COLLEGE FOOTBALL : Too Hot on Launching Pad, So Rocket II Bolts the Irish

Another week, another saga at Notre Dame.

The latest Irish crisis comes in the form of heralded freshman receiver Mike Miller, who had been compared favorably to former Notre Dame star Raghib (Rocket) Ismail. Similar size. Similar speed. Similar positions.

And as it turns out, one other similarity: Both are no longer at Notre Dame.

Miller quit the team Monday and returned to his Missouri City, Tex., home, then immediately enrolled at Houston. Miller, rated the best high school wide receiver last season, is ineligible to play again in 1991 and also must sit out next year. Still to be determined is if Miller actually will play at Houston or another school, possibly Texas.

Whatever the choice, he won't be returning to Notre Dame, where he said the pressure to perform and become Rocket II was too much to handle.

"I really lost my identity," he said Wednesday during a phone interview. "I wasn't happy there. It's a great school, but I wasn't Michael the person anymore. They treated me like Michael the athlete.

"This will just give me time to get my head together. I was really confused up there. Maybe I need this time to get it together. With me coming in and Rocket just leaving, I was supposed to come in and fill his shoes immediately. It was a lot of pressure on me. I mean, I just got out of high school."

Irish coaches said they didn't learn of the extent of Miller's unhappiness until the day of his departure. Miller met with Notre Dame Athletic Director Dick Rosenthal that morning and then phoned Coach Lou Holtz later with his decision.

But Miller said he spoke with Holtz two weeks ago about his situation.

"They assured me things would get better," said Miller, who added that he doesn't blame Holtz or his staff for making him feel uncomfortable at South Bend. "It was just too much."

Whatever the case, it seems some of the pressure Miller felt was self-inflicted. If anything, Notre Dame might have gone out of its way to protect him. For starters, Miller, as well as the rest of the Irish freshman recruiting class, was off-limits to reporters during the team's annual media day. Next, a hamstring injury kept Miller from playing in any of Notre Dame's preseason scrimmages. Then, in the Irish's season opener against Indiana, Miller was in uniform but did not play. Miller finally played Saturday against Michigan, returning one punt for five yards and three kickoffs for 26 yards.

More Woes: The loss of Miller presented yet another problem for Holtz, who has had the kind of two-week stretch that makes a coach consider the advantages of the aluminum siding business. This time it was a prized, yet unhappy recruit returning home. Last Saturday, it was a painful loss to Michigan.

Holtz also is concerned about his son, Kevin, a diabetic who had to be hospitalized Sept. 6 after suffering from severe headaches and an irregular heartbeat. Kevin, who recovered enough to attend the Michigan game at Ann Arbor, will undergo tests this week at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

His father attempts to deal with this and more. Notre Dame (1-1) hasn't lost a game this early in the season since 1986, Holtz's first year as the Irish coach.

Next up for Notre Dame: angry and embarrassed Michigan State, which lost to Central Michigan, 20-3, last Saturday.

Add Notre Dame-Michigan State: Saturday's game against the Spartans marks the 25-year anniversary of the Irish's 10-10 tie at East Lansing, Mich. Ranked No. 1, Notre Dame tied the score in the fourth quarter and had a chance to go for the victory in the waning moments. But rather than attempt a score, Irish Coach Ara Parseghian elected to settle for the tie, a decision second-guessed ever since, and a decision that gave birth to the sarcastic phrase "Tie one for the Gipper." . . . Four days removed from the loss to Central Michigan, Spartan Coach George Perles offered no excuses. "We got beat sound," he said. "It wasn't a fluke." Central Michigan had played two games before meeting the Spartans, but it shouldn't have mattered. Despite the defeat, Perles said he again will start former UCLA quarterback Bret Johnson. Also, he promised to continue scheduling state teams, such as Central, Eastern and Western Michigan. "It's been our feeling that we should give these people a chance to play at Spartan Stadium," Perles said. And win, too.

It wouldn't be too stunning if No. 5 Florida somehow loses to No. 18 Syracuse on Saturday. Here is why:

1--The Gators are coming off a 35-0 victory over conference rival Alabama. They had never beaten the Crimson Tide in Gainesville, so last week's victory was one to be savored. Will the Gators quit celebrating in time for Syracuse?

2--Florida recorded a rare shutout over Alabama, but the Gators had help. By game's end, the Crimson Tide had fumbled six times and been called for nine penalties. Still, Alabama trailed, 6-0, at halftime.

More disturbing to Florida Coach Steve Spurrier, was the play of his secondary. "Our pass rush was so good, (Alabama) didn't have time to find the receiver that was wide open," he said.

3--The Carrier Dome. The place is loud and intimidating and a big reason the Orangemen are 21-4-2 in their past 27 games at home. "Syracuse is 10 points better at home," Spurrier said.

