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Thursday Football News and Notes

Thursday Football News and Notes

Vikes Jackson, Frerotte to sit this week

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -In just eight months, John David Booty has gone from being the toast of Los Angeles as the quarterback of the USC Trojans to near anonymity at the bottom of the QB totem pole in the NFL.

A two-year starter for the mighty Trojans, Booty was a fifth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in April and is fighting for the third quarterback spot with veteran Brooks Bollinger.

''This is actually the first time I've done interviews since I've been here so it's actually been kind of nice not to have to deal with all that after being in the LA media for five years,'' Booty told a group of five reporters after practice on Tuesday. ''It's just part of it.''

Vikings coach Brad Childress said Tuesday he doesn't plan to play his starters on offense and defense in the preseason finale on Thursday night against Dallas, including quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and his top backup, Gus Frerotte.

That decision opens the door for coaches to settle on a third quarterback, one of several roster spots remaining up for competition.

When the Vikings drafted Booty, it seemed that Bollinger was out after two nondescript seasons as a backup in Minnesota. He has played in seven games with one start, but has been unable to assume the role of a steady veteran backup to Jackson that the team has sorely needed.

But Booty has struggled to get up to speed in his first training camp. He has completed only 54 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 32.5 in his first three preseason appearances.

''Obviously I've got such a ways to go and I think I can get so much better,'' Booty said. ''But I feel good about what I've done. I'm not satisfied or content with the way things have gone, but it's a great opportunity for me to be around these coaches and learn from them.''

Jackson has not played since injuring his knee against Baltimore two weeks ago. But he says he will be ready to start the regular-season opener against Green Bay on Sept. 8.

The 15-year veteran Frerotte took the day off from practice on Tuesday and is entrenched as Jackson's backup.

Bollinger played in five games, with one start against Green Bay, last season. He went 16-for-26 for 176 yards and an interception in the 34-0 loss to the Packers. He hasn't been any better in the preseason, going 8-for-17 (47.1 percent) for 71 yards and a 58.7 rating in limited action.

''Whatever's going to happen is going to happen,'' Bollinger said. ''I just want to go out and enjoy it. I come out here and enjoy every day. There is uncertainty. I hope it does work out. I hope I can be a part of this, but you never know.''

Both quarterbacks have been getting more snaps in practice this week while Jackson nurses his sprained right knee and the 37-year-old Frerotte rests.

That's been a big help for Booty, who has had to do most of his learning by watching film and reading his playbook.

''There's so much going on and so much that you have to know, from audibles, fronts coverages, everything,'' Booty said. ''For me, getting all the reps in college at SC and then to get here and not get as many, that's definitely the biggest challenge for me to overcome.''

The Vikings could try to sneak Booty onto the practice squad and keep Bollinger on the active roster, but they would be taking a risk because Booty could be claimed by any team willing to give him a spot on their active roster. That happened last year when Kansas City plucked seventh-round pick Tyler Thigpen away from the Vikings.

That would seem to hurt the chances of the 28-year-old Bollinger, but he doesn't appear to be too worried. He said he let it affect him while he was with the New York Jets and is trying not to make the same mistake this time around.

''There's too many what-ifs. And then you've screwed up what you need to do, which is your job,'' Bollinger said. ''I'm good right now, like I've said since the spring. Whatever happens is going to happen. I've got a better perspective now, I would say.''

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By the book: Linesmaker sizes up Wake-Baylor

Michael Perry, head odds guy at the Belmont, is a busy chap around this time of year, but he's always up for talking pointspreads. Here's his take on the first big college game of the season.

Thursday Aug. 28 -No. 23 Wake Forest at Baylor (+12, 51)

People in Winston-Salem are excited for college football to begin. They have good reason, as the Demon Deacons return 14 starters on offense and defensive from last seasons team that finished the year 9-4. They have a great QB/RB tandem in Riley Skinner and Josh Adams critics took notice also, by rewarding Wake Forest a No. 23 ranking in each of the two major preseason polls.

