Fifth year of eligibility being discussed at SEC meetings

DESTIN, Fla. -- At the request of the NCAA football issues committee, led by Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson, SEC coaches and athletic directors are discussing the idea of extending a player's eligibility from four years to five. The proposed rule would eliminate redshirts and medical hardships.


Even if SEC coaches endorsed the proposal, it would have to be approved by several NCAA committees and other leagues.
"I'd be for that with some understanding that if a young man finishes his degree before the fifth year, there are some options," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "The young man might not want to be there, and you might not want him there."

Brooks back again
Going into the 2006 season, many Kentucky fans wondered whether Rich Brooks would return for another season. Brooks went 9-25 during his first three seasons with the Wildcats before leading them to an 8-5 record in 2006. Kentucky beat Clemson 28-20 in the Music City Bowl, the school's first bowl victory in 22 years.

Brooks said he is fortunate the Kentucky administration had enough patience as the program recovered from an NCAA probation. Brooks knows he might have ended up like former Alabama coach Mike Shula, who was fired in November after compiling a 26-23 record in four seasons.

"I don't see too many bad coaches being hired in the SEC," Brooks said. "I thought Mike Shula was a good coach. Having gone through the NCAA probation and having reduced scholarships and not having enough players, I think that caught up with Mike Shula."

Brooks said last season was the first time Kentucky had enough players to compete in the SEC, after reduced scholarships and injuries depleted the team's roster.
"We needed to sign more SEC players," Brooks said. "We haven't had enough of them, and I'm not sure we still have enough of them."

The challenge for Brooks is trying to duplicate what the Wildcats did last season. Senior quarterback Andre Woodson, who completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,515 yards with 31 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, gives Kentucky a chance to get even better.

"I think he's a first-round [NFL draft] pick," Brooks said. "At this time last year, there were a lot of doubts. He made as much progress in a one-year period as any player I've ever been around."

Commodores on the rise
Despite a 4-8 record last season, including a 1-7 mark in SEC games, Vanderbilt might be on the verge of doing what Kentucky did last season. The Commodores return eight starters both on offense and on defense, including quarterback Chris Nickson, who threw for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman.

Vanderbilt hasn't finished with a winning record since an 8-4 mark in 1982.
"We're just going to have to find out," coach Bobby Johnson said, when asked whether his team could meet the higher expectations. "We've probably got more talent than we've had since I've been there. But we're still in a tough league where everybody is getting better."

Junior receiver Earl Bennett, who caught 92 passes for 1,146 yards and six touchdowns in 2006, might be the most underrated player in the country.
"I think he's fast enough," Johnson said. "He's got excellent strength and has very strong hands, and he's elusive. He's got all the tools you need."

Extra points
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier believes he has found a replacement for departed receiver Sidney Rice, who caught 72 passes for 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Sophomore Jared Cook, who might play receiver or tight end, reminds Spurrier of former Georgia Tech star Calvin Johnson, the second pick in the NFL draft, by the Detroit Lions. "This guy looks like Calvin Johnson, and he runs like Calvin Johnson," Spurrier said. "He's 6-feet-5 and 236 pounds and runs a 4.37. Now, he doesn't quite play like Calvin Johnson, but he looks like him." … Spurrier also is excited about defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye and defensive end Clifton Geathers, freshmen who both enrolled in January. "They're going to help us," Spurrier said. "Ajiboye has a great chance to be a good player. He's a defensive tackle that makes tackles. He's all over the place." … Spurrier said he and his son, receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., played golf at Augusta National Golf Club last month with former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, a former Gamecocks football player. "I've got no desire to join," Spurrier said. "I've got enough honorary memberships, and they don't have those at Augusta." … Florida coach Urban Meyer said sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow, who was bothered by a sore throwing shoulder in spring practice, has fully recovered. … Meyer said every one of the incoming freshman defensive linemen -- John Brown, Torrey Davis, Carlos Dunlap, Jay Howard, Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou -- might have to play this coming season. He said the defensive line is the defending national champions' biggest trouble spot heading into preseason camp. … Meyer hasn't ruled out using freshman quarterback Cameron Newton, 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds, as a runner, much as Meyer used Tebow last season. … Georgia coach Mark Richt said sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford learned a valuable lesson when photos of Stafford hoisting a beer keg over his head made their way to the Internet. The photo was taken at the infield of Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama while Stafford was attending a NASCAR race this spring. "If nothing else, it was helpful for him to understand, even more than us telling him, that he is not a normal guy," Richt said. "He has no privacy, and he has to understand that. That is just part of the responsibility of being the starting quarterback at Georgia. He was the guy who got all the attention coming in, and this is part of that. He's got to understand that he must make decisions in life based on his goals. He's got to decide what is most important -- being what he wants to be or being Joe Blow college student."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.