Bert Watts leads the Golden Bears with 70 tackles, and CB Jameel Powell has picked off five passes. Nnamdi Asomugha opened the season as the rover, but over the past five games has been operating at CB. He has chipped in with 44 tackles and two interceptions. These four defensive standouts are all seniors.

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