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September 13, 2006

Stewart and Peterson ready for heavyweight fight

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Do you know who James "Buster" Douglas is? Of course, you do.

But did you know who he was before he knocked out Mike Tyson? Didn't think so.

Running back Jonathan Stewart of 18th-ranked Oregon hopes to similarly raise his national profile on Saturday when he matches skills with No. 15 Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, the Tyson of college football tailbacks.

"It's a real big game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "It's a chance for us to get our names across the country and just to let the East Coast, or whoever doesn't get to see us, a chance to see what Oregon is all about."

It's also a chance to see what Stewart is all about, and how he compares to Peterson.

In 2004, Peterson was proclaimed the nation's best high school running back by Rivals.com. He went to OU and became well-known from coast to coast.

The next year, Stewart was proclaimed the nation's best high school running back by Rivals.com, went to Oregon and became well, known on the West Coast.

Tucked away in the scenic Pacific Northwest, it's easy for players like Stewart to be overlooked and underappreciated nationally, but he has talent that can at least rival Peterson's.

"I think I'm a power back with more speed than a regular power back," Stewart said in a self-appraisal. "I've learned to avoid contact and get my agility more into play. I think I'm more of a balanced running back."

A power back with great speed hmmm, that sounds like Peterson. The 5-foot-11, 234-pound Stewart and Peterson have other similarities. They both wear No. 28. Stewart, a sophomore, has been hobbled by a sprained ankle - the same injury that slowed Peterson during his sophomore season a year ago.

But Stewart, who rushed for 168 yards in a season-opening victory over Stanford, says his ankle is about "90 percent" healthy. He could be in line for a productive output against a Sooners defense which has struggled against the run.

Oklahoma surrendered 204 rushing yards to Washington last week and allowed Huskies running backs Louis Rankin and Kenny James to average more than 6 yards per carry.

However, Stewart said he's focusing on helping the Ducks win a big game rather than outrushing Peterson.

"I don't think it's up to one person or two people to change the game," he said. "It's 11 players on each side of the ball."

Still, Stewart admitted he'll be watching Peterson with keen interest each time he carries the football.

"When you're watching the game you watch to see what the (opposing) running backs are doing, and to see what he's seeing," Stewart said. "That's natural for any running back, I think."

It's also natural to want to be the best. And even though Peterson has a higher profile, Stewart won't concede anything yet.

"I can't say who is best," Stewart said. "I know for sure Adrian Peterson is really talented. He's a work horse. He reminds me of a horse the way he keeps going. He's masculine on the field."

Just like Mike Tyson was. And just like Buster Douglas was.

Three questions with Auburn guard Ben Grubbs, an All-America candidate

Seriously, how hard has it been not to look ahead to this big game against LSU?

"You look at the schedule and see LSU as the third game and you kind of anticipate it. But as far as not focusing on it, that's not hard. The coaches won't let you."

Wondering what to expect from your favorite team in conference play? Want to know why your favorite player isn't higher in our power rankings?

Rivals.com senior college football writer Olin Buchanan answers your questions every week in his Friday Mailbag. Click here to send him a question.
Auburn's run offense was effective against Washington State and Mississippi State. How confident are you that the Tigers can run effectively against LSU?

"If we do everything like we're coached to do, I don't see any team stopping us. We just have to execute the plays. If we leave one or two men unblocked it won't work."

Can you describe the intensity level for this game?

"You really don't need any motivation for this game. Looking around after practice on Sunday I saw intensity in everybody's eyes. As far as emotion, I think we're ready. When I see my friends on campus they all wish us well. They're excited. The whole town is excited."

Trivia question

What school is known as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks?" Answer at the end of the column.

For Clemson, 'D' stands for depleted

Already hurting on defense, Clemson will likely be without cornerback C.J. Gaddis and possibly defensive end Gaines Adams for Saturday's key ACC game against Florida State.

Gaddis suffered a foot injury in the first half of last week's loss to Boston College. Adams has a partially separated shoulder.

"I anticipate C.J. Gaddis not being able to go," Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning told TigerIllustrated.com. "He's in a boot right now and didn't practice (Monday)."

Gaddis and Adams could represent the fourth and fifth Clemson defensive starters lost to injury this season.

Linebacker Tramaine Billie broke an ankle during August practices and middle linebacker Anthony Waters suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the season-opener. Last week, safety Michael Hamlin broke a foot and is out at least a month.

Sign language

As if avenging last season's 23-3 loss wasn't enough, the Iowa Hawkeyes have added motivation to beat cross-state rival Iowa State.

They've seen the sign.

Supposedly meant to recognize Cyclones fans in the eastern part of the state more likely to chide Iowa fans the Iowa State athletic department placed a billboard reading: IT'S A CYCLONE STATE along Interstate 380 between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. The billboard shows a picture of the Iowa State football team hoisting the Cy-Hawk football trophy.

Iowa, of course, is known as the Hawkeye State.

