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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : If Smith’s Accusations Are True, Ohio State Has a Lot to Learn

The strangest story of the 1991 season, now just beginning? Try the tale unfolding at Ohio State.

Star running back Robert Smith, the Big Ten’s freshman of the year a season ago, has quit the team, citing a conflict with Coach John Cooper and assistant head coach Elliot Uzelac as the reason for his departure. Smith has said Cooper’s regime is so obsessed with winning that his right and ability to pursue an education have been compromised.

Accusation No. 1: Smith said he was ordered to miss classes in favor of attending practices and team meetings.

Accusation No. 2: Smith said Uzelac told him that he took his schoolwork “too seriously.”

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Cooper denied the charges and met with Smith earlier this week to discuss the situation. Nothing was resolved, although Cooper has indicated that he would welcome Smith back to the team. No other meetings are scheduled.

Smith, a microbiology major who wants to study medicine, is known as a bright, earnest and down-to-earth person. His remarks are disturbing for one reason alone: What if they are true?

Cooper, of course, can ill afford the loss of the talented Smith, whose 1,126 yards were the 16th highest total recorded by a freshman in NCAA history. But neither can the Ohio State athletic department accept an ultimatum from a player: Smith wants Cooper and Uzelac removed.

In the meantime, Cooper has closed practices to reporters and has barred all players from speaking with the media until further notice. Some solution.

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Look no further than the NFL draft to discover the main reason USC’s Curtis Conway welcomed the move from quarterback to wide receiver.

At Hawthorne High, where he passed for nearly 2,800 yards, gained another 1,592 yards rushing and accounted for 62 of the 82 touchdowns scored during his junior and senior seasons, Conway was considered the next can’t-miss kid. USC thought so and went so far as to compare the former State sprint champion to highly regarded Trojan quarterback Rodney Peete.

Then came the 1989 draft. Peete wasn’t selected until the sixth round. In 1990, West Virginia’s Major Harris, an accomplished college quarterback, wasn’t taken until the 12th round. Notre Dame’s Tony Rice was completely ignored by the NFL. And in 1991, Virginia’s Shawn Moore lasted until the 11th round before Denver selected him. Moore is now on the Broncos’ practice squad.

Four quarterbacks--all black--and only one of them earned an NFL job. Conway noticed.

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“A lot of people say, ‘You know how (the NFL) feels about black quarterbacks,’ ” Conway said. “And every time I think about that, I think that I’ll have a better chance to make it in the NFL as a receiver than as a quarterback. That’s one reason I’m (reluctant) about playing quarterback.

“I thought about it a lot after Peete was drafted in the sixth round,” he said. “He was a Heisman candidate and he threw the ball really well. It kind of puzzled me, and I thought, ‘Man, that could happen to me.’ ”

Perhaps Conway forgot what also happened to former University of Houston quarterback Andre Ware after his junior year. Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy and became the third player picked in last year’s NFL draft.

Enough with the Ty Detmer bashing. Despite a less-than-wonderful finish last season, the Brigham Young quarterback deserved to win the Heisman Trophy. We laugh when we hear about those whiny Heisman voters who now say they wish they would have cast their ballots for someone other than Detmer. What conviction!

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Perhaps they forgot that Detmer has set 42 NCAA records. We didn’t even know there were 42 individual records to be broken. It was also Detmer who, despite getting the bejabbers knocked out of him, engineered one of the great upsets of the 1990 season, leading BYU to victory over then-No. 1 Miami. It’s not his fault that the game was scheduled at the beginning of the season.

And a memo to NFL draft guru Mel Kiper, who boldly guarantees that Detmer will hardly make a ripple in the pros: Weren’t you the same guy who ranked Houston’s Ware, Utah’s Scott Mitchell, Idaho’s John Friesz, Washington’s Cary Conklin, Maine’s Mike Buck and Louisiana State’s Tommy Hodson above eventual No. 1 choice Jeff George of Illinois?

Detmer might not win the Heisman Trophy in 1991, but he deserves a certain amount of respect for what he did a season earlier. So, lay off the little guy, OK?

Famous fathers, semi-famous sons football roster: Anthony Dorsett, son of former Dallas Cowboy star Tony Dorsett, is a running back at Pop’s alma mater, Pittsburgh; Rohan Marley, son of the late reggae star, Bob Marley, is a defensive back at Miami; Yusef Jackson Jr., son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is a linebacker at Virginia; Sean Snyder, son of Kansas Coach Bill Snyder, is a punter at Kansas; Bill Khayat, son of former Philadelphia Eagle Coach Ed Khayat, is a tight end at Duke, and Steve (Bubba) Spurrier Jr., son of Florida Coach Steve Spurrier, is a walk-on wide receiver at Duke.

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Young Spurrier, a former ballboy at Duke, spent the summer in Gainesville, Fla., working out with Gator quarterback Shane Matthews. In fact, despite SAT scores that were a tad below the average at tough Duke, the younger Spurrier was granted admittance, thanks in part to the 20-13-1 record his father compiled while coaching the Blue Devils in 1987-89. “It was a nice gesture on the part of the administration there,” the elder Spurrier said.

Final Spurrier anecdote: While an assistant coach at Duke in the early 1980s, Steve played half-court basketball against a young Blue Devil coach named Mike Krzyzewski. Guess who won? “I could hold my own,” Spurrier said. “The thing about Mike being the coach there was that when the game got tight, he would take it to the hoop. And if he missed, he would always (say he was) fouled--so he got the ball back. It was tough beating his team, that was for sure. Since he was the head coach, you couldn’t question his fouls.”

The Fiesta Bowl, fourth member of the much-publicized bowl alliance, is still without a corporate title sponsor. Sunkist bowed out after last January’s game, leaving the Fiesta in dire straits. Now, said John Junker, the Fiesta’s executive director, the bowl expects to have a sponsor within three months. He can thank the alliance for making the corporate prospects brighter.

“The best thing about that situation is that there’s a great deal of certainty involving our future,” he said. A season ago, what with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday mess, the Fiesta wasn’t on such firm ground.

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Boldest experiment of the off-season? Try Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross’ decision to switch senior Ken Swilling, an All-American free safety, to strong safety.

“At first, I was very upset by it,” Swilling said. “I felt I would be like a freshman all over again.” Instead, Swilling, who almost decided to forgo his final season for the NFL draft, said he couldn’t be happier with the move.

Swilling said his decision to remain at Georgia Tech was made easier by Ross’ phone calls to NFL scouts and general managers. Ross was told his star safety could be picked anywhere between the first and sixth rounds because of an injury-plagued junior season.

Happy days are here again for the Southwest Conference. For the first time since 1984, not one SWC team is on NCAA probation. Congratulations! The conference also is home to the likely winner of the 1992 Heisman Trophy: Texas running back Butch Hadnot.

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There are still a few kinks to be worked out in the inaugural Big East Conference schedule. For starters, only West Virginia plays all seven conference teams this season. Miami plays two. . . . Has anyone noticed that Missouri’s Big Eight season opener is against Colorado, winner of their infamous “Fifth-Down Game” last year? . . . Of the 106 Division I-A playing fields, 55 are grass, 51 artificial turf surfaces. The latest to switch to grass: Alabama and Michigan.

Our top 10: (1) Clemson, (2) Florida State, (3) Washington, (4) Florida, (5) Penn State, (6) Colorado, (7) Oklahoma, (8) Notre Dame, (9) Miami, (10) Michigan State.

Our waiting list: USC, Baylor, Michigan, Houston, Iowa.


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