The Weekend Review
The season's five biggest disappointments, starting with Mizzou
Posted: Sunday November 21, 2004 11:02PM; Updated: Sunday November 21, 2004 11:28PM
The regular season is nearly complete, and while it's still a tad too early to determine the season's biggest winners, there's not much question which teams were the biggest flops:
Missouri (4-6): How did a preseason top-20 team start 4-1, then drop five in a row? Better question, how did Brad Smith go from the nation's most exciting player in his first two seasons to a robotic non-factor? It's been one debacle after another for coach Gary Pinkel, with running back Damien Nash questioning his play-calling and Smith's father comparing the coach's personality to a dill pickle, culminating in an embarrassing 31-14 loss to rival Kansas (the Tigers were behind 28-0 early in the fourth quarter) that rendered the Tigers ineligible for the postseason, a big step back from last year's 8-5 campaign. "I'm responsible," Pinkel said -- six times -- during his postgame news conference. He also called the game "the lowest point of my coaching career."
Oregon (5-6): Apparently luxury locker rooms and national cable contracts aren't helping the Ducks, which, three years removed from finishing No. 2 in the country, suffered their first losing season in 11 years. Their season-ending 50-21 Civil War pounding by Oregon State had to be particularly painful. The Ducks' defense has been mediocre for three years now, but perhaps the one thing Mike Bellotti misses most is the kind of star running back he had with Reuben Droughns, Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith.
Kansas State (4-7): Darren Sproles alone couldn't save the Wildcats from their first losing season since 1992. The pressing concern coming into the season was quarterback, but as it turned out, the bigger worry should have been the defense. Normally so stout under Bill Snyder, the D collapsed without several of last year's standouts and departed coordinator Bret Bielema. Iowa State's 28-point fourth quarter in Saturday's finale summed up K-State's struggles on the season.
Minnesota (6-5): Glen Mason didn't hide from the notion that this would be his most talented team, and it looked that way when the Gophers started 5-0. But another heartbreaking loss to Michigan took the wind out of their sails and, even worse than in past years, they packed it in down the stretch, losing four of their last five, including a blowout at the hands of Michigan State and a debacle against Indiana. The only good news: the Spartans' loss to Penn State ensures that Minnesota will go bowling.
Florida State (8-3): This was supposed to be the year the 'Noles returned to national championship form. Instead, FSU's offense regressed to embarrassing levels under coordinator Jeff Bowden, unable to move the ball against even mediocre defenses, including Saturday against rival Florida. "Our offense was not good enough tonight," defensive tackle Travis Johnson told the Tallahassee Democrat. "It was plain poor." FSU, normally a staple of the BCS lineup, could be headed to the Peach Bowl or worse.
Player of the Week
Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: Remind us again, Jim Tressel, why it took seven games to figure out that the mobile sophomore was a better option than Justin Zwick? Smith, who only took over the starting job after the struggling Zwick suffered an injury, was sensational in the Buckeyes' 37-21 upset of arch-rival Michigan. He ran 18 times for 145 yards and a touchdown -- and completed 13 of 23 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. With the Wolverines bringing heavy pressure, Smith showed off his scrambling ability, repeatedly breaking loose for big runs when the pocket collapsed, as well as an ability to throw the deep ball, connecting with receiver Tony Gonzalez for a 68-yard touchdown on the game's opening series. "I told him in the locker room 'That was a legendary performance,'" Gonzalez told the Akron Beacon Journal. Combined with the emergence of former high school teammate Ted Ginn Jr. at receiver, Smith has injected life into a previously stagnant offense (granted, he did have three interceptions in a loss to Purdue a week earlier) and gives Ohio State fans something to look forward to for the next couple of seasons.
Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe (42 carries, 325 yards, two TDs) vs. Eastern Michigan; Purdue QB Kyle Orton (33-of-54, 518 yards, six TDs, no INTs) vs. Indiana; Purdue WR Kyle Ingraham (11 catches, 206 yards, two TDs) vs. Indiana; Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson (32 carries, 240 yards, three TDs) vs. Baylor; Miami QB Brock Berlin (13-of-19, 361 yards, four TDs, no INTs) vs. Wake Forest; LSU RB Alley Broussard (26 carries, 250 yards, three TDs) vs. Ole Miss; Oregon State DE Bill Swancutt (three sacks, forced fumble, interception) vs. Oregon; Penn State LB Paul Posluszny (15 tackles, two tackles for loss, interception) vs. Michigan State; Cincinnati QB Gino Guidugli (30-of-36, 377 yards, three TDs, no INTs) vs. South Florida; Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams (32 carries, 225 yards, four TDs) vs. East Carolina; UTEP QB Jordan Palmer (20-of-27, 339 yards, five TDs, one INT) vs. SMU.