On road trips, the Hawkeyes fly out of Cedar Rapids, which is just 30 miles north of Iowa City. They lodge in hotels there on the eve of games, so the team has obviously seen the sign on several occasions.

A familiar foe

LSU offensive linemen think they may have an edge against the Auburn defense this week because they're so familiar with who's directing it.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was the defensive coordinator for LSU's national championship team three years ago, and players remaining from that team feel they know what to expect from him.

"We know they are going to move a lot on defense," LSU guard Will Arnold said. "He'll have his linemen moving. They'll show their blitzes late. We'll have to read it and be ready."

Of course, LSU coach Les Miles - who was at Oklahoma State then - doubts that will be a factor.

"I respect the work Coach Muschamp did here and the work he's doing at Auburn," Miles said. "But this is a different time with different players."

Auburn is coming off a shutout of Mississippi State. LSU has not yet allowed a touchdown this season.

Qualifying quote

North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato opened himself up for criticism when he suggested Akron, which upset the Wolfpack 20-17 on Saturday, had an advantage because it accepts non-qualifiers.

Non-qualifiers aren't academically eligible under NCAA standards to play in their first year and sacrifice that year of eligibility, but can regain a year of eligibility by completing necessary academic work.

"They're in the conference (the MAC) that allows non-qualifiers in school," Amato said. "Non-qualifiers. Do ya'll need to look that one up to write your stories?

"Do you know what kind of players non-qualifiers are, usually? They're inversely proportional to what their grade-point average is. They can make a big difference."

The Atlantic Coast Conference, of which North Carolina State is a member, does not accept non-qualifiers.

An Akron spokeswoman said three of Akron's players in Saturday's game were non-qualifiers, and one had completed the academic work necessary to regain an additional year of eligibility.

Quick hits

  • It should be noted again that Erk Russell, a fiery defensive coordinator at Georgia for 17 years and a three-time national championship head coach at Georgia Southern, passed away on Sept. 8. He was 80.

  • Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, who sat out last week's overtime victory over Syracuse with a strained oblique muscle, is practicing and is expected to play this weekend against Iowa State.

  • USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis was carted off the practice field Monday with a knee injury. He will miss Saturday's game against Nebraska and is expected to be sidelined for two or three weeks. Linebacker Oscar Lua is also slowed by a hamstring injury, which may allow sophomore Rey Maualuga to make his first career start.

  • SMU will be without running back DeMyron Martin for at least four weeks. Martin sustained a small fracture in his right foot during last week's game against North Texas.

  • Texas' former All-Big 12 quarterback Major Applewhite will be facing the Longhorns this Saturday as offensive coordinator at Rice.

  • Arizona State receiver Rudy Burgess is awaiting results from a baseline concussion test to determine when he can resume play. Burgess sustained a concussion in the early stages of a 52-21 victory over Nevada.

  • Last season Nebraska led the nation with 50 quarterback sacks. After two games this season the Cornhuskers have managed just two.

  • Florida State has lost starting nose guard Paul Griffin for the remainder of the season with a torn left ACL. That's a significant loss for the Seminoles, who have allowed just 26 rushing yards in the first two games.

  • Two weeks after playing The Citadel, Texas A&M faces Army this week in an "away" game played at San Antonio's Alamodome. The Citadel? Army? It seems A&M is trying to get in on the Commander in Chief's Trophy.

  • By the way, the Aggies, who ranked last nationally in pass defense a year ago, are leading the NCAA standings after two games. Of course, neither The Citadel nor Louisiana-Lafayette provided much of a test to the new secondary. Army doesn't figure to, either. Louisiana Tech on Sept. 23 will provide a better gauge. The Texas Tech game on Sept. 30 will remove any doubts (or raise some) about how much the Aggies' coverage abilities have improved.

  • Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama is questionable for this week's game against Stephen F. Austin after suffering a concussion in last week's 45-3 loss to LSU. The injury likely occurred on the game's first play when he absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit from LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. If Tuitama doesn't play, senior Adam Austin will get the start against SFA.

  • The NCAA is expected to make a ruling on the appeal of Texas Tech All-American receiver Jarrett Hicks next week. Hicks had been ruled ineligible earlier this season. The NCAA restored eligibility to freshman receiver Michael Crabtree, who was also ruled ineligible earlier this year.

  • Nevada-Las Vegas was leading Iowa State 3-0 early in the second quarter against Iowa State last week when quarterback Rocky Hinds injured his right knee and left the game. The bad news for the Rebels is they lost that game 16-10. The good news is an MRI revealed no tearing of the ACL or MCL, and he is listed as questionable for the Rebels' game against Hawaii on Saturday.

    Trivia answer
    Purdue bears the distinction of being known as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks." The Boilermakers program has produced Bob Griese, Len Dawson, Mike Phipps, Mark Hermann, Jim Everett, Gary Danielson and Drew Brees, among others.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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