Auburn-South Florida promising running backs Print
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Thursday, 06 September 2007 11:03
NCAAF Headline News

 AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville thinks one of the nation's more talented tailbacks will be on the field Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
That's far from an uncommon occurrence at Tailback U.
But he's talking about South Florida freshman Mike Ford, not one of his own promising young runners.
``He's going to be a force not just in the Big East and South Florida, but in college football,'' Tuberville said.
Ford and the Bulls will try to score maybe the biggest victory in the history of their program when they play No. 17 Auburn.
The Top 25 schedule starts Friday night when No. 15 Rutgers hosts Navy, and Saturday's slate should be one of the best of the season.
No. 2 LSU and No. 9 Virginia Tech play the day's biggest matchup at night in Tiger Stadium.
No. 19 TCU takes on No. 7 Texas in Austin. The Horned Frogs are hoping an upset can lift them into the national title discussion.
M welcomes Fresno State; and No. 24 Tennessee gets Southern Mississippi in Knoxville.
The ranked teams going on the road include No. 3 West Virginia, which plays at Marshall for the first time in 92 years. No. 5 Wisconsin is at UNLV; No. 10 California plays at Colorado State; No. 16 Nebraska is at Wake Forest; No. 20 Hawaii travels to Louisiana Tech; No. 22 Boise State is at Washington.
No. 4 Florida hosts Troy; No. 12 Ohio State plays at home against Akron; No. 21 Georgia Tech plays Samford; and No. 25 Clemson hosts Louisiana-Monroe.
Like many coaches, Tuberville recruited Ford out of Sarasota, Fla., where he ran for a state-record 2,836 yards. But Ford signed with Alabama out of high school in 2005, then spent a year in prep school after failing to qualify.
He re-signed with the Crimson Tide but changed his mind after coach Mike Shula was fired and enrolled at South Florida in January.
Ford has quickly shown his potential. He scored three touchdowns in his debut against Elon and gained 83 yards on six carries, including a 48-yarder.
``I'm sure they were just trying to get him ready for the games down the road,'' Tuberville said. ``Mike Ford's a guy that we all noticed very quickly as a 10th and 11th grader and his senior year in high school. He's going to be one of the better players in the country the next few years.''
Ford won't be the only talented young back on display in Saturday night's game.
Auburn has been churning out NFL running backs in recent years, including Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and last year's second-round pick Kenny Irons.
Now, the Tigers are turning to sophomore Ben Tate and redshirt freshman Mario Fannin while Brad Lester remains on indefinite suspension for academic issues.
But Tate wasn't able to break through Kansas State's defense, which loaded up the line to stop the run.
And for all his talent, Fannin hasn't recorded a carry in college yet because coaches wanted him to work on his pass blocking. Tuberville indicated he will play a role soon, probably against the Bulls.
``He's a change of pace, a little bit different style,'' said Tate, who gained 82 yards on 23 carries in the opener.
Running back was one of Auburn's deeper positions until the preseason toe injury of Tristan Davis and Lester's suspension.
Now, the Tigers are hoping the Tate-Fannin combination will be enough to carry them through until at least one of those players return. Tuberville said this week he has no idea when Lester's situation will be cleared up.
South Florida coach Jim Leavitt doesn't appear ready to make Ford the focal point of his offense. After all, quarterback Matt Grothe led the team in rushing last season and Ben Williams is back after gaining 436 yards.
``We're playing four or five guys right now, and it'll stay that way for awhile,'' Leavitt said.
But, he added of Ford, ``He's a big back, he can run and we've got to get the ball in his hands.''
Auburn defenders noticed more than Ford's rushing. They were impressed by the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder's blocking, too. As defensive end Quentin Groves said, he ``flat-backed'' a couple of Elon blitzers in Game 1.
``He's a tremendous blocker,'' linebacker Craig Stevens said. ``He's not too big but he's been putting guys on their backs when he blocks. He's made a big impression on me.''
Southern Miss at No. 24 Tennessee
Southern Mississippi tailback Damion Fletcher once attended a summer camp for high school players at Tennessee.
He came away from Knoxville with a picture of himself with coach Phillip Fulmer and the hope that the Volunteers would call him when it came time to pick a college. No call ever came.
``I guess they weren't interested,'' Fletcher said.
The sophomore now has the complete attention of the Volunteers' coaching staff as Tennessee prepares to host the Golden Eagles.
``He continues to impress me,'' Fulmer said. ``We've got a challenge there. He's not quite as big, but he reminds me of (Vols running back) Arian Foster. He takes tackles and cuts them in half. He's hard to get a hit on.''
Fletcher has gained more than 1,500 yards in 14 career games, including 89 yards against eventual national champion Florida in his debut last season and 177 yards and three touchdowns in an upset of North Carolina State.
Miami at No. 5 Oklahoma
The unique position Nic Harris plays in Oklahoma's defense requires him to line up sometimes as a linebacker and other times as a safety. The variety requires athletic ability and intelligence, but also an adaptability.
As the Sooners (1-0) prepare to host Miami (1-0), Harris seems to be on the verge of stardom. He led Oklahoma last season with four interceptions, and in a 79-10 romp over North Texas last Saturday, he returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown, recorded four tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss and forced a fumble.
``He's really coming into his own, which he did even last year (in) the second half of the year,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``He's really feeling confident and sure of himself and making plays.''
It hasn't always come that easy for the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder from Alexandria, La. Last season, while playing as a fifth defensive back, he allowed Oregon's Bryan Paysinger to get well behind him and catch the winning touchdown pass in the Ducks' 34-33 win. The lapse overshadowed Harris' two interceptions in the game and since has served as motivation for Harris.
``If you don't have motivation, then you don't live, you just merely exist, so you have to be motivated toward something,'' he said.
 

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