By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
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November 22, 2004

HIGHS AND LOWS FROM WEEK 12 (Nov. 20th weekend)

Tradition…That is what this past week was all about, tradition and rivalries. Games that are played for things like "The Victory Bell" (North Carolina beats Duke 40-17) and "The Apple Cup" (Washington State slips by Washington 28-25) highlighted this week's slate of intra- and adjacent-state rivalries, with even more to come this Thanksgiving week. And the biggest rivalry of them all measured up well - Ohio State and Michigan giving us a version of "The Game" that set off a wild Big Ten finish. Ohio Stadium's second largest crowd ever, 105,456, saw its Buckeyes come to play. NationalChamps.net was there to cover this conference-finishing mêlée, but we were drowned out in the "sea of red" that also consumed Wolverine fans by a 20-to-1 ratio - really!! OSU's freshman QB had 145 rushing yards and went 13-of-23 for 241 yards, with two TD passes and no INTs. Troy Smith made the right decision seemingly every time in leading his team to its 37-21 win. Another frosh, WR/PR Ted Ginn, Jr., had a team-high five catches as he distracted the secondary all day from his "no-man's-land" slot position. But early in the third, Ginn's 82-yard punt return broke open a 20-14 game, highlighting his squad's 27-point unanswered onslaught. The Wolverines, often come-from-behind spoilers in this version of "The Game" (which was also played as Lafayette, Pa. beat Lehigh 24-10 for the Patriot League title and a I-AA playoff spot, and the Harvard-Yale tilt also going by this name, see below), had no such magic Saturday - their two freshmen phenoms, QB Chad Henne (27-of-54, 328 yards and two INTs) and RB Michael Hart (18 carries for 61 yards) were non-factors, uncharacteristic of the impact each has had week-in and week-out while getting Michigan to their then-No.7 (AP) ranking. Not even UM WR Braylon Edwards' late heroics could overcome the Buckeyes' momentum. Many thought this loss would send Michigan somewhere besides Pasadena, but when Iowa kept the Wisconsin Badgers reeling with a 30-7 win, the Big Ten title was halved between the Hawkeyes and the Wolverines. Wisconsin was Rose Bowl-bound with a win, but only wound up disappointing their faithful even more than they had just a week earlier when their undefeated season was ruined by/at Michigan State. Michigan is now No.13 in both polls, with Iowa 14th in the coaches' poll and 12th in the AP. One final note - we were amazed at the dedication Ohio State fans displayed in not leaving their seats the entire game. At halftime, just like in the game's final minute, the "Horseshoe" remained completely filled. As we left, maybe a minute before the final gun, approximately 98% of the stadium still watched closely to make sure the Buckeyes knew who their fans were and just how they felt about the only win that counts in Columbus.

