Friday, August 02, 2002

SEC boasts three Heisman candidates at QB

The (Shreveport) Times

        BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It's a unique situation: Three quarterbacks from the same conference, all among the contenders for the Heisman Trophy. And they're all in agreement, the award should be won on the field, not by some savvy, big-spending campaign.

        “It's embarrassing,” Florida quarterback Rex Grossman said. “You're a focal point, and people are looking at you. It's a team game, and you depend on your team a thousand times more than a billboard to get you the Heisman.”

        Grossman, Eli Manning and Casey Clausen were all at the SEC Football Media Days this week. They talked about football and winning, not just games, but college football's most coveted award.

        “Three quarterbacks from the same conference up for the Heisman, you just don't see that every day,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.

        Fans of the SEC likely will see plenty of quality quarterbacking this upcoming season. With Grossman, Manning, of Ole Miss, and Clausen, of Tennessee, set for their junior seasons, defensive players around the conference are preparing themselves for a season of stellar passing attacks.

        None could be more potent than Grossman and the Gators. A year ago, Grossman finished second in Heisman voting and was the SEC Most Valuable Player. On Thursday, he was named the preseason All-SEC quarterback after passing for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.

        Manning, named to the 2002 Playboy All-America Team, was selected as the second-team preseason All-SEC quarterback. Last season, he threw for 2,948 yards and 31 touchdowns.

        Clausen doesn't enter the season with as much fanfare as his rivals. But he did throw for 2,969 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago. And the Vols will be one of the early favorites to win the national title.

        LSU senior linebacker Bradie James has been the victim of each quarterback's handy work. Last year, each of the Tigers' three losses came at the hands of Grossman, Manning and Clausen.

        James said all three are very talented. But if he had a Heisman vote, he knows exactly where it would go.

        “It's all about who performs the best against us,” James said. “And Rex played better than those other two against us. Eli played well, and he's a good player. And Casey is a good player. But the best is Rex. When Rex Grossman is on, he's on. He can make some difficult throws look like a cake walk.”

        Grossman spent much of the last two seasons fighting to become the Gators' starter. As a redshirt freshman, he battled with Jesse Palmer, yet Grossman led the Gators to the SEC championship. He was named the SEC title game's MVP.

        But then in the offseason before his sophomore season, former Gators coach Steve Spurrier opened another quarterback battle, this time with former Evangel player Brock Berlin. Grossman won the starting job just before the season opener.

        He doesn't have such problems now. Still, he's not focusing on winning the Heisman.

        “There's only as much pressure as you put on yourself,” Grossman said.

        “I'm not going to put any pressure on myself to win the Heisman. It didn't affect me last year, and I don't expect it to affect me this year.”

        Manning, the son of former Ole Miss and Saints star Archie Manning and the younger brother of Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning, isn't chancing such pressures.

        Archie has asked school officials not to launch a Heisman campaign for his son. He doesn't want Ole Miss to spend money on posters and billboards.

        “I was fine with it,” Eli said. “(Archie) asked me about it, and I agreed. I didn't feel it was worth worrying about. I didn't want to be concerned about it. I want to play football and have fun.”

        Clausen, who didn't become a candidate for the Heisman until a late-season flurry a year ago, expressed similar sentiments. He said he has put most of his efforts and energy on helping his team capture the SEC title, instead of winning the Heisman.

        “My No. 1 goal is to go out and take care of business,” Clausen said. “I want to play hard and compete. Anything after that is just a bonus for me. The awards come after the season is over.”


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