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October 18, 2006

Notebook: Indiana rallies around Hoeppner

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Football coaches always talk about character and overcoming adversity, but it wouldn't seem like rhetoric if they could offer a visual aid.

Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner is the visual aid.

Hoeppner had surgery to remove a tumor from his right temple last December. He had surgery again last month to remove a mass that fortunately just turned out to be scar tissue.

So, when the incessantly optimistic Hoeppner tells the inevitable underdog Hoosiers about character and overcoming adversity, they know he's speaking from experience.

"His illness put everything in perspective," Indiana safety Will Meyers said. "We care about him a lot and he's a walking inspiration for all of us. It's one thing for coaches to stand there and preach their teachings. We're able to buy into everything that he says."

Meyers wasn't thinking about Hoeppner's lectures not consciously, anyway when Indiana was holding a precarious three-point lead late in the fourth quarter and Iowa had advanced the ball 54 yards in two plays to the Hoosiers' 30-yard line.

But Iowa quarterback Drew Tate's next pass was deflected. Meyers dived to make an interception which sealed the Hoosiers' first win over a top-15 team in almost 20 years.

"They just ran a crossing route and I was breaking on the ball when it deflected off the (receiver) and happened to make a big play," Meyers said. "It was kind of a desperation attempt. I was thinking throughout the game, 'It's a close game, do your job and a big play could happen.' "

Maybe that play will lead to something bigger. The Hoosiers haven't had a winning season since 1994 and haven't been to a bowl game since 1993. Now they're 4-3 and need just two more victories to clinch postseason eligibility.

They might have clinched both earlier this year, but endured a three-game losing streak. IU failed to earn a victory in very winnable games against Southern Illinois and Connecticut. Hoeppner, who had his second surgery on Sept. 13, was not on the sidelines for those games.

The Hoosiers never used his absence as an excuse, but anyone could understand if their hearts and minds were not completely on football.

Although Indiana's remaining schedule includes No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue, the Hoosiers haven't given up on the goal of playing in a bowl game. They feel it would be a wonderful way to end the season - and it would be something of a gift to Hoeppner.

"Everyone wants to go to a bowl game for themselves, but as the same time it would be great for the coaches here," Meyers said. "We're going to fight and do everything we can for coach Hoeppner. It has been a tough year for him, but he's not going to say anything like that because he handles adversity so well."

It appears his team does, too.

Three questions with Missouri senior safety David Overstreet, whose father was a Texas high school legend and standout running back at Oklahoma.

Your father (who was killed in an automobile accident in 1984) was a great player at Oklahoma in Barry Switzer's Wishbone offense. Why didn't you go there?

"I had the opportunity to go there, but it just wasn't the place for me."

Are your teammates and friends aware of how great a player your father was?

"I know my teammates don't know. I don't talk about it, but I know how good he was. He left a great legacy. I've had an endless search to learn about him and I'm still wanting more. People have sent me stories about him."

The Tigers are 6-1 and won their first six games. Why has Missouri been so successful this year and were you at all surprised by the fast start?

"It's just the camaraderie and team mind-set. We're at a point when we're on the field that we feel if we bring our "A"game we can line up against anybody and beat them.

"I anticipated this. It started after the bowl game (a win over South Carolina in the Independence Bowl). That helped us as far as maturing and got everybody working together. This summer nobody missed a workout, and it showed.

"We were picked fifth in the Big 12 North and we remember that. We know how hard we worked and we want to show everybody they messed up."

Trivia question

Who was the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy?

Quick hitters

Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is on pace to join the NCAA top 10 for career touchdown passes. Quinn has thrown 74 career touchdown passes, including 48 in the last 18 games an average of 2.6 per game. At his current pace, he'll finish with 90 and become only the 10th player in NCAA history to pass for 90 touchdowns or more.

