Ups and Downs
With its 17-14 win over Boston College last Saturday, Miami, now 6-3, can clinch a tie for the Big East title with Virginia Tech by winning its last two games, against West Virginia and Syracuse. And because the conference doesn't have a tiebreaker, the Hurricanes could be picked over Virginia Tech to play in an alliance bowl, even though they lost to the Hokies.
A berth in an alliance bowl means a payday of at least $8 million, which would be a cushy nest egg for Miami as it braces for NCAA sanctions. Last Friday school officials met with the NCAA Infractions Committee to contest four of the 10 charges of rules violations levied against the athletic program. By admitting six of the charges, Miami realizes that sanctions, likely in the form of scholarship reductions and a ban on postseason play, are inevitable.
Miami has shown a lot of unity and fortitude despite its troubles and decline on the field. But how to explain BC, which entered the matchup needing victories in its last three games to claim a share of the league title? After the Hurricanes took a 17-14 lead with less than a minute to go, BC, now 3-7, drove to the Miami 29. Rather than go for the win and keep alive his team's title hopes, coach Dan Henning went for a game-tying, 46-yard field goal into the wind with five seconds left.
Henning's action suggested a lack of urgency, which is unbecoming of a coach whose future at BC may be in jeopardy. It's true that the talent pool, especially among upperclassmen, is thin at the skill positions. And a litany of wins against Top 25 teams has obscured a long history of failure in the Big East. Under Henning's do-no-wrong predecessor, Tom Coughlin, the Eagles were a combined 1-6-1 against Miami, Syracuse and West Virginia.
Nonetheless, as a former pro coach who had been out of the college game for 20 years before joining BC in March 1994, Henning has struggled to adjust to the coach-player relationship on the college level, much as Bill Walsh did at Stanford. While Henning could rely last fall on such strong-willed players as Mike Mamula, Stephen Boyd and Pete Mitchell—all of whom are now playing in the NFL—to rattle the china when necessary, he doesn't have that luxury this season.
"We have leaders, but they're quiet leaders," says junior running back Omari Walker. "With guys like Boyd, you were afraid not to give your best effort. He'd start a fight in practice to light a fire under us. This year that element of danger is missing."
The coaches and players at Idaho State refer to Shane Hill, one of their defensive tackles, as a man among boys. That is not to say they have been overwhelmed by his talent. Instead, their opinion reflects the fact that at 34, Hill is the oldest player in Division I. He is older than eight of the team's assistant coaches and 10 years older than any other Bengal player.
However, unlike most of his thirty-something predecessors, Hill sees regular action. As a second-stringer, Hill, a 6'2" 260-pound redshirt junior, has played in all 10 Idaho State games this fall, making 14 tackles and recovering a fumble. Modest numbers perhaps, but, says Bengal coach Brian McNeely, "simply by playing he's exceeded all our expectations. I thought participating in the program would give him the opportunity to improve his life, to build his self-esteem."