With an opening line of Wake -14, bookmakers seem to be giving the Demon Deacons just a bit too much respect. The line currently sits at -12, and I think that is the perfect number for this matchup. One reason I think this line was overinflated in Wake's favor, is that they covered seven of their last eight games last year, and bookmakers were starting to notice that people were on the Wake bandwagon.

We are very heavy on Wake Forest, mainly at -12 and -12 1/2. A lot of people are looking at the standings from last year, and when they see Baylor going winless in the Big 12, that makes them side towards Wake Forest. One thing that worries me is it appears they have a QB controversy in Waco.

Robert Griffin will be the likely starter on Thursday, but if he struggles, look for former Miami transfer Kirby Freeman to get some snaps. One thing that Baylor has in its favor is home field advantage. Not only do the players realize that they still have a chance this season, but so do their fans. After all, everyone is still 0-0. While I dont think they have a chance to pull off the outright upset, I think that Baylor has a decent shot at a cover.

Interesting stat(s) to ponder: Baylor leads the all-time series 4-0. Wake Forest has never won a game in the state of Texas (0-11). Baylor was a woeful 2-6 ATS (against the spread) to close out last season.

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Mangini likely to sit Favre vs. Eagles
August 26, 2008

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Grab a cap and a clipboard, Brett. It appears you'll be sitting this one out.
Jets coach Eric Mangini said Tuesday that he's leaning toward not playing quarterback Brett Favre in the team's preseason finale at Philadelphia.

``If I had to tilt one way or the other like an airplane, I'd tilt that way,'' Mangini said.

Favre repeatedly said he'd like to play Thursday night, but also wouldn't be too disappointed if Mangini decided otherwise.

``I would assume that he'll probably say no, and if that's the case, so be it,'' Favre said Monday. ``I'll get some practice today and tomorrow. We'll be OK. I don't know if three or six plays, although I would like to do that, I don't know what you get out of that, really.''

Favre spoke to Mangini on Monday, but the coach said they didn't talk about the quarterback's desire to play. Favre was given the day off from speaking to the media.

``We talked about a range of stuff,'' Mangini said. ``He didn't come see me specifically for that reason.''

Mangini said he hadn't finalized his decision, but when again asked to clarify if he's thinking of not having Favre play, the coach responded: ``It would be safe to say that I'm leaning toward that.''

Favre went 9-of-12 for 96 yards in the Jets' 10-7 win over the Giants last Saturday, and is 14-of-18 for 144 yards overall with a touchdown and no interceptions in two preseason games. If he does sit against Philadelphia, he'll go 14 days without playing in a game before the regular-season opener at Miami.

``The most important thing to me is us getting ready as a group and getting ready for Miami,'' Mangini said. ``The more work he does with our guys in the group, the better.''

Most coaches rest their starters in the final preseason game, using it to evaluate rookie free agents and others competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Mangini has typically rested his starters in that game in his previous two preseasons with the Jets.

Mangini said Kellen Clemens, who was competing with Chad Pennington for the starting job before the Jets acquired Favre, will play against the Eagles, as will Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge.

``It's the last preseason game and you want to go out and have a good showing, but you want to do that whether it's the first preseason game or the last,'' Clemens said. ``Obviously, you want to leave a taste not only in the fans' mouths, but also for your teammates and coaches as well.''

Clemens started eight games last season, taking the job from Pennington midway through the season, but he'll be relegated to backup status this year. That's a tough job to have, considering Favre has played in 253 consecutive regular-season games.

``If you look at it historically, his backups haven't gotten a lot of time,'' Clemens said. ``It's a testament to how tough he is, both mentally and physically. If things go well, I'm not going to see the field too much more after Thursday night.''

Notes: The Jets held their final practice at Hofstra University after 40 years on the Long Island campus. The team is moving to its new facility in Florham Park, N.J., next Tuesday. ... New York got down to the required 75-player roster limit by releasing veteran running back Musa Smith, offensive lineman Thaddeus Coleman, defensive back Ron Girault and running back Rodney Kinlaw.

