The 39-year-old Barnett is certainly the favorite. But as sudden as the Wildcats' turnaround has been, the reversal of fortune at Stanford under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham, whose team is 4-1-1, has been just as dramatic. Before taking the top job with the Cardinal, the 41-year-old Willingham had never even held a coordinator's position. (For the past two seasons he had been the running backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings.) Nonetheless, he immediately won respect from Stanford players who had become frustrated by back-to-back losing seasons and the increasingly imperious style of Willingham's predecessor, Bill Walsh. Of Willingham's success at restoring discipline where there was little last year, Cardinal safety Eliel Swinton says, "I walked into the first team meeting expecting the substitute teacher. Instead, I got the principal."
Nothing has come easily for Willingham. He was among the first African-Americans to integrate the school system in Jacksonville, N.C., where he went on to star at quarterback in high school. But because of his diminutive stature (5'7", 140 pounds), only Michigan State offered him a scholarship—and then rescinded it a few days before the signing deadline when a more heralded prospect unexpectedly committed to the Spartans. Instead, Willingham walked on at Michigan State, eventually working his way from sixth to second string.
"Am I surprised by what Ty has done?" says Jimmy Ray, who recruited Willingham for the Spartans. "Not at all. Ty has never doubted Ty. And if you look at his life and what he's accomplished in the face of the obstacles placed before him, his current success shouldn't surprise anyone."
4) Which player do other players most want to watch?
Illinois linebacker Simeon Rice. When we recently asked 50 college football players which player from another team they most look forward to watching on TV, the All-Everything Rice got 10� votes. No other player got more than seven.
Rice did not participate in the poll. However, when SI asked him in August which football players impressed him, he initially said Dick Butkus, a curious choice given that the former Chicago Bear linebacker played his last NFL game two months before Rice was born. After a pause Rice grudgingly added, "Well, maybe Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman, they're pretty good." As for himself? "Well, yeah, I'm impressed by myself."
5) Which team has been the most disappointing this season?
How about the entire Big East, which has been the Big Feast for nonconference opponents, who have won 17 of 27 against Big East teams. Against ranked interconference foes, the Big East has been rank, losing eight of nine games. No wonder that as West Virginia coach Don Nehlen headed toward the visiting locker room after the Mountaineers' 31-19 win at Boston College last weekend, a shrill voice from the stands cried out above the playing of the Boston College alma mater: "Congratulations, Nehlen. First place in the Big East. Three losses, but still first in the——Big East."
The biggest blow to the league has been the decline of 2-3 Miami, which won its first game against a I-A opponent in almost a year when it defeated Rutgers 56-21 in the Orange Bowl on Saturday, before only 19,747, the Hurricanes' smallest crowd in 13 years. " Miami might be down," says Mountaineer quarterback Chad Johnston, "but that doesn't mean that the Big East is down. We just have parity." In this case parity is a euphemism for mediocrity.
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