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Manning hopes for happy ending to his final season

November 28, 1997

Peyton Manning was discussing Charles Woodson’s exploits the other day, and it’s clear he knows all about the player considered his chief rival for the Heisman Trophy.

``I’ve been working a little bit after practice, myself,″ the Tennessee quarterback said, ``you know, fielding punts.″

Only kidding, of course, but Manning has handled the Heisman hype without missing a beat, piling up gaudy statistics and keeping the third-ranked Volunteers in contention for a national title along the way.

It’s almost what he envisioned when he decided to remain in Knoxville one more season rather than cash in with the NFL.

``The season has been great, so far,″ Manning, who entered Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt with 3,287 yards and 31 touchdown passes, said. ``There’s still a ways to go. Michigan is finished, ranked No. 1 and going to the Rose Bowl. Right now, we can’t worry about all that stuff.″

And what about Woodson, the Wolverines’ sensational cornerback/receiver/punt returner who would become the first defensive player to win the Heisman?

``Charles is a great college football player, he can do just about anything,″ said Manning.

Manning, Woodson and Washington State’s Ryan Leaf are considered the top three Heisman contenders.

The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Manning doesn’t mind NFL scouts questioning whether he’ll be the No. 1 pick in the draft (Leaf’s stock is on the rise). Instead, he’s just happy to be around for a shot at the SEC title, and perhaps more.

``It’s always exciting when you have a chance to reach your goals,″ Manning, who has 33 school records, said. ``Of course, you come back and have dreams of a preseason and no interceptions, but to be in this position is fun.″

Especially after another loss to Florida _ 33-20 on Sept. 20 _ appeared to knock the Vols out of the SEC East race once again. But Florida lost to LSU and Georgia, allowing Tennessee to take control of the division.

``The team is much more focused now,″ Manning said. ``The excitement level is high, a lot higher than the last few years. Not having a shot at the SEC ... it was hard to get up for games. Now we control our own destiny.″

Whether the Vols reach the Orange Bowl, where a national title could be at stake, Manning will always be glad he stayed in school.

``This has been a lot of fun,″ he said.

And what about the Heisman?

``If I win it, I’d like to earn it,″ said Manning, who set two school records last week _ 523 yards passing and 12 consecutive completions _ in a 59-31 win over Kentucky. ``But anybody who knows anything about me knows I did not come back to win individual honors.″

Manning snared his first honor last week when he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback.

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GAGLIARDI GUYS: The Gagliardi Trophy, given to the top player in Division III, has 10 finalists. They are: quarterbacks Derrin Lamker (Augsburg), Bill Borchert (Mount Union) and Greg Lister (Rowan); safety/kick returner Michael Bramlage (Thomas Moore), linebackers London Fletcher (John Carroll), Trey Holcomb (Manchester), Kevin O’Donohue (Hanover); running backs Brandon Graham (Hope), Jim Mormino (Allegheny); and offensive tackle Derrick LeVake (Wisconsin-Whitewater).

The award, presented Dec. 11, is named for St. John’s (Minn.) coach John Gagliardi, second on college football’s career victory list with 342 wins.

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ROSE REUNION: Michigan’s 1948 Rose Bowl team will have even more to celebrate at their reunion in Pasadena _ the 1997 Wolverines will be playing for the national title against Washington State on Jan. 1.

``We didn’t know who was going to play. We hoped Michigan would, but this really makes it complete,″ Bill Pritula, a left tackle on the 1947 team, said ``This is the icing on the cake.″

Members of the ’47 Wolverines, who became national champs after beating USC 49-0 in the ’48 Rose Bowl, began planning their 50th reunion two years ago.

At least 35 of the 44 members of Michigan’s 1947 team plan to attend a four-day reunion.

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ANYTHING YOU SAY, JOE PA: When Penn State’s Joe Paterno talks, even Michigan coach Lloyd Carr listens. Which explains why the top-ranked Wolverines will arrive in Pasadena on Dec. 19, a week earlier than past Michigan teams.

Seems a few phone conversations with Paterno convinced Carr to make the change. And why not? The Nittany Lions are 18-8-1 in postseason games with two national titles under Paterno.

Michigan is looking for its first national title since 1948.

``Because of our great tradition, I don’t think the Michigan program is going to die if we don’t win the national championship,″ Carr said. ``But, for this team, I think it’s important. We’re never going to be in a better position than 11-0.″

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EXTRA POINTS: Rose Bowl-bound Washington State will be playing in just its sixth bowl game ... QB Billy Dicken (2,811 yards, 19 TDs) and WR Brian Alford (59 catches, 1,167 yards) were Purdue’s co-MVPs in the Boilermakers’ first winning and bowl season in 13 years ... Alabama coach Mike DuBose fired four assistants: Bruce Arians (defensive coordinator), Curley Hallman (secondary), Danny Pearman (special teams) and Woody McCorvey (receivers) ... The loser of the WAC title game between New Mexico (9-2) and Colorado State (9-2) will play in the Insight.com Bowl on Dec. 27. The winner plays in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 29 ... New Mexico is going to its first bowl game in 36 years ... Air Force (10-2) will play in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 20, probably against Michigan State ... Indiana State promoted Tim McGuire to head coach. He was the Sycamores’ defensive coordinator the past five years ... Maryland’s 2-9 record under Ron Vanderlinden was the poorest first season by a Terrapins coach since the ’67 team went winless under Bob Ward ... Washington State QB Ryan Leaf (3,637 yards, 33 TDs) and Arizona State linebacker Pat Tillman (80 tackles, 13 for losses before Friday’s game against Arizona) are the Pac-10 offensive and defensive players of the year.

End adv for weekend editions, Nov. 29-30

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