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Palmer will sit out last preseason game
August 26, 2008

CINCINNATI (AP) -Quarterback Carson Palmer will skip Cincinnati's last preseason game, resting his broken nose while running back Rudi Johnson makes his first - and what he thinks could be his last - appearance in a Bengals uniform.
Palmer didn't participate in practice again Tuesday, watching while the rest of the team got ready for its game Thursday night in Indianapolis. Palmer broke his nose and cut his lip on a sack Saturday night during a 13-0 loss to New Orleans.

Palmer said he probably would have sat out the final preseason game even if he hadn't broken his nose. He expects to be ready for the opener at Baltimore on Sept. 7.

``I mean, I'm healthy, I could play, (it's) just not in the cards this week, I think mainly because we played Saturday and turn around and play again on Thursday,'' said Palmer, who had a protective brace on his nose and packing in his left nostril. ``I just want to be 100 percent and healthy and feeling great going into the Baltimore game.''

Johnson and Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh have missed most of training camp and the first three preseason games because of hamstring injuries, but are expected to play against the Colts. Coach Marvin Lewis hasn't decided how long they'll be in the game.

After hearing an ESPN report that the Bengals were interested in trading him for a receiver, Johnson called his agent and had an inkling that he would be moving on.

``I could be gone any minute now,'' the running back said after practice. ``I'm just waiting on the call, looking at the clock. That's all. So you know, it is what it is. Nothing's surprising.

``It's always something every year. They've been trying to get me out of here for a long time now. So it's not surprising at all.''

It's not so clear-cut that he'll be gone.

Johnson became the team's starting tailback in 2004, taking over for Corey Dillon. He ran for a club-record 1,458 yards in 2005 and for 1,309 the next year. Hamstring problems limited him to nine starts and a 2.9-yard average last season, when he lost weight to try to increase his speed.

He bulked up in the offseason, hoping to become more of a power back again, but the continuing hamstring problems raise questions about his durability. While Johnson was sidelined in the preseason, Chris Perry - the Bengals' first-round pick in 2004 - showed that he's fully recovered from injuries that limited him to one start in the past two years.

That makes Johnson expendable. With Chad Johnson hampered by an injured left shoulder, the Bengals could use another receiver. The trick is finding a team interested in giving up a receiver for a running back who hasn't played a down in the preseason.

Rudi Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, didn't return a phone message on Tuesday. The running back said he had been in contact with him about where things stand.

``He's just been communicating back and forth,'' Johnson said. ``We'll see what happens.''

Houshmandzadeh said his hamstring felt good after his first back-to-back practices.

``My body is saying that I'm fine,'' Houshmandzadeh said. ``I knew that, but I just had to make sure of it. I felt good. I knew I would, but there is always doubt with something like that.''

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Cocks set to host N.C. St.
By Christian Alexander

N.C. State (0-0) at South Carolina (0-0)
Thursday, August 28
8:00 PM ESPN
Williams-Brice Stadium (Natural Grass) Line: South Carolina -13, O/U 45.5

I usually start off my first Thursday night column of the year by talking about how quickly the offseason flew by and that I can’t believe we’re getting ready to kickoff another season of college football. And trust me; I’m just as shocked this year as in season’s past but even more than that, I can’t believe this is the start of my ninth season handicapping college football at

Seems like just yesterday that I had my first conversation with Brian Edwards about doing some writing for the site and here it is almost a decade later. Crazy. Hopefully this is the start of my best season yet.

Speaking of starts, the Thursday night season has to commence somewhere and this year we get to head down into SEC land – always an entertaining scene – to check in on the “ole’ ball coach,” Steve Spurrier, and his South Carolina Gamecocks. Spurrier will be welcoming Tom O’Brien and the N.C. State Wolfpack to Columbia for an SEC/ACC showdown.

This will be Spurrier’s fourth season in Columbia and I’m guessing if you were to poll college football writers – and they were being honest – by now they would have predicted at least one SEC title for Spurrier. But success hasn’t come quite as easily or quickly as it did for Spurrier in Gainesville, where he built up the Gators into a dominant program that reached the top of college football.

