By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
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November 15, 2004

HIGHS AND LOWS FROM WEEK 11 (Nov. 13th weekend)

We again start our look at the week in college football with a Tuesday night game. Toledo kept its conference title hopes alive by spanking Northern Illinois 31-17 in DeKalb. The Rockets, down 17-7 in the second, came back with 24 unanswered points through Brad Gradkowski's 28-of-37 passing for 297 yards, but no TDs. Second half yardage totals underscored the flow of the game - the Huskies were out-gained 282 to 33 in that span. The end result becomes a three-way tie for first in the MAC West between the two aforementioned teams and Bowling Green, which handed Marshall its second straight MAC loss and is also 6-1 in the frame. The Falcons go into Toledo this week to decide things, while NIU goes into East Michigan for a likely win. If Bowling Green beats the Rockets and the Huskies win as expected, NIU's win over BGU (34-17 on 9/24/04) means NIU would take the conference half.

To continue with the MAC East, Akron's win over Ohio means the Zip's upcoming showdown at home with Miami (Ohio) will determine this side's rep for the league championship game in Detroit December 2nd. After losing four of their first five, Akron has surged back, reeling off five straight wins to match Miami at 6-1 in conference play. In its 13th MAC season, Akron is still looking for its first title.

Boston College soundly beat an erratic West Virginia squad 36-17 to secure a legitimate claim to the Big East throne. The biggest shock was how inconsistent WVU senior QB Rasheed Marshall played. Marshall made bad decisions and missed open receivers all day, harkening back to past seasons when he would shine on one drive and then look horrendous the very next series. Yet BC could wind up watching the Mountaineers take their BCS spot due to a technicality. Obviously deserving to go due to winning their head-to-head match-up, the Eagles would stay home if WVU finished with the same in-conference record and if BC remains ranked at least five places lower than WVU in the final BCS standings. Thank goodness the current AP Poll corrected a possible misfire by placing BC at #19 in front of the Mountaineers.

Pittsburgh went into South Bend and took a close one from the Irish, 41-38. The Panthers - relying on the unknown combination of junior native QB Tyler Palko to sophomore WR Greg Lee instead of 2003's all-time battery of Rutherford to Fitzgerald - paid back Notre Dame for last year's 20-14 loss at Heinz Field. The Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Week on offense, Palko made a national name for himself by throwing five TDs (26-of-42 for 334 yards) and no INTs in leading Pitt to its first win in the last six tries at Notre Dame Stadium. Well, either that way or by the expletive Tyler used when live NBC cameras were shoved in his face just after the game ended. Palko later apologized, but never should have had to considering the candid nature in which he was initially exposed. It was the first time any QB had ever thrown for five TDs against the Irish. With the USC rivalry coming up (11/27) out there in L.A., the Irish could end up losing three of their last four after starting out 5-2. Though they play one of the most competitive slates of any team in I-A, head coach Ty Willingham may still find this offseason one of uncertainty and rumor.

Speaking of those who have the blues and are also blue (in this case), San Jose State almost handed Boise State its first loss of the season before losing 56-49 at home in double OT. The Spartans wore the blue jerseys this time (usually the color BSU wears) but failed to match either the Bronco's focused, late-game intensity or their luck on a matching-colored home field. It seems one of the two was needed if SJSU was to end Boise's 24-game WAC and/or their 20-game overall streak (the longest current win streak in I-A). What makes Boise State unexpectedly better than just last year, when they were amazing, too, is how strong their running game is. Ranked 12th, (astonishingly) higher than the 22nd-rated passing attack, the ground is how the Broncos scored all of their eight TDs versus SJSU. Their newly-established offensive balance overcomes the Achilles Heel that last year's 62nd-ranked BSU running game proved to be (in their one 2003 loss, 26-24 to Oregon State on 9/20, BSU gained only 47 ground yards on 35 tries, with nine yards being that day's longest run). No one here is thinking that Boise State is unfairly ranked, but we do feel that many of this year's BCS teams would have to play their best game to beat the Broncos. In case this fact eluded some of you - be looking at the OVER in any game Boise State plays.

