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Wrighting his ship

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TOP HEISMAN TROPHY CONTENDERS
1. QB Troy Smith, Ohio State – Win over Michigan would lock up the Heisman, but a loss leaves room for others to sneak up down the stretch.
2. QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame – Even with one-loss records by the Irish and USC, a prime-time victory over the Trojans on Nov. 25 could bolster Quinn's late charge.
3. RB Mike Hart, Michigan – He's a key contributor in the Wolverines' push towards the BCS title game. If they ride his legs to a road win at Ohio State next week, he should punch his ticket to New York.
4. QB Colt McCoy, Texas – Forget about his freshman status and average performance against the Buckeyes. His season-long production makes him a top-three candidate heading into his sophomore campaign.
5. WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech – Clearly one of the best players in the country, Johnson has been prominently featured in a number of the Yellow Jackets' big wins. That could be enough to get him into top-five consideration.

Here's hoping quarterback Kyle Wright and Miami Hurricanes fans learn a few things from the tragic and needless loss of defensive lineman Bryan Pata.

Wright will be sidelined for at least for this Saturday's heavy-hearted contest against Maryland because of an injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. The junior injured his right thumb while being tackled in last week's loss to Virginia Tech, marking at least the fourth time in his college career he has hurt that thumb.

Wright, who has been ridiculed for both his decision-making ability and up-and-down performance, has shouldered a lot of unnecessary abuse for the Hurricanes' 5-4 record. When he returns, here's hoping he remembers why he loves playing football so much.

One of the nation's top prospects coming out of high school, Wright needs to go out and play the game and stop letting all the outside distractions affect his focus. He needs to smile and have more fun.

As for the fans that threw garbage in the direction of Hurricanes players after last weekend's hard-fought loss to the Hokies, be well aware that your words (although not as damaging as the pointless violence exhibited earlier this week) can impact these players who are just 18 to 22 years old. 'Canes fans should devote their energy to supporting the team.

MORE PROSPECT NOTES

  • Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas was permanently removed from the team after reportedly breaking several rules. According to one team source, the senior was required to abide by a curfew and attend weekly drug education classes, which were the key stipulations of his reinstatement following a suspension for a failed drug test.

Thomas is not known as a troublesome or poor-mannered kid around the team, but his character will be called into question by talent evaluators.

The Senior Bowl is not likely to invite him to its January 27 game after passing on former LSU prospect Claude Wroten last year (Wroten was charged with drug possession). The NFL also is very concerned about rewarding players with questionable decision-making off the field, and the league could make Thomas join its substance abuse program from Day 1.

Thomas took a step towards restoring his image and pro prospects earlier this week by recognizing his error in judgment in an open letter to Gators fans.

  • Fresno State offensive lineman Kyle Young has been suspended indefinitely after failing to meet the coaching staff's academic requirements. Young, a four-year senior starter who has played in 47 straight games, was not passing the six-credit policy the staff instituted three years ago to keep players eligible for bowl game participation.

The top-rated Western Athletic Conference center was said to be falling on hard times. His level of play became inconsistent while the Bulldogs' seven-game losing streak caused frustration throughout the team.

Young already has been invited to the Senior Bowl, but the game has made a habit of only accepting players in proper standing with their school. So unless he is able to correct his academic issues before Dec. 2, Young's ticket to Mobile, Ala., may be in jeopardy.

  • Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth returned last Saturday against Indiana after spending just one week on the sideline with a right shoulder injury. The senior caught three passes for 30 yards, including a touchdown, while dealing with the pain. His mental and physical toughness are the main attributes that allowed him to miss only one game (the Oct. 28 loss to Ohio State).

Team doctors say that Spaeth will require offseason surgery, but he hopes to be fully recovered by the NFL combine in February. Spaeth may not be at full strength before the workouts, but his leadership, toughness and willingness to make sacrifices for the best interest of the team are qualities that you can't judge in a pair of shorts and T-shirt. He's a solid mid-round prospect who also will impress during the interview portion of his postseason workouts.