Probably the biggest reason that South Carolina has had moderate success thus far under Spurrier is the last thing you would have to explain to the coach: The SEC is one nasty conference with very few easy weekends. Especially tough in 2008 is the SEC East Division where the Gamecocks will have to duke it out with Georgia and Florida, two legitimate national title contenders, and a pretty stout Tennessee program. Especially big will be the September 13 game in Columbia when Georgia comes calling – likely still holding on to the #1 ranking – and looking for some revenge after losing in Athens to Spurrier last year. That loss probably kept the Bulldogs out of the National title game in 2007.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves because South Carolina must deal with N.C. State first.

South Carolina should have a different look this year. Dropping your last five games of the season to keep you out of a bowl game tends to cause a coach to shake things up and predictably, the Gamecocks not only have a new starting quarterback (Tommy Beecher) and running back (Taylor Rank), but there is also a new defensive coordinator (Ellis Johnson) and special teams coordinator (Ray Rychleski).

The QB position is obviously important to every football team but playing the position under Spurrier – the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner as a QB – tends to make the spotlight shine even brighter. Come Thursday night we’ll get our first indication as to whether Beecher is ready for the starting job.

Spurrier believes the 6-2, 227-pound junior, entering his fourth year in the program, “deserves his shot.” While that doesn’t sound as if the coach has been blown away by Beecher’s play, there is no doubt he is more athletic (read: mobile) than Chris Smelley, who will serve as a backup despite going 4-2 as a starter last season.

That would seem to indicate that Spurrier might mix some QB running plays into the playbook. Then again, considering the South Carolina offensive line gave up 31 sacks in 12 games in 2007, maybe the coach just wanted someone under center that was better at running for their life.

Either way, when it comes time to pass Beecher will no doubt be looking early and often for WR Kenny McKinley, who led the SEC with 77 catches and had a team-high nine touchdowns with 968 receiving yards.

O’Brien knows all about searching to find answers at the all-important QB position. The coach of the Wolfpack dealt with very mediocre QB production for much of 2007 from Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck. That prompted O’Brien to open the job this past spring to anyone that wanted to give it a try. In all, five candidates vied for the job as Evans and Beck were joined in the competition by sophomore Justin Burke, redshirt freshman Russell Wilson and true freshman Mike Glennon.

The winner of the QB derby was a bit of a surprise as Wilson was recently named the starter for the season opener. That said, the diminutive signal caller out of a small prep school in Richmond, VA., doesn’t have a lock on the job, as O’Brien has already stated that Evans will see some action against the Gamecocks.

With inexperienced wide receivers and a reshuffled offensive line, the Wolfpack figure to be fairly conservative – at least at the outset of the season. You certainly can’t blame O’Brien for that line of reasoning after his squad was burned badly by turnovers to start 2007, committing 22 through the first six games en route to a 1-5 start.

Overall, N.C. State returns just 11 starters, only four on defense, from a 2007 team that finished 5-7 and 3-5 in conference. By comparison, South Carolina returns 17 starters from their 6-6 team last season, including 10 on the defensive side of the ball.

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Thursday's Playbook
By Josh Jacobs

It becomes almost a rule of thumb for line makers to install spreads of three points or less in preseason contests. Marking the end of 2008 training camp, Week 4 will commence on Thursday and finish up on Friday as the regular season begins to turn that impatient corner.

With the onslaught of pigskin action to cap off the work week, are there some fishy point spreads out there the gambler might have an opportunity to slam and what other intriguing facts and figures can we isolate in our favor?

Tennessee (-5½) at Green Bay – 7:00 p.m. EDT

The Titans are getting a lot of love by books in this contest, with the Las Vegas Hilton going as far as to install the team at minus-six points with a total sitting at 36.
This is the same Tennessee club that scored a grand total of three points last week against an Atlanta team with more question marks then answers. Titans’ QB Vince Young completed 9-of-18 passes for 102 passing yards but one interception tossed marred the effort for the evening. What could be most damaging in the box score was Tennessee’s 23 minutes and 54 seconds of possession compared to the Falcons’ 36 minutes and six seconds of handling the ball on offense.

