By Dave Hershorin Managing Editor
November 29, 2004

HIGHS AND LOWS FROM WEEK 13 (Nov. 27th weekend)

Over this past holiday week(end), our pigskin thanks was first given Tuesday night, when Toledo secured its place in this Thursday's MAC championship with a comeback win against then-first-place Bowling Green. The Falcons took it out 27-7 in the first half, only to then watch Rocket QB Brad Gradkowski lead the home team to 35 unanswered points and, ultimately, a 49-41 win. This tale of two halves sets up this Thursday night's game in Detroit between Toledo and Miami (Ohio). The two schools first played November 2nd in Oxford, with the Redhawks winning at home 23-16 after Toledo gave the ball away four times. Tell me this one - how can the conference that has arguably produced the most quality NFL quarterbacks over the last seven years (Culpepper, Pennington, Leftwich, Roethlisberger) only get two (automatic) bowl bids (Motor City and GMAC Bowls)? The quality of play in Mid-America has been consistently high enough to warrant more post-season recognition than this, with MAC teams regularly beating BCS-aligned squads in their ambitious non-con slates. Yet we still see 6-5 teams from major conferences get undeserving bowl bids over 8-3 (or better) MAC teams. What the NCAA says is its "prime objective" - creating a fair, level playing field for all - is far from being realized as long as this (kind of) injustice, which exists for financial exploitation, continues. What does all of this mean then? It says much about the kind of lessons/realities that are being carried over by these student-athletes into their - and therefore our - collective football psyches, and how these human ideals shape the sport for years to come.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse became the two most unlikely candidates for the Big East title (and an automatic BCS bid) after they beat front-runners West Virginia and Boston College, respectively. The "Backyard Brawl", held in WVU QB Rasheed Marshall's hometown (Brashear H.S.), wasn't much of a homecoming or swansong for the all-Big East hurler. Pitt Junior (and West Allegheny-graduate) QB Tyler Palko surged his team into the lead for the first time with just four minutes left, saving his best for when the Panthers needed it - unlike Marshall, who faltered on the Mountaineers' final two critical drives to finish his last WVU regular-season game with the same inconsistent play he had regularly shown until this year. BC then collapsed at home without starting QB Paul Peterson (broken right hand). But the real story of that match up was Orangeman Diamond Ferri, a DB who was forced into RB duty and responded with a 141-yard, two TD performance while playing all day on defense, too. Oh, and he returned an INT for a score. Ferri has been named Walter Camp offensive AND defensive Players of the Week!!! Now, Syracuse (6-5) and Pittsburgh (7-3) have to wait to see who has the higher BCS ranking to see who gets the automatic bid. If neither actually appears in the BCS standings (the BCS only ranks 25 teams, not all 117 I-A's), then whoever ranks higher in the USA Today/Coaches poll goes. And since Pitt's Walt Harris garners a vote and Syracuse's Paul Pasqualoni doesn't…

And Pittsburgh still has to play a game at South Florida that was postponed due to Hurricane Frances. So does Cal, which visits Southern Mississippi in a hurricane-postponed game which could also alter the BCS landscape. I spoke earlier this season (9/3/04 "Here We Go Again…") of 1998, another year in which late-season games (that should have already been played) affected the national college football landscape. By these late games being at the opposite end in the schedule of where they were originally, they play out differently than they would have at the beginning of the year - teams have developed and are not the same as they were in September, period. Having said that, though, Cal will see a skidding Golden Eagle team that has lost four out of its last six, which has to bode better than playing USM early, when they started out with four straight wins. The three BCS-aligned undefeateds play this weekend, too. So with Cal and Pittsburgh also playing deciding games and Miami playing Virginia Tech for the ACC's BCS spot, six of the eight BCS bids could be affected with this Saturday's results.

Announcer's Curse of the Week - This one happened during the ABC broadcast of last Friday's Texas-Texas A&M game. In the second period, A&M's Todd Pegram lined up for a 32-yard FGA. Pegram had gone 16 straight tries (including four from 2003) without a miss. Then ABC's announcers let this be known, with a graphic even, and guess what? Pegram's prior miss had also been a 32-yard try, too. Coupled with his missed PAT earlier, it just wasn't Pegram's - or A&M's - day. The Aggies lost 26-13 in a close game that would have likely played out differently if those early four points had gone into A&M's total.

