Originally created 08/30/98

Countdown to season is on



Two-a-days are a distant memory and classes are in full swing -- except in Atlanta.

The college football preseason essentially has concluded, leaving teams a week to prepare for their season openers next Saturday.

But unsolved mysteries drag on, none bigger than "the biggest quarterback battle in the history of America," as Jim Donnan hyperbolically referred to the Georgia battle months ago.

Within a few days, Donnan must finally unveil his "Chosen One." A team, a school and a state awaits with baited breath.

But Donnan's dilemma is merely one of a number of quandaries that loom significantly as the season begins to unfold.

How will quarterbacks Anthony Wright (ACL tear) and Brandon Streeter (dislocated ankle) respond in their first appearances since their respective injuries?

Who's going to get open for the anointed Georgia quarterback?

When Joe Hamilton gets flushed from the pocket for the first time and realizes Harvey Middleton's gone, who's he going to look for?

The anticipation and excitement began a month ago when eager, unsuspecting freshmen descended upon campuses.

As the answers begin to unfold this week, the excitement will reach a fever pitch.

With the opening-day countdown reaching six days, a rundown of the encouraging, discouraging and the surprising from the Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech and South Carolina preseason camps.

Area team capsules

South Carolina:

Opener: Saturday vs. Ball State, 7 p.m., No TV

Strengths: The most important question of the fall took just one practice to answer. Anthony Wright looks healthy and bears no sign of the ACL tear he suffered last November.

Of Concern: Three redshirt freshman will start Saturday along USC's fragile offensive line. Philip Jones, Jason Cox and Melvin Paige must perform, because there's minimal security behind them.

Surprises: A couple of freshmen caught Brad Scott's eye, including former Allendale-Fairfax star Kenny Harney, who should contend for some minutes at linebacker. Freshman fullback Jonathan Martin is penciled in on the second string and is battling North Augusta's Steve Mixon for playing time.

Injury update: Preseason All-SEC safety Arturo Freeman underwent season-ending knee surgery last week, and Brad Scott has shuffled the secondary, moving Ray Green to free safety, Homer Torrance to strong safety and Andre Goodman into the vacant cornerback slot.

Georgia:

Opener: Saturday vs. Kent, 5 p.m., Pay-per-view

Strengths: Whoever does earn the QB job will certainly have some enormous targets to find. Tight end Larry Brown is generally considered a No. 1 pick, but he started camp as the Bulldogs' No. 2 TE behind Jermaine Wiggins. It's the most competitive spot on the roster.

Of Concern: The linebacking corps, which lost two starters from a season ago, has taken a number of hits this fall. Adrian Hollingshed, the expected starter in the middle, has been hampered by an ankle sprain. Freshman Tony Gilbert injured his knee last week, and Mike Luckie has been sidelined with a dislocated wrist.

Surprises: Sophomore Chad Holleman of Marietta has provided a stiff challenge to returning placekicker Hap Hines. Holleman, who attended Georgia Tech as a freshmen, will kick off this season and was more effective on field goals than Hines during Wednesday'a scrimmage.

Injury update: Rush end Antonio Cochran's availability for the opener could be in jeopardy after the 6-4, 275-pound senior underwent his second surgery in four days last Monday to aspirate fluid from his right ankle. Expected to be the Bulldogs' top pass rusher, Cochran hasn't practiced in full pads this fall.

Clemson:

Opener: Saturday vs. Furman, 1 p.m., No TV

Strengths: Brandon Streeter, who replaces Nealon Greene as the Tigers signal-caller, has looked impressive at times in practice. He doesn't show any ill effects from the dislocated ankle he suffered near the end of last season.

Of Concern: Who will replace Raymond Priester, the Tigers' all-time leading rusher? Right now, it appears coach Tommy West is prepared to use a "Tailback by Committee." Travis Zachery is the starter, but he's never taken a snap in Division I, and John Thompson, his back-up, is a converted linebacker.

Surprises: Woodrow Dantzler was impressive during Clemson's scrimmage last Wednesday and appears to have locked up the job as the Tigers' back-up quarterback. Linebacker O.J. Childress moved inside and has replaced Harold Means on the first unit.

Injury update: Wide receiver Brian Wofford is still not 100 percent as he recovers from a sprained foot, but West said he should be ready to go Saturday. Cornerback Antwan Edwards suffered a sprained knee last week, but should be ready against Furman.

Georgia Tech:

Opener: Saturday vs. Boston College, 3:30 p.m., ABC-Ch. 6

Strengths: Quarterback Joe Hamilton has emerged as the ACC's best leader.

Of Concern: The loss of favorite passing target Harvey Middleton leaves Hamilton looking for a No. 1 receiver. Senior Mike Sheridan is a short-yardage receiver and highly touted freshman Kerry Watkins is serving time on the scout team. Converted tailback Charlie Rogers has been an early candidate for top wideout.

Surprises: Freshman Joe Burns of Thomasville has emerged as the No. 2 tailback, supplanting Phillip Rogers, who is backing up Ed Wilder at fullback. "(Burns) is a fantastic learner. I'm surprised at how much he's picked up already."

Injury update: Senior linebacker Delaunta Cameron has suffered from a dislocated shoulder most of the preseason camp and practiced in pads for the first time last week. He is scheduled to start next Saturday. Starting cornerback Jamara Clark also returned after sustaining a cut finger.