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Stewart Mandel inside.c.football

The Weekend Review

With Utah, Fresno, Boise and others, BCS-crashing seems likely in '04

Posted: Sunday September 12, 2004 10:19PM; Updated: Monday September 13, 2004 3:18PM
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  Fresno State celebrates
Fresno State trounced Kansas State 45-21 Saturday.
AP

In a plush office on New York's Upper West Side this week, a worrisome television executive will pull out the Nielsen numbers for Fresno, Calif., or Boise, Idaho. And he will cringe.

There is no delaying the inevitable at this point. A non-BCS team is going to play in a BCS bowl sooner rather than later, so why not this year? Sure, a Fresno State or TCU gets our hopes up every year only to stumble in the end, but this season, there may be one big difference: There's a whole lot more than just one contender.

Utah. Fresno State. Boise State. Louisville. Memphis. All are ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 this week. Lest you haven't heard, in the new BCS formula, getting the approval of the voters is 66 percent of the battle.

It's a sign of the times not that these teams have knocked off BCS-conference opponents (as have Southern Miss, TCU, New Mexico, UAB, Troy and Navy), but that we're no longer all that surprised. Fresno State going into Manhattan, Kan., and dominating the Big 12's defending champion? Unexpected, but not inexplicable. Boise State manhandling an Oregon State team that had taken defending co-national champ LSU to overtime the week before? Hey, you don't go play on the blue turf and come out alive.

The line between the haves and the have-nots becomes increasingly gray each season in this, the age of parity, and it's only a matter of time before one of the long oppressed finally has its day.

Obviously, the leaders in the clubhouse are the Utes, who started the season ranked and have climbed to No. 15 in the AP poll. Utah has already handily beaten two BCS-conference foes, Texas A&M and Arizona, and has one more remaining in North Carolina. USC or Oklahoma they are not, but if Urban Meyer's Utes can run the table, it's hard to imagine they won't achieve the top-six ranking necessary for a BCS at-large berth.

Fresno State, meanwhile, is gaining ground in a hurry thanks to its most eye-catching victory since the David Carr-led upsets of 2001. The Bulldogs' season may hinge on an Oct. 23 showdown in Boise with the two-time defending WAC champion Broncos, who made an impressive statement of their own this weekend by putting up 53 points and 492 yards on the Beavers -- despite having just three returning offensive starters from last season's 13-1 campaign.

Then there are Conference USA teams Louisville and Memphis, who meet Nov. 4 at the Liberty Bowl. To many, the Cardinals are already honorary members of the major ranks, stemming from their memorable 2002 victory over Florida State and upcoming move to the Big East, but imagine what it would do to Louisville's profile if it were to knock off Miami on Oct. 14? The Tigers, on the other hand, will have a hard time picking up steam with their only highlight coming against what appears to be a struggling Ole Miss team.

Poor Memphis. Once upon a time, the Tigers beating an SEC team -- any SEC team -- would have been viewed as a momentous upset. Nowadays, it's more like, "Wake us if you beat a top-10 team. Maybe then will we act surprised."

Player of the Week

Kyle Orton, QB, Purdue: If there were such a thing as a perfect game in football (or in this case, a perfect two quarters), Orton pitched it against Ball State. In his second straight scorching performance, the senior went 23-of-26 passing for 329 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-7 victory. It took four years, but it's clear Boilermakers head coach Joe Tiller has finally found the second coming of Drew Brees. Orton is taller and possesses a stronger arm than the former Heisman finalist; it's a good guess NFL teams in need of a QB have begun moving him toward the top of their draft boards.

Honor roll

Oregon State WR Mike Hass (12 catches, 293 yards, 3 TDs) vs. Boise State; Louisiana Tech RB Ryan Moats (34 carries, 257 yards -- for the second straight week) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette; Ohio State WR Santonio Holmes (10 catches, 208 yards, 2 TDs) vs. Marshall; Miami CB Antrel Rolle (three tackles for loss, held star WR Craphonso Thorpe to 42 yards) vs. Florida State; Cincinnati RB Richard Hall (14 carries, 238 yards, 3 TDs) vs. Miami of Ohio.

Team of the week

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Fresno State: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said it all following his team's 45-21 loss to the Bulldogs: "I've been here 16 years ... and never have I seen our football team get beat up as badly as we did today." That the Bulldogs had a tough defense was no secret after the way they dominated Washington on Sept. 5, but to completely shut down Wildcats star Darren Sproles (11 carries for 37 yards) was a whole different kind of impressive. And while Fresno State QB Paul Pinegar threw three interceptions, he also made some big plays and finished 17-of-30 for 244 yards.

Gratuitous props to ...

Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, for his game-winning, 55-yard field goal against Marshall; Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo, for orchestrating the Hoosiers' biggest win in years at No. 24 Oregon; Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins, for his NCAA record-setting eighth career punt return for touchdown against Houston; and Colorado, for finding a way to beat Washington State, 20-12, despite getting outgained by nearly 300 yards.

Hello, world

Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech: Beware, because it looks like the Yellow Jackets may have the next Larry Fitzgerald on their hands. On a game-winning, 11-yard touchdown in which Johnson jumped over all-conference Clemson cornerback Justin Miller to haul in the fade, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver showed the kind of athleticism and physicality only the elite receivers possess. Johnson also caught two other touchdowns to finish with eight catches for 127 yards in Tech's 28-24 upset.

America's new favorite breakaway threat

Junior Louissaint claims he runs about a 5.4-second 40. It didn't look that way last Thursday night, when the 6-1, 276-pound Troy State lineman caught a fumble by Trojans running back DeWhitt Betterson in midair and chugged 63 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the Trojans' upset of the Tigers. Louissaint said he saw Missouri cornerback A.J. Kincade gaining on him out of the corner of his eye and suddenly the end zone seemed "a long way away," but lo and behold, he made it. "I was so tired when I got to the end zone I couldn't even bend over," he said.

A rare coach who tells it like it is

Art Kehoe, Miami's longtime offensive line coach, speaking to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel following the 'Canes' sixth straight victory over arch-rival Florida State: "We're better than them -- that's why we beat them. I don't care what anyone says. We're better than them, and we're tougher than them."

We spoke too soon ...

The great Rutgers rejuvenation suffered a bit of a setback Saturday when, a week after their emotional win over Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights lost 35-24 ... to New Hampshire. Granted, the Wildcats are one of the top teams in Division I-AA, having beaten defending national champ Delaware a week earlier, but c'mon. If you can't beat a I-AA team, how are you going to compete in the Big Ea ... wait, never mind.

Five wide

1. Something to keep in mind the next time you head to the stadium: Your behavior as a fan may just have an effect on your team's recruiting efforts. Speaking after Notre Dame's win over Michigan, Jimmy and LaVerne Walker, parents of breakout Irish freshman running back Darius, said their son was impressed on his visit to the ND-Florida State game last year when, despite their team having just lost 37-0, Notre Dame students still stood and cheered the Irish players afterward. Conversely, they said, Darius was turned off by his visit to Auburn, which happened to coincide with the Tigers' 23-0 loss to USC. "The players had to dodge cups of ice coming off the field," Jimmy said.

2. Talking about why he hired Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator last winter, Texas coach Mack Brown repeatedly points to the fact that Robinson's Kansas City Chiefs defense, although it gave up plenty of yards, led the NFL in forced turnovers last season. The Robinson influence came to pass on the biggest play of Saturday's 22-20 win over Arkansas. With the Razorbacks in position for a potential game-winning field goal with 2:42 remaining, the 'Horns chased Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones out of the pocket, and as safety Michael Huff and defensive tackle Larry Dibbles closed in for the tackle, both could be seen going for the strip, with Dibbles succeeding.

3. Miami's stirring comeback over Florida State and the focus on Chris Rix's mishaps masked the 'Canes' own lingering problems with their passing game. Though he did avoid turnovers, Brock Berlin was, for three-plus quarters, the same tentative quarterback of a year ago, and supposed No. 1 receiver Ryan Moore dropped several passes. It's no coincidence that with so much uncertainty at both positions, the coaching staff stayed extremely close-to-the-vest in its play-calling, rarely daring to throw downfield against the Seminoles' talented defense.

4. The new front-runner to win the Big 12 North is ... Kansas? Maybe. While preseason favorites Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas State all lost to heavy underdogs Saturday, the unsung Jayhawks put a 63-14 beatdown on Toledo (we'll get to the Rockets in a minute), with quarterback Adam Barmann going 24-of-34 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Of the other contenders, K-State sorely lacks a capable complement to Sproles, Missouri quarterback Brad Smith is missing a go-to receiver, Nebraska signal-caller Joe Dailey is making too many costly mistakes and Colorado has a porous pass defense.

5. While teams from the WAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt have been knocking off the big boys left and right, MAC squads, last year's giant killers, have been noticeably quiet. Toledo, this writer's preseason top-25 dark horse -- whoops -- has flopped like a pancake, surrendering 63 points in each of its first two contests. Miami of Ohio, last year's champ, was waxed Saturday by Cincinnati. At least Marshall nearly knocked off Ohio State, but with a trip to Georgia next week, the Herd could soon be 0-3.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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