Football Fodder - Editor's Insights
  By Dave Hershorin Managing Editor


September 15, 2003

What a fun week of upsets and non-con match-ups. It seems as though no teams ever listen when ESPN's College Football Game Day commentator Kirk Herbstreit issues his weekly warning to the nation's elite concerning pending upsets. But I guess that if a coach had time to watch Corso & Co. just prior to kickoff, then things would be much worse than any warning could fix. This week's slate of upsets span most every conference - some deemed "the worst" knocked off several from the BCS's best. Whereas we all agree the best from the BCS conferences would regularly squish the lower-tier's elite, it never fails to occur that the middle-runners from any BCS conference can easily overlook those tougher up-and-coming-types. California has already had a season's worth of heartbreak. Thursday night chalked up their third close loss as Mountain West toughie Utah did the job at home 31-24. MWC's UNLV made sure last season's big finale win over Colorado State wasn't a fluke by going into Big Ten country and spanking Wisconsin 23-5. And what of Big Ten cousin Michigan State going down 20-19 to WAC upstart Louisiana Tech? West Virginia learned that a shaky, inconsistent performance would not be enough to deter Conference USA's seventh best 2002 squad. Cincinnati's Bearcats did the Mountaineers, in Morgantown, 15-13. The only unfortunate result is that most will talk of how the bigger schools had a freakishly bad day instead of how well the underdogs must have played to cause such poor performances.

The upset-effect spanned a few of the other contests where rival conferences squared off in traditional tussles. Arkansas was given little chance by most - including's analyst Chappy - to beat Texas in Austin…but they did 38-28. Then again, no one ever saw the Razorbacks coming as they took the 2002 SEC west. Washington State had redemption on their minds after blowing a 19-0 second half lead last week to Notre Dame. You can bet that's what motivated them to beat the solid then-#17 Colorado Buffaloes 47-26. This upset isn't huge, but is one nonetheless. It is similar in impact to Purdue's away-victory over up-and-coming Wake Forest, a 16-10 result. Neither is a huge surprise.

Escaping narrowly was Florida State, squeaking by on two late TDs to secure their 14-13 home victory. Too close for comfort, too, was LSU's seeming romp over another level's #1. Division I-AA powerhouse Western Illinois gave it to them with both barrels, holding fast 13-7 until the Tigers opened it up late in the third quarter. The end result, 35-7, doesn't fairly comment on Leathernecker's determination and how close they actually came. Parity isn't such a foreign concept anymore - speed and savvy have been recruited by all since teams from the late-eighties (Miami, FSU) showed how these variables equal victory. We see the results as the top teams have substantially less ground separating them from the wanna-bees. The call for smaller conferences to be included in the BCS breakdown gains more merit with time.

One of the week's best viewings was Friday night's MAC championship rematch from last year, pitting Toledo against the country's toughest home opponent - Marshall. The stat of the week was also the curse of the week. Marshall was shown to be 50-1 at home since head coach Bob Pruett took over in 1996. Like so many other pieces of football info, the trend displayed was no-sooner learned than it was up heaved. Given to us late - in the middle of the fourth quarter - this fact proved a foreboding detriment as Toledo came back in the fourth from being down 17-14 to win 24-17. The ESPN coverage itself had more problems. With 9:00 left in the fourth and tied at 17, the broadcast went to commercial and stayed there as play resumed. When we got back to the action, Marshall had gotten the ball 25 yards down field to Toledo's 44. What happened? We never found out or received an apology, just this huge lack of continuity after two-plus hours were invested into viewing. A bigger problem reared its head just one play later as an INT I.D. call was clearly a whiff by the entire coverage team. Production glitches, those we can roll with. But if you have the benefit of both being there AND having their umpteen camera's worth of replays (with producers in your ear) to give you the skinny, this kinda crap has no place. The play of the game was on a big third down play as time ran out. Marshall's #50, junior DE Jonathan Goddard (6'0", 246), was being blocked by Toledo's much-bigger RT Eric Faasen (6'8", 352!). While engaged and in full contact with Faasen, Goddard saw a swing pass developing and was able to put his hand out and deflect the throw. This over-and-beyond play conceivably kept the Thundering Herd within one score and in the game. It was awing.