Gratuitous props to ...
Florida coach Ron Zook, for doing something Steve Spurrier never could -- winning at Florida State; Cal RB J.J. Arrington, for setting the school's single-season rushing record (1,584 yards) with his 10th straight 100-yard game (169) against Stanford; Miami of Ohio, for clinching its second straight MAC East title despite losing the probable NFL rookie-of-the-year quarterback; and Harvard, for beating rival Yale 35-3 to complete an undefeated season.
Team of the week
Utah: The actual culmination may have seemed anticlimactic to anyone outside the state of Utah, but in snowy Salt Lake City, the Utes' BCS-clinching 52-21 win over arch-rival BYU on Saturday was every bit as big a deal as Ohio State-Michigan was in Columbus or Auburn-Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Think about it: A year ago, Congress was having hearings about the BCS' lack of inclusion for teams from the smaller conferences, leading in part to a new rule for 2006 that will drop the required minimum ranking for such teams from sixth to 12th. The Utes, however, didn't bother to wait for it to go into effect and bucked a system in which all the rules were seemingly stacked against them. "It was kind of like we had to run a 100-yard dash, only we had to go 110 yards," said Athletic Director Chris Hill. "That's what you have to do as a team in our league to play in the BCS."
Boys gone wild
South Carolina and Clemson picked a strange way to show off the intensity of their rivalry to the rest of the country. The Tigers' 29-7 victory over the Gamecocks on Saturday was marred by two ugly brawls: one prior to kickoff, when several South Carolina players reportedly taunted the Tigers from the bottom of Death Valley Hill, from which they make their traditional run onto the field; the other, with 5:48 remaining, after Clemson DE Bobby Williamson hit Gamecocks QB Syvelle Newton and stayed on top of him for several seconds. In the melee that followed, players from both teams exchanged blows, South Carolina DE Charles Silas broke free from a law enforcement officer, ran into the end zone and punched Clemson's Anthony Waters, and Tigers RB Yusef Kelley held a Gamecocks helmet up to the crowd like a trophy, then flung it into the stands.
The incident would have been embarrassing enough for both schools and for college football, but it happened to come fewer than 24 hours after the astonishing Pacers-Pistons incident in Detroit, turning the Gamecocks and Tigers into a national poster for sportsmanship gone awry. Network newscasts aired the two incidents back-to-back Saturday night, and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, while not exactly using it as an excuse, mentioned the NBA fight directly. "For 24 hours, they've watched that basketball fiasco on TV. That's all they've watched," he said. "On every major news [broadcast] that thing was covered, and they sat there and watched it and watched it and watched it."
The NBA came down hard Sunday on the players involved in its debacle, and while the Clemson-South Carolina incident did not involve players hitting fans, it was certainly despicable enough to merit some suspensions. Unfortunately, though, because the regular season is over, because the game involved teams from different conferences (the ACC and SEC) and because conferences in general aren't exactly lords of discipline when it comes to such matters ... don't expect anything too drastic to occur.
1. Apparently, the BCS hates Boise State. The 10-0 Broncos entered the weekend ranked ninth, beat Louisiana Tech 55-14 and watched the two teams ranked directly ahead of them, Michigan and Florida State, lose. Sunday morning, one might have figured Boise was now one Texas or Cal loss away from joining Utah in the top six, which, as the BCS rules clearly state, would guarantee both the Utes and Broncos at-large berths. But then the new polls came out, and while Boise did move up three spots in the AP, two in the Coaches', it didn't gain close to as many overall points as nearby teams Georgia, Miami and Louisville. Plus, according to CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm, the Dawgs and 'Canes benefited in the computers from the Wolverines and Seminoles' losses, while Boise was already ahead of those teams. As a result, the Broncos could fall behind both Georgia and Miami when the new standings are released Monday, likely ending any hopes of spending New Year's in Tempe. And I can't say I have a problem with that. Sorry, but no team that gets taken to the wire by the likes of San Jose State, Tulsa and BYU should be ranked in the top six of anything.