  • Houston senior cornerback Willie Gaston has started to make a pretty solid name for himself among area scouts that have evaluated the former local prep quarterback. He may no longer be lined up under center, but the 5-foot-10, 194-pound defender now is seen as the quarterback of the Cougars' secondary with 40 tackles, six tackles for loss, 18 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Gaston is more quick than fast, but he has very good instincts and plays with veteran savvy, which comes from his previous experience on the offensive side of the ball. Gaston also has been required to cover each opponent's top receiver, so his stats and success have come against Conference USA's best receivers. His 31 pass breakups over the last two years place him among the top defenders in the country, so scouts will be paying close attention to his postseason workouts to see if he can improve his 40-yard dash time (which is in the 4.6-second range).

  • Mississippi State fullback Bryson Davis recently had season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus and remove a bone chip in his left knee. According to team doctors, Davis, who is seen as a solid lead blocker type at the next level, will not be fully rehabilitated in time to participate in the Las Vegas All-American Classic in mid-January, but the senior hopes to be 100 percent by February should he be invited to the NFL combine.

SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS

  • Southeast Missouri State senior defensive end Edgar Jones leads all Division I-AA defenders with 11 sacks. Just under 6-4 and 265 pounds, he has very good athleticism for his position and has shown an improved first step and a variety of pass rush moves.

The Louisiana native started to show some signs of becoming a productive I-AA defender a year ago, but his game took off this season with more success than his coaches could have imagined.

Jones is a smart, dedicated worker who hopes to have a career in law enforcement, although his current pace of forcing opposing quarterbacks to the ground might get in the way. His senior film and production should bring a number of area scouts out for his pro day, but he will need to work on improving his 40 time, which is in the 4.9-second range, between now and then.

  • Texas College defensive tackle Larry Harrison is a double transfer, having originally been recruited to Michigan before playing his junior campaign at North Carolina A&T. The senior has faced several felony charges, and after standing trial last year, North Carolina A&T decided to release him.

Texas College coach Jay Thomas, who has rebuilt the Division II program in Tyler, Texas, decided to offer Harrison the chance to complete his college eligibility – but only with a number of rules and regulations.

Harrison had 39 tackles and one sack as a junior and has recorded 19 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles this year. He is right around 6-3 and 305 pounds and was timed in the 4.8 range in the 40 as a prep prospect when he weighed between 285 and 290 pounds. Harrison's character and background surely will come into question, but NFL teams will take the chance to learn about him over the months leading up to the draft.

  • Youngstown State running back Marcus Mason currently ranks second in rushing at the Division I-AA level with 1,496 yards. The former Illinois transfer is having a breakthrough season after rushing for 921 yards as a junior last year, punishing Gateway Conference opponents with six straight 100-plus-yard efforts, each including at least a pair of touchdowns.

The 5-9, 215-pound senior will need to show NFL teams in the postseason that he has good hands as a receiver and the ability to return kicks or punts. Mason has displayed good explosiveness against his current level of competition, but most estimate his 40 time in the 4.6 range, which would temper scouts' excitement.

POSTSEASON ALL-STAR GAME UPDATES

East-West Shrine Game – Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe, Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson, Washington State defensive end Mkristo Bruce and Houston fullback Jackie Battle have accepted invitations. New Hampshire record-setting Division I-AA wide receiver Dave Ball has been extended the opportunity to participate in the Jan. 20 game. The news is not so good for Iowa State cornerback DeAndre Jackson, who will miss the game after suffering a season-ending knee injury a few weeks back.

Senior Bowl – Ohio State offensive lineman Doug Datish has accepted an invitation to play in the Jan. 27 game.

East Coast Bowl – The Nov. 25 game has received acceptances from a pair of big-time small-school prospects, both senior wide receivers: Chris Turner of Wagner (N.Y.) and West Liberty State's Renard Stevens, who at 6-5 and 220 pounds has gained a lot of regional attention this season. The bowl game's format has been adjusted to allow NFL scouts to evaluate a wide variety of prospects, including those from Division I-AA, II, III and even NAIA.

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