How much stock you want to put into the Titans last game's outcome is obviously your call but to label last week’s loss a step in the right direction would be an inaccurate statement. Combine the offensive woes with a defense that gave up 145 rushing yards, while taking down an Atlanta signal caller just once and these problems are all worth penning in your notebook.

The Packers are currently in a five-game financial slide when playing in preseason Game 4’s, going 1-4 ATS. Overall a 10-14 ATS stint in the last 24 Game 4’s isn’t a number we want to be basing our investment decision on but the fact is that Green Bay isn’t financially impressive in this spot by any means.

Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher is 27-22-2 ATS lifetime in preseason games but a 15-6 ATS away report during “practice games” is a trend worthy of noting.

With the Titans’ first team producing just two field goals with no touchdowns in 12 total drives in the preseason concern about offensive options is surely beginning to grip coaching staff, fans and of bettors.

Because almost 63-percent of the betting public is laying their money down on Tennessee in this spot, what direction will you take come Thursday evening?

Detroit (-3½) at Buffalo – 6:30 p.m. EDT

The “other” team in the AFC East might not be that much of a surprise this season. This is a Buffalo team that carries over a 4-2 divisional record from 2007 (ok, the Dolphins stunk and the Jets were hiding come game day) and expectations are high that this core of players can only improve from last year’s 7-9 record.

The good news is that picking up defensive end Marcus Stroud can only add a positive presence to the front four and QB Trent Edwards, wide receiver Lee Evans and finally RB Marshawn Lynch are all capable playmakers with plenty of youth of on their side.

All of the mentioned information could prove worthy for the regular season. For all intense purposes, what can we expect from the Bills final game of the preseason?

Going 2-1 straight up and 3-0 ATS has the Bills reeling on offense in the last three preseason games. In an Aug. 14, 24-21 win over Pittsburgh, Trent Edwards was firing on all cylinders, passing for 104 yards with two scores on 9-of-11 completions. Seven-year wide out Robert Royal may have been on the receiving end of both passing TDs, but don’t make a mistake about it, this was a team effort through and through (Lynch running for 25 yards on five attempts, Evan pulling in three receptions for 55 yards and a defense working through its opponent’s offensive line for three sacks).

Despite this year’s early success, Buffalo coach Dick Jauron is 2-9 ATS in the last 11 preseason home stands, while the ‘over’ is a hot 7-1 in the last eight series games between the Bills and Lions.

Speaking about Detroit, a 3-0 SU record during the preseason still doesn’t wipe out 2007 memories of the non-existent running game. The empty backfield managed to scrape across 1,288 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns, led by RB Kevin Jones who made up 581 of those total yards from the ground.

Also consider that Detroit, and the rest of NFL teams, will be very careful about inserting playmakers into the Week 4 game plan. Expect QB Jon Kitna and wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson to see limited playing time, meaning that players like Drew Stanton, Ronald Bellamy and Brandon Middleton will see an increase in activity.

Last week’s win finally put a ‘W’ on the Lions resume, with a 1-6-1 ATS record in their last eight when favored. But most books have labeled Detroit as a three-point visiting underdog, with a total set at 34½. The Lions are now 16-23-1 ATS as an underdog since the 1983 preseason.

Miami (-1) at New Orleans – 8:00 p.m. EDT

Both Miami and New Orleans have been far from impressive in Week 4 preseason games, combining for a 23-26 ATS record since 1980. The Dolphins have been especially damaging to backers by posting a 1-4 ATS slide in their last five Week 4 contests. opened the Saints as three-point favorites at the beginning of the week, but that number has since changed directions. Most books are currently listing New Orleans as anywhere from one-point ‘dogs to a straight pickem’ contest.

So why would the Saints be favorites one moment and home ‘dogs the next?

