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College Football

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Inside College Football

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Thursday December 03, 1998 11:54 AM

This week's topics:
Plight of the Irish | A No-brainer For Tuberville  
Big Bowls Get A Big Break | Hokies Blow Another One
Syracuse Loves McNabb | Miami Reaping UCLA Dividends
Top 10 Record Breakers | More Heisman-worthy?
Fast Forward

Plight of the Irish  

Notre Dame may have to join the Big Ten if it hopes to retain its luster

By Ivan Maisel and TIm Layden

Sports Illustrated After Notre Dame's 10-0 loss to USC last Saturday, a defeat that left the Fighting Irish with a 9-2 record and no hope of earning a spot in any of the four Bowl Championship Series games, Notre Dame athletic director Mike Wadsworth leaned against a concrete wall outside the Irish locker room in the Los Angeles Coliseum and spoke wistfully of the past. "There have been seasons when a 9-2 Notre Dame team was good enough for a major bowl," he said.

  Jay Johnson (11) and the Irish dropped their chance at a major bowl by losing to the Trojans. John W. McDonough
Wadsworth was right: 9-2 Irish teams in 1990 and '95 went on to the Orange Bowl, but those days are fading. Notre Dame has long benefited from brand-name recognition unlike any other in college sports. Gold helmets often engendered high rankings for any Irish team with a hint of ability; even when mediocre, Notre Dame produced the best TV ratings in college football. Give the current Irish their props: Despite modest talent, they won nine of their first 10 games, including four by five or fewer points. Had it not been for the absence of senior quarterback Jarious Jackson, who was out with a sprained right knee, Notre Dame probably would have beaten Southern Cal and might have snagged one of the two Series at-large invitations, which are likely to go to Arizona and Florida. Instead, Irish freshman Arnaz Battle and junior Eric Chappell completed only seven of 22 passes for 94 yards and allowed the Trojans to gang up on the Notre Dame running game. It was the first time in 11 years that the Irish were shut out.

The near miss at an elite bowl bid, however, masked larger truths. First, Notre Dame this season wasn't a powerful team, just a courageous one. "I've been around some real talented teams," says second-year Irish coach Bob Davie. "I'm proud of what these guys have accomplished, but we weren't that kind of team." Notre Dame also benefited from a schedule that once seemed strong but was weakened when Michigan, Stanford, Arizona State and LSU all performed below expectations. The Irish beat just two teams with winning records, Michigan and Purdue.

Second, pollsters and television viewers no longer cut Notre Dame any slack. Despite a 9-1 record, the Irish were ranked only No. 9 before facing USC. Their home games on NBC had averaged a meager 2.9 rating and been consistently beaten by regional ABC coverage.

It gets worse. Given Notre Dame's admissions policies--more demanding than those of many other football powers--and tough scheduling, the Irish will be hard-pressed to duplicate this year's 9-2 record in the near future. Next season's schedule includes Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Tennessee and Stanford. In 2000, Notre Dame plays Texas A&M, Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State and West Virginia. One Irish football insider calls the schedule "a coach-killer." Wadsworth says, "It's the way we've always scheduled, and we will continue to do so."

NBC, of course, loves the brutal schedules. Big-name opponents bring in good audiences. Yet will the network be thrilled when Notre Dame is 7-4?

The Irish are at a football crossroads. They must either soften their scheduling or lower their admissions standards to retain hopes of winning national titles. Or Notre Dame could follow a third course by joining the Big Ten. The opportunity to play Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern on a regular basis in the conference, while retaining the likes of Boston College, USC and a rotation of others in nonleague games, would give the Irish a fighting chance. They're competitive with Michigan and Penn State, though not, of late, with Ohio State (neither is the rest of the Big Ten).

Notre Dame is expected to consider shifting to the Big Ten during a trustees meeting in February. One source close to the situation does not expect the Irish to join. "You're talking about 100 years as an independent," he says. "That's a lot for the people here to let go of." Not if they want Notre Dame to keep playing football for national championships, it isn't.

