AND LOWS FROM SATURDAY
so much record-setting rain in the east, all of the
affected fields appeared to be well-drained and even
better maintained for playing sixty minutes of football. Most
held together well without becoming massive slip-and-slides
after Ivan. It was impossible to tell, going late into the
fourth, that many fields had been submerged under multiple
inches of water just a day or two earlier. The wear-and tear
of cleats showing at such a minimum is a great testimony to
the grounds keeping of each. Remember the old days when the
middle of a grass field, by halftime, looked like a battle
scene from a WWII flick? The key word is drainage, eh?
If you didn't have this year's Maryland-West Virginia
circled after knowing what the Terps did to the upstart Mountaineers
last season, then you must not know your college football.
Maryland's 34-7 regular season win (at College Park) and then
their 41-7 Gator Bowl victory were huge blemishes on what
was otherwise a stellar WVU campaign. This past Saturday in
Morgantown, we were treated to a real classic. Maryland knotted
the score at ten with 1:21 left in the third, highlighting
a tug of war that remained even until the first overtime decided
WVU was to win. There were too many crucial junctures to count,
with every moment containing great plays and superior efforts.
DB Adam "Pac Man" Jones' two inspired INTs seemed
to be the difference. Head coach Ralph Friedgen said it best
"They make one more play than we make. That's how we
lose the game. If they are the No. 7 team (in the nation),
we can't be far back." Keep an eye on these squads -
one, or even both, could be back for BCS bowls, maybe (again)
against each other?!
Robbery I - As they trailed Nebraska 24-17, the
interference call on Pittsburgh's defense with
just under four minutes left negated what would have been
a fourth and long for the Cornhuskers deep in their own end.
Instead, it was an automatic first down for the boys in red.
The call was pretty poor, and even poorer was the lead official's
inability to accurately identify a guilty Panther anywhere
near the play. Pittsburgh had just scored their first offensive
TD to make it a one-score difference. They then built even
more late-game home-field momentum by holding defensively
with a three-and-out, or so it seemed (with replays as an
aid) to most viewers and in hindsight on most wrap up shows.
Pitt's newfound offensive efficiency would likely have sent
the game into overtime. To say what most are thinking or have
already uttered - regardless of the penalty's accuracy, it
is a pity to have any official's call decide such an evenly
fought contest, especially as one team finally earns the momentum.
Nebraska held off one last Hail Mary attempt by Pitt as time
expired, but the Panthers should have had at least 20 extra
yards and two more minutes with which to work.
Robbery II - What about the call that changed the Florida-Tennessee
game? The objectionable flag was on junior WR Dallas
Baker for an extra-curricular blow, even though the Vol's
DB had just given Baker a shot to the head after the whistle.
The entire play was seen clearly by the official, who, on
replay, poignantly threw his flag on what should have been
either a no-call or offsetting personal fouls. Instead, it
became 15 extra yards for Tennessee on their way to a 30-28
win. From 15 yards further back, the Vol's game-winning 50-yard
FG attempt may not have even been possible. We cannot say
what would have happed if
Who knows, right? But again,
to have a ref's marginal call be a pivot so late in such an
evenly fought battle seems criminal. Football games should
be decided by players making plays.
Robbery III - We revisit another evenly-fought contest
between LSU and Auburn for our last "official"ly
stolen game. PK John Vaughn seemingly missed his first collegiate
PAT, which would have finally put Auburn ahead 10-9 after
their only TD was scored with 1:14 to go. But a flag was called
for a personal foul on #9 for LSU, who seemed to do nothing
wrong but jump high from way back in the scrum and miss the
block. Yet a new rule which keeps players who jump to block
kicks from landing on opposing players was the pivotal call
that gave Auburn the victory. This one is just as easily filed
under 'only themselves to blame' for the Bayou Bengals, who
themselves had missed a PAT in the first quarter. Look at
another heading in LSU's databanks, somewhere under "turnabout
is fair play" (after Oregon State's triple-PAT debacle),
to understand the true karma which made this past game's outcome
the Big House, San Diego State exploited a rebuilding
Michigan squad to nearly pull off one of the season's
biggest upsets. No one (but the Aztecs themselves) thought
State could even compete with this perennial power. But, like
in 2002 when Utah came into Ann Arbor and almost did the same
thing (eventually losing 10-7), San Diego's "Dark Side"
defense, ranked eighth nationally in '03, made their case
by holding Wolverine QBs to a combined 14-for-28 performance
for 179 yards and three INTs. WR Braylon Edwards' two TDs
capped an eight-catch, 130-yard performance that proved to
be what UM needed to overcome these Mountain Westerners. We
give kudos to the Aztecs, but what does this tilt's outcome
mean beyond its immediate scope? See next blurb for a continuation
of this thought.
so San Diego State beat up Michigan pretty good and almost
won, as did an Arizona squad at home against #20 Wisconsin,
barely being beaten 9-7 by the Badgers. If you add Ohio State's
modest eight-point win Saturday against a Philip River-less
NC State team and Iowa's no-show performance (only 100 yards
of total offense) in their 44-7 loss at Arizona State, you
see a trend - Big Ten squads have, as a group over the
last five years, slipped in their overall level(s) of play.