2. What has gotten into Iowa State? Five weeks ago, the Cyclones were 2-4, 0-3 in the Big 12, and looking at their second straight last-place finish in the North division. Now, having won four consecutive conference games for just the second time in school history, Iowa State is in position to win its first championship of any kind since 1912 with either a win at home over slumping Missouri or a Colorado loss to Nebraska. Obviously, the fact the Cyclones are doing it in a generally horrible division tempers their accomplishments somewhat, but give credit to coach Dan McCarney for a remarkable in-season turnaround. In those first three conference games, against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Colorado, ISU's then-horrendous offense was held to a combined 24 points. In their most recent victories, against Nebraska and Kansas State, the 'Clones have put up 34 and 37 points, respectively, with QB Bret Meyer throwing for 345 yards against the Huskers and RB Stevie Hicks bursting for a career-high 156 against the Tigers.
Here's a scary thought: Iowa State is one of just nine teams left in the country that controls its own BCS destiny.
3. Joe Paterno may be down, but he's certainly not out. The past two weeks have provided a major boost for the embattled 77-year-old coach, whose team finished with its fourth losing record in five years but ended on a high note with wins over both Indiana and Michigan State, the latter an impressive 37-13 blowout. And he scored an even bigger win recently on the recruiting front, landing a commitment from one of the nation's top two cornerback prospects, Justin King, a move that many feel could create a ripple effect on his 2005 class. Speculation of his imminent retirement was heightened by a quote in USA Today on Friday, in which Paterno spoke openly for the first time about his desired succession plan, but he put it to rest immediately after Saturday's win, saying, "Have I ever said I wasn't [coming back]? Is that wishful thinking? I'm planning to be back next year." As bleak as things looked for the Nittany Lions much of the season, there are admittedly some bright spots headed into next year. An impressive, young defense finished the season as one of just two teams nationally (the other Auburn) to allow 21 points or less in every game. And while the offense was abysmal, the ascension of vaunted freshman QB Anthony Morrelli is expected. "No question," said Paterno, "there's potential to be good."
4. It appears likely that the ACC title will come down to a Dec. 4 showdown between Virginia Tech and Miami, which would make for quite an interesting matchup between red-hot 'Canes quarterback Brock Berlin and the Hokies' unheralded but increasingly dominant defense. It took until nearly halfway through his senior season, but Berlin is finally playing like the star he was projected to be, throwing 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last seven games. He came out firing Saturday against Wake Forest and absolutely shredded the Demon Deacons' secondary, throwing for a career-high 361 yards on just 13 completions. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has won six straight games on the strength of a tenacious defense that held Maryland to 197 yards and forced five turnovers in a 55-6 rout last Thursday night. DE Darryl Tapp has blossomed into one of the nation's top pass-rushers. As the only conference team with one loss, the Hokies control their own destiny in the ACC, but must beat both No. 16 Virginia and No. 9 Miami. If Tech loses both, Miami would win the tiebreaker over the Cavs based on head-to-head results. In the event the Hokies lose to Virginia but beat Miami, there will be a three-way tie between Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State, and at that point, no one knows which team would be the highest ranked.
5. Hope you've enjoyed FOX's telecast of the Sugar Bowl. Stay tuned for an all-new episode of Malcolm in the Middle. Don't laugh -- it's looking more and more like a possibility. With ABC announcing Friday it's pulled its offer for the next BCS contract off the table, the new front-runner appears to b FOX, despite the fact it currently airs one college football game all season, the Cotton Bowl. (ABC has already reached an agreement to retain the Rose Bowl; the deal currently being negotiated is for the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange.) In explaining his network's move, ABC exec Loren Matthews took a not-too-subtle dig at the BCS' proposed five-bowl model. "Frankly it's adding another game that just doesn't matter in the national championship race," he said. He's not the only one perplexed by the concept. If, indeed, USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all wind up undefeated, how on earth will the BCS folks announce with a straight face that they've agreed with FOX or whomever to eight more years of the same potential chaos?
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.