Utah, the other undefeated team that will likely be a BCS outsider, had their luck go south when Texas came back at the end of their tilt with Kansas to win 27-23. Besides amazing individual performances by Texas RB Cedric Benson and QB Vince Young, it was Kansas coach Mark Mangino's comments surrounding a controversial offensive pass interference call - a call that gave Texas the ball back late in the fourth - that rung the loudest and still overshadow the game's outcome. "You know what this is all about, don't you? BCS. That's what made a difference today in the game," Mangino said. "That's what made the difference in a call in front of their bench. Dollar signs." To clarify - since Texas sits in position to be one of the two BCS wild-card teams, a fact that would reap the Big XII two seriously large checks instead of just the one they would get if only the conference champion (most likely Oklahoma) went to a BCS bowl, Mangino felt as though the Big XII refs were calling the game with this in mind - and therefore in the Longhorn's favor. Texas Coach Mack Brown stood up for his team. "The other thing I would say is I think we had 100 yards more penalties than they did. So obviously, those are comments for the Big 12 office, not for me." The Longhorns were penalized 10 times for 103 yards. Kansas drew three penalties for 23. If the Utes, who are undefeated, are to make the vaunted BCS as a wild-card themselves, they need the two teams that are ahead of them with one loss each (Texas and California) to lose. Utah seems to have no feasible way to otherwise jump these two bigger schools in the BCS rankings. Anyone who has seen Ute QB Alex Smith and his team will attest that these guys would be as equally tough an adversary for any of the BCS finalists as Boise State would. Regardless of how (un)sound his accusations may be, we give a huge nod to Mangino for indirectly and unintentionally sticking up for the smaller-school side in the BCS debate. It seems obvious - even to those who may never have witnessed the stacking of a deck - that there is essentially no way for a BYU (1984) type of scenario to ever happen again under the current BCS system. The NCAA should make another tier of teams if, as proven in the BCS years, there is no way for smaller I-A schools to ever win (or even play for) a national title.

Auburn put a strong claim on their right to play in the BCS title game by dismantling then-No.5 Georgia 24-6 in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn easily paid the 'Dawgs back for last year's 26-7 drubbing they took in Athens. With a win this week in Tuscaloosa, Auburn would put serious pressure on Oklahoma (who faces lowly Baylor) to keep its second spot in the BCS rankings. Ranking in the top 24 (out of all 117 I-A teams) for every major team category - except passing offense (43rd), though the Tigers are second-ranked in (team) pass efficiency - Tommy Tuberville's bunch has won every game but one by 18 point or more, facing three top ten teams so far on their 2004 campaign. Adding this dilemma to the BCS's pile of 2004 screw-i-ness, how many more times will multiple (quality) undefeated teams make it to year's end, only to have no system in place that can fairly sort out which is best?

Wouldn't it have been more fun if the winner of the Florida-South Carolina game was given first dibs to say yes or no to hiring Steve Spurrier? Florida, though choosing earlier in the week to balk at bringing Spurrier back for a second term, may have wanted to hire him just to keep another SEC school (in their half of the conference) from getting the offensive passing guru. Irregardless, lame-duck Gator coach Ron Zook went out in his last home game with a 48-14 win, with sophomore QB Chris Leak getting six TD passes. Now Zook can really serve the alumnus some bittersweet crow if he can pull out a win in Tallahassee this Saturday night.

Wisconsin fell from the mighty unbeaten ranks, tanking 49-14 in East Lansing. Michigan State scored seven TDs on a defense that had only given up nine total scores all year, that is until Saturday. The Badgers also fell from fourth to 28th in rushing defense, going from having given up 786 ground yards to a whopping 1216. Wisconsin now has to have Ohio State beat Michigan for them to have any hope at the Rose Bowl. That, and the Badgers must win against a resurgent Iowa squad this weekend. Oh, that Big Ten…

Speaking of the Big Ten, national-darling Purdue finally held onto a late lead as they beat Ohio State 24-17 there in West Lafayette. Forgotten Heisman candidate Kyle Orton, kept out due to a hip injury, came off the bench late in the fourth after starting Boilermaker QB Brandon Kirsch threw an INT that allowed the buckeyes to tie it up at 17. Orton was 7-of-8 in his only reps, capping his 54-yard performance with a 14-yard scoring strike to Dustin Keller with only 2:14 left that put his team ahead for good. Purdue had fallen short in four straight close conference games, three of them games in which Purdue had a lead late in the fourth.

Rushing factoids involving the Big Ten - In 2003, Minnesota RBs Marion Barber III (junior) and Lawrence Maroney (sophomore) became only the 31st duo from the same team to rush for 1000 yards in the same year. On Saturday, the two became the first I-A tandem EVER to rush for 1000 yards each in two consecutive seasons. Minnesota, though, still lost its third in a row and fifth in the last six to Iowa 29-27, to finish a dismal 6-5 after starting 5-0. With both RBs prospectively back for next year, the Gophers need only improve their 88th-ranked (total) defense to again challenge for the Big Ten crown.