--Tim Layden

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A No-brainer For Tuberville  

Tommy Tuberville dropped Ole Miss for Auburn for the two reasons behind most of what happens in college football: money and recruiting. The Tigers signed Tuberville, 44, to a five-year contract worth more than $4 million. That doubles his income with the Rebels. "There are one-and-a-half million people within 150 miles of Oxford," Tuberville says. "There are six million people within 150 miles of Auburn." In other words, more players. Tuberville shared the state of Mississippi with Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi. At Auburn he will fight only Alabama for the in-state blue-chippers, and he will be just 20 miles from the border of talent-rich Georgia. Tuberville went 25-20 in four seasons at Ole Miss. He went 0-4 against both Auburn and Alabama.

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Big Bowls Get A Big Break  

The Bowl Championship Series ought to issue a commendation to USC for preventing Notre Dame from finishing 10-1. The Trojans saved three Series bowls the embarrassment of having to explain, after the bids go out, why none of them invited one of their partners, the Irish, to play. When the bowls competed against each other, the measure of success was television ratings. That's Notre Dame's best asset, even though its ratings are down this year. But the chief mission of the Series, after matching up the top two teams in its standings, is to keep the other three major bowls healthy, even if their television audiences are diminished by the focus on the championship game. The best way of doing that, as former Orange Bowl president Art Hertz so delicately puts it, is to "get asses in seats. With the guarantees [about $12 million per team for the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls] that we have to put up, we can't afford to have empty seats." Some bowl executives questioned how many tickets Notre Dame fans would buy.

Syracuse's victory over Miami last Saturday means the Orange Bowl needs either Florida or Florida State, both of whose fans travel better than Notre Dame's (especially when the destination is Miami), to sell tickets. The likely matchups, as long as Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas State remain unbeaten: Volunteers and Bruins in the Fiesta Bowl, Florida and Syracuse in the Orange Bowl, Arizona and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and Florida State and Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl.

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Hokies Blow Another One  

Virginia Tech had such trouble putting its opponents away this season that the Hokies made Newt Gingrich look like a young Mike Tyson. Virginia Tech lost the Big East title after allowing Temple and Syracuse to erase deficits of 17 and 18 points, respectively. So maybe it should have been obvious that Virginia had its cross-state rival in perfect position when Virginia Tech built a 29-7 halftime lead at home last Saturday.

Cavaliers senior quarterback Aaron Brooks atoned for coming up short in a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech by throwing for 345 yards and three second-half touchdowns against the Hokies, the last of which came with 2:01 remaining and gave Virginia a 36-32 victory. "Everything's possible," Cavaliers coach George Welsh said after the game. "It seems hopeless, but it never is." It's unlikely that sentiment is shared by Virginia Tech, which proved it's possible to go 8-3 and have an emotionally devastating season.

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Syracuse Loves McNabb  

Donovan McNabb won't win the Heisman and may not finish in the top three in voting for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback. But in college football there can be bigger rewards, especially for the rare player who combines talent with star quality and taps into the emotion that can make a grown man cry at the sound of his alma mater's fight song. That bond between player and fans explains why Peyton Manning could be elected governor of Tennessee. It's also why a kid from the Chicago suburbs has become the toast of central New York.

While no one could have predicted Syracuse's 66-13 annihilation of Miami in a game with the Big East title and a Bowl Championship Series berth at stake, anyone who witnessed the ovation McNabb received as he took the field at the Carrier Dome for the final time might have sensed that the Hurricanes were in trouble. After the Orangemen's 13 other seniors were introduced and ran to midfield, the public-address announcer went silent for 15 seconds and let the roar of the 49,521 fans take over before he called McNabb's name. Syracuse rode that tide of adrenaline into the game, scoring 17 points in the first 6:14. The Orange led 45-7 at the half, thanks to McNabb's three second-quarter rushing touchdowns, the middle one a 51-yard draw.