The Thursday night tilt Cal and Utah put on is, too, worthy of being singled-out. Utah set a tough defensive tone early by forcing Cal to the air - they stacked eight, nine, and even ten into the box. The Golden Bears responded as many would have expected, by stretching the secondary into honesty through continued exploitation of their man-coverage match-ups. Utah then "bent but didn't break" as they defensively stunted their way to victory. The great games now regularly featured on weeknights spoil us into thinking Tuesdays and Wednesdays might have something more to give. Just remember - some kind of football being televised seven nights a week might actually affect our Gross National Product.

I will be the first one to admit that I wrote the N.C. State Wolfpack off once they fell behind 24-7 with eight minutes remaining. In the NFL, you wouldn't see this drastic of a comeback at such a late point. It only goes to prove the old adage that you play all 60 minutes of a game. It also proves that college football is so wide-open that nothing is impossible if 22 guys can will it The INT that led to the final OSU score wasn't an INT at all, but a trap-try worthy of being exposed through replay. It only proves that OSU will still need a few lucky bounces (just like last year) for the Buckeyes to repeat N.C. State's stellar QB Philip Rivers, along with FSU's Chris Rix, joined Miami's Brock Berlin as tested-true field generals. All have now led seemingly impossible comebacks that force any future opponents to heighten their awareness of such abilities.

A few more random observations - Nebraska's LB Demorrio Williams, a senior, is a future Sunday fixture. He had three sacks against Utah State as a down-lineman last week to go along with his omniscient presence against Penn State Saturday night…UNLV's defensive back Jamaal Brimmer gave another career-highlight effort. He gets my stat line of the week with a TD on a returned fumble, two INTs that ostensibly led to two magical offensive TDs (by Earvin Johnson), and two sacks. It is a team victory, but someone still had to step up - the UNLV offense gained only 187 total yards U of Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen may be a mountain at 6'4" and 260. But that one dimension doesn't fully depict the senior's innate abilities - he has just about the best pocket-presence in college ball Penn State's starting QB doesn't. Zach Mills showed his inability to lead any team-achievement, let alone his own, when needed, as the Lions never threatened late in Lincoln. Down 15-10 early in the fourth, Mills misled fruitless drive after fruitless drive, with errantly-guided wobblers and shaky decisions, ultimately finishing 16-for-33 with 159 yards, an INT and a fumble of the snap (in the fourth as PSU was driving). Paterno had better do something or it could be another major disappointing finish the week's most telling 4-1-1 was graphically displayed during the ND-Michigan annual. Deemed "Stat out of Whack" and displayed with an ill-placed mix of capital and lower-case letters while accompanied by the "Twilight Zone" theme, we saw Notre Dame's rushing total last week - one yard - compared to this past week's (at the time it was displayed) of 149. Their ground(ed) efforts were just the omen Michigan intended as they shut the Irish down and out, 38-0 ABC gets big kudos for their late-game switch-over from the PSU-Nebraska finish to the nail-biter in Tallahassee between Tech and the Noles FSU was again guilty of playing "not to lose", and it almost cost them. Finally ahead 14-13, the Noles stopped Tech and got the ball back late in the fourth. Deep in Yellow Jacket territory, State ran three lackluster "safety" plays and went backwards, losing seven yards total. After the fourth-and-17 play was miscalled by the ref as incomplete, Tech then drove deep and nearly pulled off a late upset. This factor, along with the marginally poor secondary play displayed, gives Noles fans that same recurring nightmarish feeling experienced the past two campaigns Auburn took ten quarters and three games to score its first TD...

But the best college football moment I experienced this past week (end) came at my wife's cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner Saturday night. Mired in family as the evening's action took place (I could see one game - Alabama/Kentucky - on a large-screen 100 feet away), toasts and speeches began. Aunt Elaine then stood up and told us how lucky we were: her entire contingency of ten - daughters, son-in-laws, and kids, as well as Uncky Harvey - had tickets to Michigan's home classic with Notre Dame, but they were there in up-state New York with all of us, regardless. For real? College football being used in a metaphor to proves one's commitment and devotion to family!? I mean, if that isn't love, I don't know what is.