Oklahoma really comes under fire here for two marginally despicable courses of action in their 30-3 drubbing of Nebraska. This used to be a game between two honorable schools, institutions that have been perennial national examples of sportsmanship and honor in their times, especially when playing each other. Well, with BCS rankings seemingly the motivating factor, OU was still throwing the deep ball late in the fourth quarter, even though the Cornhuskers had been shut out 30-0 since 11:11 in the third. Obviously trying to run up a more impressive score for both weekly poll voters as well as the Heisman watchers, the Sooners also played injured frosh phenom Adrian Peterson the whole game, even though he was still hampered by the pain of a separated shoulder that he suffered the previous week and qualified backups were at the ready. Peterson was evidently still bothered - or else it was a case of his talent running out, a real unlikely longshot - as he ran for only 58 yards on 15 tries. NU took these late-game efforts personally, making sure they got a field goal to keep the Sooners from their unjust "shutout" desserts. Husker head coach Bill Callahan reflected his teams' emotion as he quickly shook Bob Stoops' hand at mid-field in an icy exchange that seemed more ceremonious than sincere. ESPN's "College Gameday" guys nailed this one when they outlined how today's BCS climate has brought this, one of the all-time classy rivalries, to a new, low level where honor and sportsmanship take backseats to petty poll jockeying and risking players' health and/or careers for short-term, immeasurably small gains. On the ethical flip-side of this is Oklahoma State, who kept Vernand Morency, their highly-rated RB (6th in the nation), out in its 49-21 win over Baylor. Winning is important, but teaching lessons in life - especially about exploitation, something they all see/experience first hand - is what student-athletics should be more about, right? Since most will never play football at any higher level, the ethical lessons taught now become the foundation and compass for whatever comes next, and there should therefore be more focus on humanity than dollar signs.

Lagniappe - FSU and N.C. State held each other to 121 and 123 yards, respectively, in the Nole's 17-10 win Thursday night in Raleigh. The Wolfpack (3.61) and the Crimson Tide (3.99) remain the only I-A teams to have held foes' average yards per play to under four for the entire year… FSU (1.87) is now the only school still allowing an average of less than two yards per run try…The Big House earned its name this year in setting the NCAA single season record for attendance. Michigan Stadium averaged 111,025 per game…Penn State, even in its current struggles, has found a way to beat Indiana for its only conference win each of the last two seasons. Hey, it's tradition - PSU, since joining the Big Ten in 1993, has never dropped a league game to the Hoosiers…The Nittany Lion's forgettable season is surmised and reflected through the play of multi-faceted senior back Michael Robinson, who has 117 touches as a QB (39), RB (49), and WR (29), but only three TDs to show for his quality efforts…The same (inversely) goes for Utah and QB Alex Smith - his equally solid balance of running and passing is how the Utes gained 244 yards in each category (for 488 total yards) in their 45-28 drubbing of Wyoming…North Texas rode RB Jamario Thomas' 28 run, 291 yard (school) record-setting performance to its 24th-consecutive conference victory and 4th-consecutive Sun Belt title. Thomas also tied the NCAA mark for most consecutive 200-yard games (five), while also becoming just the fourth true frosh to break the 1,600 yard mark in his first season. If the Heisman is supposed to go to the best player, this guy separates himself from the pack way more than any of the unofficially-nominated QBs…On that note, reigning Heisman holder Jason White completed a school-record 18-straight passes on his way to a 28-of-34, 376 yard, three TD day…Penn State (4), Maryland (5), and Boston College (5) are the only teams to have given up five or fewer TDs through the air…Miami held Virginia to 0 total passing yards in the first half of their Saturday night contest with Virginia…Utah (63), Bowling Green (57), Boise State (55), and Southern Cal (50) remain the only teams to have passed the half-century mark for overall TDs scored…Auburn is the only school to have allowed just one ground score…Auburn outscores their foes 109-9 in the first quarter, but only wins the fourth 60-43…Alabama was 15-1-1 in their last 17 trips to Death Valley before this past Saturday's loss…A tip of the cap goes to Texas A&M's 101st-ranked secondary for holding Texas Tech QB Sonny Cumbie to a manageable 294 yards (100 yards below his season average) while grabbing three INTs…How is it that Bowling Green QB Omar Jacobs' (24-of-37, 389 yards, five TDs last Saturday) accomplishments, these in beating Marshall 56-35, always seem to slip through the national media cracks?...Stat of the Week - Given by CBS, the total difference between Auburn and Georgia after 107 meetings was 17 points…and the Announcers Curse of the Week - in the same game, Vern Lundquist told us how senior Georgia QB David Greene had not thrown an INT in 210 tries (Greene had one INT all season coming in), only to have Greene throw a pick five passes later, just 10 minutes after Lundquist's comments.