Boise State continues to win by gaining more ground than air yards. The Broncos balanced 287 rushing with 271 through the arm of sophomore Jared Zabransky to remain undefeated and with the nation's No.2 total offense. State is one of only eight teams to have 200+-yard averages per game in both rushing and passing categories. We all know the arguments for why undefeated smaller conference schools would probably lose in a big, year-end bowl game against an undefeated major conference team, but either BSU or Utah would give a good, competitive effort to any of the "Big Three" (USC, OU and Auburn). The Utes stack up (with depth) on both lines, but both they and Boise State fall off size-wise with their defensive back-sevens. There would probably be about a two-TD difference between either of these underdogs and the Big Three, but if any of them wasn't playing their best ball that day…

Iowa State sure pulled "a Boston College" - they, like the Golden Eagles, controlled their conference fate as they entered this past Saturday's game with Missouri. After losing their first three Big XII games (13 consecutive losses dating back to 2002), ISU had won four straight to be possibly the nation's biggest surprise as a conference-half leader. Then they blew it in OT 17-14 Saturday to send Colorado as the BIG XII North representative to the conference championship game this weekend against Oklahoma. But with Cyclone QB Bret Meyer just a red-shirted freshman, there is much to look forward to in Ames. And since Nebraska seems to be on the slow track (see next story) while Colorado just continually veers off track, any good news out of the Big XII North heading into '05 gives some promise of a competitive representative emerging as champion from this bleak division.

Speaking of Nebraska, you heard it here if you haven't heard it already - the Cornhuskers finish with a losing record (3-5, 5-6) for the first time since 1961. Also shot is Nebraska's 35 consecutive years of going to a bowl. Losing doesn't sit well in Memorial Stadium - yet first-year head man Bill Callahan won only half as many games as predecessor Frank Solich, a man who was fired for a 10-3 record. Maybe patience is finally becoming a fact of life in Lincoln, and the powers that be seem to have accepted the idea that a turnaround at NU may take a while. "It's going to take time. How much time? I don't know", said Callahan. AD Steve Pederson, who fired Solich to keep Nebraska from "gravitating toward mediocrity", said that he is somehow even more excited now (via his comments made Saturday) than when he first hired Callahan. Huh? If this makes sense, then maybe it's Pederson's dubious logic (and therefore his job security) that should have been scrutinized, not Solich's.

Lagniappe - Texas outscored opponents 105-3 in the third quarter all year. Guess who got the three of the Longhorns?...Speaking of three, just like Pitt earlier, Oregon State currently ranks three individual DBs in the top 35 for passes defended…Before beating then-No.18 Arizona State 34-27 this past Saturday, Arizona hadn't beaten a ranked opponent since their 10/7/00 31-15 win over then-No.22 USC…What was Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball thinking when he chose to spike the ball with Tech facing a 3rd-and-21 situation on the Georgia 32, with under a minute left and down 19-13? Then, as he rolled for his life with All-American David Polack bearing down, Ball's 4th-and-21 pass went wildly out of bounds. Hey, Reggie - even an INT is acceptable in this situation if trying to thread it into someone…Notre Dame senior WR Matt Shelton has a 27.3-yard average for his 19 catches, including six that went for TDs…Adam Crossett's winning 25-yard field goal for Mizzou was his first successful college try. He had missed two from outside the forty yard-line prior to the OT winner…Pittsburg State (Kansas) broke the all-division single season scoring record with their 774th point coming in their Division II playoff game against N.W. Mizzou State. The Gorillas broke Harvard's 118-year old record of 765 points, which was set in a 14-game season…Fresno State set the NCAA record for quickest consecutive TDs by one team in one game. The Bulldogs two scores came just eight seconds apart early in the second quarter of their 62-28 romp over San Jose State…Louisville moves into the Big East after winning the CUSA title three times in four years, including this year. The winner of CUSA, a non-BCS aligned conference, goes to the Liberty Bowl, while the Big East winner hits the jackpot and gets an automatic BCS bid. Hopefully, the Cardinals can provide the shot in the arm the Big East needs after losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College over the last two years to the ACC…Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams earned his fourth 200-yard effort in seven games as he ran for 263 versus South Florida. North Texas' frosh phenom Jamario Thomas leads the nation with six 200+ performances, but neither is on any Heisman radars…the NCAA record for most kickoffs returned in a single season for TDs was further extended by Tulsa's Ashlan Davis. Davis' fifth return of '04 - a 74-yard score - proved to be the difference Saturday in a 37-35 Golden Hurricane win against then-No.25 upstart UTEP...N.C. State is the only school to hold foes to an average of under four yards per play (3.47) all year…Auburn allowed only 13 TDs and only six FGs all of '04 as they led the nation in scoring defense by giving up 9.6 per game…Utah allowed only four FGs during their undefeated run, but also gave up 31 TDs, oops…Definitely Leinart, but Benson had better get an invite…