Florida stayed ahead of Florida State from the start in their 20-13 win Saturday night in Tallahassee. The Gators easily rattled Seminole QB Wyatt Sexton, keeping the second-year hurler's team off balance until the late-game insertion of dethroned-starter (senior) Chris Rix. Rix, known as "Gator Killer" due to six TDs and one INT in his previous games versus UF, rallied his side for a late TD to cut it to a 13-10 Gator lead. But UF answered right back 3:31 later to put Florida up 20-10 with just under five minutes to play. To touch on a tricky subject, many FSU fans were ironically relieved that they had already missed two field goal tires, meaning that there wouldn't be the usual gut-wrenching "wide left/right" stigma to end another close version of this rivalry game. Give it to lame-duckster Ron Zook, the Gator's fired-but-still-at-it coach, for motivating his Gainesville group to do something none of Steve Spurrier' s squads ever could (South Carolina's new head coach went 0-5-1 there) - win in Doak Campbell Stadium. On the night they put Bobby Bowden's name (and face, via a 10-foot high etched-glass piece) on the place, FSU lost at home to the Gators for the first time since 1986. The hardest part for Nole fans is the team's continuing struggle within the coaching staff to locate any offensive identity. Really, how poor do offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden's play-calls have to be before we see a change in the capital? Lining up in basically three formations all night, the Noles seemed to have but maybe five plays out of each set. Once the Gator's caught on to this fact and the plays, there were no evident changes made by FSU to overcome the Gator's adjustments. By the fourth, even the announcers knew exactly when FSU was going to pitch it out for a guaranteed loss of yardage. The Noles' all-senior (except one) offensive line, with so many "family secrets" exposed, proved porous as the team amassed only 34 ground yards on 24 tries while giving up four sacks. But this didn't stop the younger Bowden from lining his guys up in the I-formation most every play late into the fourth. Play-action after play-action fooled no one, and only the Gator's change to more zone schemes in their secondary allowed for FSU's little successes at the end. Otherwise, UF seemed to be in FSU's huddle (and therefore the Nole's backfield) more than half the time. There was a time, not long ago, when Bobby employed the best assistants in the game. But he has filled recent vacancies with inexperienced coaches that leave many wondering if there is a swamp-gas leak near the Bowden abode. How can this much talent produce such marginal results? By now, the blame clearly falls on Bobby's newest henchmen, and especially on his namesake at OC. Besides location and at least a winning record, it is hard to tell Bowden's plight from that of another all-time great coach, who is also a recruiting super-magnet but a liability as he tries to shuffle his quality-but-mismanaged QBs. If Joe Pa and old man Bobby don't join the 21st century soon, either/both of these recently-strong schools will take that much longer to right their respective ships. Here's another way to look at it - if Bobby had this much talent 10 years ago (with those quality assistants Chuck Amato and Mark Richt, both now head coaches), he would have had FSU into the top five. And, conversely, if Bobby took this staff to a place like Toledo or Kansas (where recruiting isn't nearly as easy) and ran things similarly, winning there would, too, be just as forgotten as a blue state is in early November of a leap year. Having a legend as your coach may garner national media, but if you predictably know against just which teams your team has no chance against due to the way it is organized and run, something has to give before improvements can genuinely be initiated.

Lagniappe - Former Heisman candidate Kyle Orton came surging back, setting a school record for total yards (530) in a game as he threw for six TDs and 522 yards (also tying both school records held by Drew Brees). Orton had 401 yards and five TDs after just the first half of the game for the Old Oaken Bucket! Orton led the Boilermaker offense to a conference-record 763 yards of total offense as they broke the 60-point barrier for the first time since 1913. Saturday's 63 points set the school's single-game record…And if this wasn't enough good news from West Lafayette, WR Taylor Stubblefield had 14 grabs to set the NCAA I-A mark for career catches with 309, breaking the old mark of 300 set by Louisville's Arnold Jackson. Stubblefield's 14 TDs in 2004 breaks the two-year old school mark of 13…Miami (Ohio) beat Akron to win their (East) half of the MAC…Harvard trounced Yale 35-3 as they won the Ivy League and went undefeated for the second time in four years…Northwestern won 28-21 in OT to win the battle for Illinois over the namesake Illini. It was the Wildcat's record-setting fourth OT game of '04, and they were 3-1 in games with extra frames…Utah or Texas?...Penn State's 37-13 surprise win over Michigan State will only put the needed succession of Joe Paterno that much further back. Does anyone still think he can resurrect the Nittany Lions, a venerable program that he built, but now infects?...PSU is 4-7 as they allow opponents a mere 4.26 yards per play and an NCAA-best five passing TDs. Can you imaging what that record might be without their stellar stoppers (10th-ranked for total defense) and/or with more modern tutelage?…Virginia Tech still plays Virginia and Miami, so take little for granted in the first year of serious competition for the ACC title since FSU joined back in 1992. Three teams could finish atop the rest at 6-2, but it is whoever is ahead in the BCS standings at the end that will represent the conference in a BCS game…Boise State held Louisiana Tech star RB Ryan Moats to 60 yards on 19 carries, maintaining their defensive edge as the Broncos remain undefeated at 10-0. 278 ground yards and 351 through the air Saturday means this balanced BSU offense is even more formidable than last year's 13-1 version. And with the nation's No.3 rushing defense and No.36 total defense, the Broncos look good in 2005. Boise State need only replace two senior WRs and two senior linemen to likely maintain the nation's longest regular-season winning streak at 21 (after next week, huh)…Utah has only allowed eight punts to be returned all year, for a total of 40 yards.