Michigan State defensive tackle Bobby Jones became the sixth player dismissed from the team this year by coach John L. Smith. Injuries may also leave the Spartans without receiver Matt Trannon, tackle Mike Gyetvai and defensive back Rob Tabatchnick for this weekend's game against Northwestern.

Iowa's pride isn't the only thing hurting after losing to Indiana last week. Running back Albert Young (knee), tackle Dace Richardson (ankle), receiver Dominique Douglas (knee) and defensive tackle Mitch King (hamstring) are all questionable for Saturday's game against Michigan. Defensive end Kenny Iwebema has been slowed by a shoulder injury and safety Marcus Paschal has been in and out of the lineup with a sore hamstring.

Arizona State receivers are catching criticism, but little else. The trio of Jamaal Lewis, Terry Richardson and Rudy Burgess have combined for just 19 catches, 332 yards and two touchdowns. The Sun Devils are averaging 196.7 yards to rank sixth in the Pac-10 in passing offense.

UCLA's loss to Oregon left quarterback Patrick Cowan speechless literally. A hit to the throat caused Cowan to lose his voice, which affected play calling, signals and audibles later in the game. He was taken to the emergency room when the Bruins returned to Los Angeles and he has been instructed not to talk so he can rest his voice box for this weekend's game against Notre Dame.

Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback underwent surgery on his right foot on Tuesday and will not play the remainder of this season.

Penn State quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Daryll Clark sustained mild concussions in last week's loss to Michigan, but are expected to be available for Saturday's game against Illinois. However, if neither can play sophomore Paul Cianciolo will start for the Lions.

Vanderbilt may have lost two offensive linemen for the rest of the season. Tackle Brian Stamper has had season-ending back surgery and guard Josh Eames has an ankle injury. Junior Elliot Hood moves in to replace Stamper and redshirt freshman Ryan Custer will fill in for Eames.

Running back Brandon Thornton will be back in the Mississippi State starting lineup after rushing for 88 yards in last week's win over Jacksonville State. Thornton started the first two games, but was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered against Auburn. However, junior tackle J.D. Hamilton and fullback Bryson Davis won't play because of knee injuries.

Freshman Matthew Stafford, back as Georgia's starting quarterback, has two wins as a starter but was benched in one of them. Joe Cox led a 14-13 come-from-behind victory over Colorado. Stafford has completed 47 of 93 passes for 582 yards and a touchdown with four interceptions.

Oklahoma linebacker Rufus Alexander, who was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and interference with official process, doesn't face jail time and won't likely miss any playing time. He may be subject to a fine.

Kansas running back Jon Cornish sat out most of the second half of last week's loss to Oklahoma State with an undisclosed injury is expected to play against Baylor.

Texas will play its first true road game when it travels to face Nebraska in Lincoln. The Longhorns played Rice at Houston's Reliant Stadium, and had more fans than the Owls. Their only other game away from Royal-Memorial Stadium was against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns haven't done too bad on the road, however. They've won 15 consecutive in opponents' home stadiums and 27 of its last 28.

Texas A&M (6-1) has made significant defensive improvement to post more victories than it managed all of last year. The biggest improvement is on third down. Last year opponents converted a whopping 47.9 percent, leaving the Aggies ranked 113th nationally. This season that conversion rate has been reduced to 26.1 percent, and the Aggies are ranked fourth in the country.

Oklahoma State linebacker Chris Collins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Saturday's win over Kansas. Collins, the Cowboys' second-leading tackler, will have surgery next week.

Pittsburgh's quick improvement from 5-6 last season to 6-1 this year can easily be traced to turnovers. The Panthers are tied for the national lead with 20 forced turnovers and are tied for second with a 1.43 turnover margin. Last season the Panthers were minus-four in turnover margin. Another factor is scheduling. None of the Panthers' six victories was against a team with a winning record, but Pittsburgh plays undefeated Rutgers this week.

Trivia answer

Syracuse running back Ernie Davis, who won the Heisman in 1961.

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