Other conference's top squads blow overmatched opponents out
weekly, while the Big Ten's best are challenged by teams on
all levels. None of this is meant to take away from those
gutsy foes, who are primarily responsible for any results
they earn. But it does resonate why Indiana and Northwestern
are this year's biggest news in that storied conference. While
the SEC, ACC, and Big XII seemingly get annually stronger,
the Big Ten slowly slips into a mediocrity, in which it could
eventually threaten to remove itself from this list of the
top-tiered conferences. We can banter on this opinion for
hours. But suffice to say that, as we survey the college football
landscape at present, no Big Ten squad is feared, or is even
close to being a Top Five team. With OSU the leagues only
Top Tenner, whoever comes out on top should be the conferences
only BCS rep.
joins Northern Illinois as last year's slipper wearers who
just cannot fit into the glass anymore. Boise State still
looks svelte, while Utah, Memphis, and Fresno State seem like
they could dance until midnight, too. But October 23rd has
the two WAC squads squaring off up in Idaho, so one of them
is automatically out (bet on State to pull out a close one
Look for Marshall and Colorado State to rebound by season's
end, meaning they will both by feared again come next September,
but done two-stepping by this December. Louisville and Southern
Miss are the only teams in Memphis' way, but neither has the
schedule to make a run themselves. The Golden Eagles now have
an early December date with those feisty Cal Bears, while
the Red Birds go into Miami during "Hurricane Season"
on October 14th. But which underdog has the speed of lightning
to be seen as more than just a Saturday cartoon?
or not - In handling Big East newbie UConn, Boston College
displayed the consistency needed to challenge in what
will soon be their new league, the surging ACC. Inversely,
Syracuse continues to struggle through mediocre foes,
a sure sign that their similar conference jump next season
may even mean steps back for this inconsistent (but venerable)
program. Who knows what tomorrow brings, but you can bet on
one new variable that is guarantied - Boston will be a hell
of a place for any southern school to play in November and
December, much worse than a dome that could, really for the
sake of weather, be anywhere.
the glass half empty or half full? - Marshall was a thorn
in Georgia's side all day Saturday. The nation's number
three was stuck proverbially in Ivan-induced muck at home
against a Thundering Herd that just wouldn't stop. But which
conclusion to come to - is Georgia not what many think, or
is Marshall the best 0-3 team out there? The latter is definitely
we feel sorry for Ohio come September 29th, as well
as for Marshall's other MAC foes. They lost to three quality
non-con schools. But the jury on the Bulldawgs is still out,
and is first due to come back in October 2nd when the LSU
Tigers visit Athens.
season has come to South Bend. Football qualities - consistency
and versatility - have struggled, but grown well ever since
Ty Willingham planted them upon his arrival. And now,
it seems to be time for Fighting Irish fans to sit
down and feast on these late-ripening qualities, for their
team is serving them up in ample proportions. Though they
balanced 173 rushing yards with 215 via Quinn's aerial assault(s),
it was the six TOs forced by ND's surging defense that did
the job at Michigan State.
we end things by tipping our hat to the University of Maine
in their 9-7 upset of a I-AA over a BCS-aligned school.
The Black Bears first foray into I-A since 1991 kept the Davis
Wade Stadium crowd quiet by forcing three State TOs deep in
Maine's end, the last of which they turned into an eight-play,
80-yard TD-scoring drive that was the decider. Don't get the
wrong message - Maine deserves its first ever win over a I-A.
Bulldog frosh head coach Sylvester Croom started sophomore
Omarr Conner, who is immensely talented, but just as unseasoned.
Croom's main lesson, though, should be via special teams.
When you miss a 32-yard chip shot early in the second quarter
and then cannot get into position for a game-winning FGA,
you begin to realize just how precious three points can be.
When a team is just beginning to gel, coming away with some
points is almost always better than the "snow-balling"
psychological effect of throwing dice and failing.