Is it the expected brawl between the second and third teams with expected regular season starters spending most of the time from a sideline perspective? Could it have something to do with the cornerback controversy swirling around Saints’ camp (Jason David, Jason Craft and Aaron Glenn are all in close competition for the spot) or does it have a direct connection with starting signal caller, Drew Breese taking a seat on the bench and TE Jeremy Shocky’s expected absence (again)?

The answer isn’t clear cut but expect all the aforementioned factors as part of the line move. Performance wise, last week was a big stand for a New Orleans’ defense that held the Bengals to just 94 yards in the first half and 165 yards throughout the entire contest. But it’s tough to overlook the Week 2, 31-27 high flying affair (in which the Saints lost) as a tough defensive stand.

As for the Dolphins, a combined 43-14 slashing of Kansas City and Jacksonville should open the eyes of some that this isn’t that 1-15 SU club of 2007. Not only is field general Chad Pennington a solid veteran capable of driving this team down field (11-for-15 with 94 passing yards and a score in Week 3 and 5-for-6 for 55 yards in Week 2), but predictions for RB Ricky Williams to tear grass this season are high. With a strong showing in preseason, Williams has amassed 121 yards on 27 attempts with one trip across the goal line.

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Thursday's Top 25 Capsule
August 27, 2008

Wake Forest's first preseason ranking in school history. For Baylor, it's a chance for new coach Art Briles to pull a big upset at a program desperate to lose its reputation as a perennial loser.

Baylor's offensive line vs. Wake Forest's defensive front. Baylor's hopes of a turnaround start up front, where four starters are back. The Bears ranked 113th in nation last year in rushing, averaging 77 yards per game.

Wake Forest: CB Alphonso Smith, who returned three interceptions for touchdowns last season, could have a big game against a team with unresolved quarterback situation.

Baylor: Whoever lines up at QB. Briles has been keeping his starter secret after preseason competition between Robert Griffin, Kirby Freeman and Blake Szymanski. Freeman transferred from Miami.

Wake Forest has never won a game in the state of Texas in 11 tries. ... Wake Forest's Riley Skinner, only a junior, will become the winningest starting QB in school history with one more victory, his 19th. ... First games have not been kind to Baylor head coaches. Five of the last six lost their debut with Bears.

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Steelers won't see much of Panthers starters
August 28, 2008

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Again, it's only the preseason, when the results and statistics don't count, the starters almost never play past halftime, the tailgating isn't as spirited as during the regular season and many season ticket holders pass off their seats to friends and relatives.
Nothing matters, except the injuries that can disrupt a team's season or end a player's season before it has begun for real.

Despite all those asterisks, what's going on with the Carolina Panthers must make their fans wonder if this is a team that's ready to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won't see much of the Panthers players who created something of a stir by beating the Washington Redskins 47-3 on Saturday, an unusually one-sided score for an exhibition game. The Panthers and Steelers close out their preseasons Thursday night at Heinz Field.

``Certainly every game is not going to be like that,'' quarterback Jake Delhomme said.

With teams playing 70-plus players in exhibition games, one team normally doesn't have such an appreciable edge in talent that it can dominate a game from the first quarter to the fourth the way the Panthers did.

Still, in their last two games, the Panthers' starters have outscored their opponents 58-3. The Steelers certainly noticed that.

``They are coming off a high performance,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ``They got after the Redskins pretty good in all three phases. So it's a big challenge for us.''

Delhomme, back after having reconstructive elbow surgery last year, figures to play only a series or two. The Steelers' starters figure to go about a quarter, not much time to see the Carolina pass rush that had five sacks against the Redskins.

Pittsburgh's starting defense will play only minimally against running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, each of whom had gained more than 100 yards against Washington by early in the second half.

``I think as a team we showcased what we can do throughout the whole season,'' Stewart said.

With the regular season starting in little more than a week, neither team wants any injuries, one reason the starters won't go very long. The Steelers do plan to get Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu on the field for a few plays after a hamstring injury sidelined him for their first three exhibition games.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will go a quarter or less, which means a lot of snaps for new backup Byron Leftwich, who is replacing the injured Charlie Batch (broken collarbone), and rookie Dennis Dixon.

