The Kickoff Classic, which debuted in 1983, was created to match the two best college football teams from the previous season. Although that goal was never precisely realized, the first three editions did lure the defending national champ. But since '86, when Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer chose to open his season at home in Norman rather than at the Classic site of East Rutherford, N. J., the matchups have often been less than marquee. Only twice in the past 11 years have two Top 10 teams faced each other, and only once—when Penn State battered USC 24-7 last year—has there been a sellout in 77,716-seat Giants Stadium. On Sunday, No. 17 Syracuse routed No. 24 Wisconsin 34-0 (page 34) before 26,531 empty seats.
A variety of circumstances have conspired to render the Kickoff Classic—as well as another preseason matchup, the eight-year-old Pigskin Classic—not so classic. In an attempt to spread the wealth that teams accrue from playing a 12th game, both events forbid schools from competing more than once every four years. Thus, many powerhouses are frequently unavailable. Moreover, the SEC strongly discourages its members from appearing in either Classic because, with the advent of the conference's championship game, a team could end up playing an alarmingly long 14-game schedule (including a bowl).
Though teams competing in one of the Classics are allowed to begin practicing a week early, and though they also get an extra payday ($675,000 for Sunday's Kickoff teams), coaches of national-championship-caliber teams often don't want to risk a loss. What makes the Pigskin Classic an even tougher match to make is that one of the teams gets to host the game. Sixth-ranked Nebraska was happy to play in Lincoln, but it wanted no part of No. 20 Clemson, and no other quality opponent was willing to face the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. So in a tussle between un-ranked teams last Saturday, Northwestern routed Oklahoma 24-0 before a crowd of 36,804 at Chicago's Soldier Field.
This Thursday a third preseason game debuts, the Eddie Robinson Football Classic matching Wyoming and host Ohio State in Columbus. Let's hope it lives up to its title.
Back in the Shadows
Last year, when Tiger Woods was winning his third straight U.S. Amateur title, 14,000 spectators trampled the rough at Oregon's Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, while 14 million viewers tuned in to NBC's coverage of the finals. By contrast, the 1997 Amateur, won last weekend by Georgia Tech sophomore Matt Kuchar—while Woods was playing with his fellow pros at the World Series of Golf in Akron—couldn't even disturb the routine at the Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, a 72-hole public facility in Lemont, Ill.
As Kuchar teed off against Stanford junior Joel Kribel in Sunday's 36-hole final on the Dubsdread Course, duffers chili-dipped down the interwoven fairways of Cog Hill No. 2. At the driving range, business was off only a little. "The first four days, the range was closed because we had 312 competitors," said assistant manager Paul Lacny. "Otherwise, it's been business as usual."
It was anything but for Kuchar, the ACC freshman of the year. "I'm just out here for the experience," he bubbled after destroying Walker Cup veteran Randy Leen, 6 and 5, in the semis. "This is unbelievable. I'm floating on cloud nine."
By mid-afternoon against Kribel, Kuchar was 7 up with 10 holes to play. But Kribel, a loser to Woods in last year's semifinals, suddenly found his game, winning five of seven holes. The match didn't end until the 35th hole, where Kuchar, with a smartly played par 4, closed out Kribel, 2 and 1.