By also throwing for two scores, McNabb had a hand in a personal-best five touchdowns, despite sitting out the last 11:11 of the game. When coach Paul Pasqualoni called a timeout to take McNabb out of the game, the crowd went wild again. After hugging his teammates, McNabb gave his heart a Sosa-style tap and began swinging his fist in circles above his head as he walked off the field. He received more hugs at the sideline and later stood on a bench and held his helmet aloft as he turned to face each of the four sides of the Dome. Then he pointed toward his parents, Sam and Wilma, and toward offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, who was seated in the coaches' box.

"The city of Syracuse opened its arms to him," said Sam, an electrical testing engineer in Dolton, Ill., after Donovan's Syracuse sayonara. "It was a very touching moment. When you send your kid away from home, you don't know what is going to happen. I'm so happy."

The gray eminences of the Syracuse athletic department couldn't recall any other athlete who had so captivated the region. "No--well, Pearl," athletic director Jake Crouthamel said after the game, referring to former basketball star Dwayne Washington. "Pearl captured the people's imagination. I think Don has been more a part of the community. Pearl was here three years. Don's been here five years. The guy is charismatic. He's jovial. Every day is Christmas for him. He exudes confidence. He exudes character."

Saturday's start was McNabb's 48th for the Orangemen. He won 35 of those games, along with three Big East championships, the last two outright. He has set seven school or conference records. His career is a major bowl away from its end. Yet in central New York, the legend of Donovan McNabb has just begun.

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Miami Reaping UCLA Dividends  

  In his final home game, the elusive McNabb ran for three TDs and passed for two others. Richard Mackson
The postponement of the UCLA-Miami game from Sept. 26 to this Saturday because of Hurricane Georges has padded Miami's bottom line. "The advance sale of tickets for that game was very slight," Hurricanes director of ticket operations Pam Young says. "As soon as we rescheduled, that's all we've been selling. We're right around 50,000." The Hurricanes may have blown any chance of a sellout at the 72,000-seat Orange Bowl by embarrassing themselves at Syracuse....

Ohio State may end up ranked fifth and stuck in the Citrus Bowl, probably against 9-2 Arkansas. Blame the Big Ten's antiquated Rose Bowl tiebreaker which doesn't take into consideration the quality of the two teams. Wisconsin is going to Pasadena simply because the Buckeyes have been there more recently. That's why the Big Ten needs a 12th member. Then it could have two divisions and a title game....

Connecticut, a Division I-AA team without an All-Atlantic 10 Conference player on either side of the ball, last Saturday earned the first playoff victory in its 100-year football history by defeating Hampton 42-34. A year ago the Huskies lost three games in the final two minutes and finished 7-4. Coach Skip Holtz--Lou's son--stressed conditioning and commitment in the off-season, and it paid off. UConn (10-2) has made fourth-quarter comebacks in four games. "This team finally understands how to win," says Holtz, whose Huskies travel to top-ranked Georgia Southern on Saturday.

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Top10 Record Breakers  

Jerry Azumah, New Hampshire This season, the 5'10", 195-pound senior, rushed for 2,195 yards to become the first Division I-AA player to have four 1,000-yard seasons. He finished his career with 6,193 yards.

Drew Brees, Purdue Nicknamed the Hurricane, Brees, a 6'1", 204-pound sophomore quarterback, set an all-divisions record for attempts (83) and tied the NCAA record for completions (55) in a game while throwing for 494 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to Wisconsin.

Troy Edwards, Louisiana Tech The 5'10", 195-pound Edwards, a senior, torched Nebraska for an all-divisions record 405 yards in receptions in a 56-27 loss. He finished with an all-divisions mark of 1,996 receiving yards and tied Jerry Rice's all-divisions, single-season record of 27 touchdown catches.

Martin Gramatica, Kansas State Known as Automatica, Gramatica, a 5'9", 170-pound senior kicker, booted a 65-yard field goal, the longest in college history without a tee, in K-State's 73-7 win over Northern Illinois.

Linfield College The Division III school in McMinnville, Ore., finished 7-2 for its 43rd consecutive winning season, a record on any college level.

Tee Martin, Tennessee The 6'3", 215-pound junior quarterback did three things Peyton Manning never did with the Volunteers: He beat Florida, went undefeated in the regular season and completed an NCAA-record 23 straight passes in a game, in Tennessee's 49-14 victory over South Carolina.