``Every day is important for him because there have been very few days and opportunities,'' Tomlin said of Leftwich, who didn't sign until Aug. 10.

There should be plenty of carries for rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, who ran for 79 yards on 15 attempts but lost two fumbles as the Steelers used four field goals to beat Minnesota 12-10 on Saturday. So Mendenhall would be conscious of protecting the ball, he was forced to carry a ball with him all week during meetings.

``It's something I have to do,'' said Mendenhall, who wasn't all that thrilled by the idea.

Tomlin's take on having Mendenhall tote a ball wherever he went at the team's practice facility?

``I just want him to hold onto the football,'' Tomlin said.

Carolina, which had its only scheduled full practice of the week pushed onto a stadium concourse by heavy rains Tuesday, will be without wide receiver Jason Carter, who is out for the season after injuring a knee against Washington. Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote (knee) will sit out.

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith will play for the last time until he serves a two-game suspension for the training camp fight that left cornerback Ken Lucas with a broken nose.

``Steve being out the first couple of games and with our numbers being depleted, it's a good thing that our running backs are running as well as they are right now,'' wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said.

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Wake Forrest vs. Baylor

Finally, College Football is set to go. Note that Skinner is back at quarterback for Wake Forrest. Note that Wake is ranked 23rd and they are on the road at Baylor, and given that it is a weekday college football game and over 63% of the public are riding the road chalk here, that is always a tough pill to swallow. But, having said this, Wake last year had a stifling defense that was ranked top 30 in the nation, a top 70 defense in relation to the pass, and stellar in run defense as they were top 15 in the nation. In fact, the Deacons only allowed opponents to 22.2 points per ballgame which came in 29th in the league. Where this team did suffer of course was on offense where they were ranked 94th last year, and only averaged about 28 points per ballgame. This team was a solid money-maker at 9-4 ATS and was 8-5 to the over which surprised a lot of folks. Baylor comes off a disappointing season last year as they finished the year 3-9 and 0-8 in the conference, this team gave up over 180 yards per ballgame on the ground which will have a detrimental effect considering Wake loves to run the ball and enjoys ball control, Baylor was top 30 in the nation in passing last year but was 115th rushing the ball as they went to the air far more than hitting the ground - after all, they were part of an aerial attack that the Big 12 showcased last year. The over/under with respect to the public liking one more than the other here, I favor the over and Baylor hanging tight here.

NC State vs. South Carolina

Note, the particular sports that I cover and given that South Carolina is part of my favorite conference in the SEC, I will be undoubtedly covering them this season. The Gamecocks come in as a 14 point favorite, and the line opened up at -13. Steve Spurrier is currently on his longest losing streak and remember, this team was 6-1 at one point last year and ended the year 6-6 as the Gamecocks lost 5 games in a row. South Carolina will be known for its defense this year more than its offense, NC State had a 4 game winning streak at one point last year and ended the year getting pounded at home by Maryland 0-37. On the road, the Wolfpack struggled as they lost by around 17-20 points and this defense was simply terrible last year, which yielded a lot of overs. Frankly, this game can go either way, and I'm a Spurrier fan myself, but having said that, I feel that South Carolina might come out rusty in the first half.

Vanderbilt vs. Miami of Ohio

I am biased toward the SEC and there is no denying that and that includes all teams in the SEC including Vanderbilt. Remember, Vandy nearly beat Georgia last year at home which shows that they can play inspired football, they have been playing more and more tougher teams on the road, the Commodores lost by 7 to Kentucky at home, lost by just a point to Tennessee on the road - the SEC runner-up, beat Miami of Ohio 24-13 last year at home so this is a revenge game for Miami of Ohio and remember, it was Vandy that beat South Carolina on the road 17-6 in an embarrassment for Spurrier, heck, they win that game and they go to a bowl game. The Redhawks were around 50th in the nation in passing last year and a solid top 30 in the nation in their pass defense, however, given that Vandy loves to run the ball, the Redhawks were just top 80 in pass defense. This team was 6-7 last year and to their credit, were 4-1 at home, given Vandy's disciplined D and being on the road, points should be at a premium and Miami of Ohio is tough at home.

