Thank You, Trojans
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 die 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.
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.
Syracuse Loves McNabb
Donovan McNabb won't win die 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.