Autry Denson, Notre Dame With his third straight 1,000-yard season, Denson, a 5'10", 202-pound senior, overtook Allen Pinkett to become the Irish's leading career rusher, with 4,318 yards. He has run for 1,176 yards this season and scored at least one touchdown in 10 of 11 games.

Brian Shay, Emporia State News flash: The leading rusher in college football history isn't Ricky Williams. That distinction goes to the 5'9", 218-pound Shay, who finished his career with 6,958 yards, 88 touchdowns and 9,301 all-purpose yards, which are marks for all divisions.

Brian Westbrook, Villanova A sophomore tailback, the 5'9", 185-pound Westbrook became the first NCAA player to amass more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

Ricky Williams, Texas By breaking Tony Dorsett's 22-year-old Division I-A record for career rushing yardage (6,279), Williams, a 6-foot, 225-pound senior running back wrapped up the Heisman Trophy and solidified his place in history. He owns or shares 16 Division I-A marks, including those for career touchdowns (75) and all-purpose yards (7,206).

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More Heisman-worthy?  

Champ Bailey, Georgia's best wide receiver, cornerback, kick returner, free safety and blitzer, is doing more--and doing most of it better--than Michigan's Charles Woodson did last year en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. Through 11 games of 1998, and with a bowl game to go, Bailey has surpassed most of Woodson's 12-game totals from the '97 regular season and '98 Rose Bowl.

Plays 844 957
Receptions/yards 12/238 47/744
Rushes/yards 5/21 16/84
Touchdowns 4 5
Tackles 44 51
Passes broken up 9 9
Interceptions 8 3
Punt return average 8.4 12.3
Longest punt return 78 21
Kickoff return average -- 21.8

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Fast Forward  

Kansas State (11-0) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
When the Aggies met on Sunday, two days after their 26-24 loss at Texas, coach R.C. Slocum stressed the big picture. "If we had lost to Florida State in the opener, lost a game in the middle of the year and finished 10-2, we would have thought, Man, what a deal," Slocum says. Give him that point, then think about this one: Slocum believes Texas A&M matches up better on defense with Kansas State than it did with the Longhorns. "Texas had a huge offensive line on a wet day with a big, strong running back," Slocum says. At the Trans World Dome in St. Louis, "we'll be able to put our speed on the field." Though Slocum may be right, the Wildcats will win a close game because of the indomitable spirit of quarterback Michael Bishop.

BYU (9-3) vs. Air Force (10-1)
If the upcoming defection of half its members isn't proof enough that the WAC is losing its identity, consider that the Cougars and the Falcons each have won seven straight games thanks to their defense. Who's going to tell BYU passing master LaVell Edwards? Best matchup: Cougars sophomore tailback Ronney Jenkins (1,216 yards, 13 touchdowns) against Air Force's rushing defense (111.6 yards allowed per game). If Falcons quarterback Blane Morgan recovers from a sprained left ankle, we'll go with Air Force, otherwise we'll take BYU.

Tennessee (11-0) vs. Mississippi State (8-3)
Bulldogs tailback James Johnson (1,345 yards, 12 touchdowns) has a pulled groin muscle and a separated left shoulder. Without him, Mississippi State is ordinary. Can Tennessee get any more breaks?

UCLA (10-0) at Miami (7-3)
With lips stretched so tight you could hear his face creak, Miami coach Butch Davis said last Saturday that his Hurricanes would scrape themselves together after their 66-13 loss to Syracuse and hold their own against the equally explosive Bruins. "I'll be surprised if we don't bounce back," Davis said. Three, two, one: Surprise!

Army (2-8) vs. Navy (3-7)
The Cadets and the Middies are dead set on proving that records don't mean anything when it comes to this rivalry. So ignore the records. Army hung tough with Notre Dame, Tulane and Louisville, bowl teams all, down the stretch. The Cadets will bear the fruit of that labor in Philadelphia.

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Issue date: December 7, 1998


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