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UTEP at Buffalo Kicks Off the CFB Season
by T.O. Whenham

After nearly eight months of counting the days, college football season is back. Less than 24 hours from now teams will be taking the field, and the glorious, too short season will be underway. The long drought ends tomorrow when the first 14 games of the year are played. Four teams are scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. ET, and if all goes cording to plan then the University of Texas-El Paso and Buffalo will kick off the season a couple of minutes before anyone else. That's not the flashiest game there is, and it certainly isn't the one that most people are looking forward to this weekend. It does, however, have the potential to be an intriguing game. I'm going to be there, so I'm both optimistic and hopeful that the storylines that exist materialize and develop to their potential. You might have to look beyond the surface of this one to see the beauty, but it's there. Incidentally, the hosts are three-point favorites.

The first and most obvious appeal of this game is the coaches. It's a study in contrasts - one is clearly on the rise, and the other is on the downside of a hard fall. Turner Gill is only 46, and he has only been a head coach for two seasons, but the former Nebraska star shows such promise that he was a finalist for the job at his alma mater. He'll be moving on to a bigger job under brighter lights soon. UTEP's Mike Price, on the other hand, reached the pinnacle of his profession when he earned the head job at Alabama, but then he lost it before coaching a game in one of the ugliest, most surprising falls from grace in the history of coaching. For a battle between two schools that have never played each other and aren't exactly nationally relevant, this game sure has a lot of drama on the sidelines.

If you get past watching the coaching staff, there should be something to see on the field as well. Buffalo joined the MAC in 1999, and it hasn't gone too well. They were just 2-10 in Gill's first season, and yet that was an improvement in both record and level of play. The jump to 5-7 last year was almost a quantum leap for the team. Most impressively, it was the first time that the team had ever had a winning record in the MAC. The MAC may not be the sexiest league around, but it isn't the easiest, either. This year Gill will be looking to make another big step forward, and he has the tools to do so. The dream is a bowl appearance, and it could happen. They have 18 returning starters, and for the first time in a long time those starters have a sense of what it takes to win.

The Bulls should be able to score. Senior QB Drew Willy is near the top of the food chain in the MAC, and he should rewrite the Buffalo record books if he has a decent season this year. He has the luxury of handing off to James Starks, probably the best tailback in the conference. Naaman Roosevelt was a very good receiver as a sophomore last year, and he has added size and strength in the offseason. Those three are protected by a line with four returning starters (center Jamey Richard is the lone exception, having been drafted by the Colts). In other words, the engine is pretty good.

The defense was more affected by departures, including pass rusher Trevor Scott who is now a Raider, but there are still highlights. Most notably, safety Davonte Shannon had more tackles last year than any other freshman in the country. Gill has recruited well, and he inspires ferocious play, so Buffalo should be good to watch, and should be able to win seven games.

The outlook isn't quite as bright for UTEP. They are coming off a season in which they were 4-8, and they lost their last six. The year before they won five, but just one of their last seven. Price has struggled to recapture the magic he had at Washington State that was enough to earn him the job at Alabama. His team might not be much better this year, either. They also should be able to score, though (the offensive firepower on both sides is reflected in the reasonably high total of 58.5). The o-line also returns four good starters, and the only absence is also in the NFL, so it could be a frustrating night for defensive linemen on both sides. Sophomore James Vittatoe was a very solid QB last year (3,100 yards, 25 TDs, 7 picks), and should only get better this year. It could be rough for him early on, though, as he will be without his top running back and his second best receiver. Both players graduated, and several who are still with the team have been banged up in practice.

UTEP will almost certainly be looking past this game. They'll be playing in front of a mid-sized crowd in a city that few of them have likely ever been to and none care about. That won't hold that much appeal compared to hosting Texas in a sold out Sun Bowl next week. That likely lack of focus coupled with some potential speed bumps on offense, an opponent who can score, and Buffalo's home town advantage all combine to give the Bulls an edge.


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