Statistics to marvel at: Houston's David Klingler and Brigham Young's Ty Detmer aren't ranked among the nation's top 25 quarterbacks in passing efficiency. Klingler is No. 26, and Detmer, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, is ranked No. 29. In fact, BYU is 0-4 since Detmer won the award. This week, the Cougars face Penn State at University Park. And won't the Nittany Lions be in a pleasant mood, what with their nationally televised defeat to USC fresh in their minds? . . . The leading quarterback in pass efficiency is California's Mike Pawlawski, who has nine touchdown passes, 466 yards and two interceptions. . . . Washington State's hopes for an upset against No. 16 Ohio State improved ever so slightly with the announcement that Buckeye quarterback Kent Graham is expected to miss the game at Ohio Stadium because of a concussion and slight shoulder separation.

Winner of this week's Paranoia Award goes to Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, whose record at the school is 179-41-2. Yet, when a reporter asked Osborne about the Cornhuskers' performance in big games--Nebraska is 10-12 against Top 20 teams during the last six seasons, 3-6 against Top Five teams in the same period--the coach snapped: "If we haven't won enough of them, get somebody else in here who can." No. 9 Nebraska plays No. 4 Washington Saturday at Memorial Stadium, a place so friendly that Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden once wrote an open letter to Cornhusker fans complimenting them on their behavior.

"I wouldn't mind a little more enthusiasm this week," Osborne said.

He'll need it.

Mississippi State President Don Zacharias and Athletic Director Larry Templeton took some considerable criticism (and rightly so) for their decision to hire Jackie Sherrill as the Bulldogs' coach before this season. But so far, the gamble has paid off.

Sherrill, whose Texas A&M; program was the target of a lengthy and revealing NCAA investigation, left College Station and coaching at the end of 1988. The Aggies, winners of the Southwest Conference in 1985-87, were later placed on probation and penalized for an assortment of major violations.

Two seasons later, Sherrill has re-emerged and so have the Bulldogs, who haven't finished first in the SEC since 1941 and haven't won more than six games since 1981. But under Sherrill's guidance, Mississippi State is 3-0 and ranked 23rd. Not even Sherrill was prepared for that sort of instant success.

"There's a lot of unknowns," he said. "A lot of players are playing a lot better than I expected."

Sherrill, 108-45-2 in his career, said the two-year layoff did little to diminish his coaching skills. If anything, he said, it gave him a better perspective of the game and the players in it.

"It doesn't feel like I've been gone," he said. "It's like you're a pilot or a race car driver. You can still get in that cockpit and under the hood and do things.

"This has been very rewarding. It's probably what I do best."

The Bulldogs have yet to allow a touchdown. They have also benefited from their "12th-man" squad, where each member of the Bulldog kickoff team is a non-scholarship walk-on player. Sherrill brought the idea with him from Texas A&M;, where the 12th-man legacy was born.

Poor Cincinnati: The Bearcats are 0-2 and have been beaten, 81-0, by Penn State and 51-16 by North Carolina. . . . Please, no more talk from Stanford fans about the rising fortunes of the Cardinal. . . . Congratulations to Tuxedo Tony Sands, Kansas' 5-foot-6, 170-pound running back, who last Saturday broke the school's rushing record held by Gale Sayers. Sands is the guy whose game-day routine includes wearing a tuxedo to the Kansas locker room. The Jayhawks are 2-0. . . . Thanks to new NCAA rules, players are allowed to spend no more than 20 hours a week practicing under the supervision of coaches. The rule was created, in part, to allow players more time to study or become involved in non-athletic department activities. Tell it to Iowa quarterback Matt Rodgers, who has yet to meet a 20-hour work week. "The 20-hour rule hasn't really affected me as it has others," he said. "I spend a lot of time over here watching film anyway. The fact that we're not with our coaches is irrelevant. I put a lot more than 20 hours a week." Asked if he could prepare for a team with less than 20 hours of time, Rodgers said no way.

Before anyone starts patting Tennessee on the back for its self-imposed penalties, thus sparing itself of any serious NCAA penalty (other than a two-year probation), remember this: The Volunteers' decision to reduce their number of scholarships from 95 to 85 and to keep eight, not nine, full-time assistant coaches on their staff isn't such a big deal, after all. By 1992, all Division I-A schools will have to pare their staffs by one assistant. And by 1994, all schools must cut their scholarship levels to 85. Tennessee simply started early. All things considered, the Volunteers were fortunate the NCAA's infractions committee was in a forgiving mood. . . . Is 14th-ranked Baylor, which beat Colorado last Saturday, for real? You will receive your answer Oct. 5, when the Bears play Houston.

Top 10

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Record 1. Clemson 1-0 2. Florida State 3-0 3. Miami 2-0 4. Washington 1-0 5. Michigan 2-0 6. Florida 2-0 7. Iowa 2-0 8. Nebraska 2-0 9. Tennessee 2-0 10. Oklahoma 1-0

The waiting list: Penn State 2-1; Pittsburgh 3-0; Baylor 2-0; Auburn 2-0 and Notre Dame 1-1.

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