Minnesota's upset of No. 2 Penn State added luster to Glen Mason's reclamation record
Minnesota coach Glen Mason doesn't listen very well. His old boss Woody Hayes advised him not to leave his assistant's job at Ohio State to become the head man at Kent State in 1986. Mason left anyway, and in his second season he led the Golden Flashes to their first winning record in 10 years. Then, in '88, Mason was advised by his coaching peers not to go to the football graveyard that was Kansas. But off he went to Lawrence, where he directed a turnaround that included a 10-2 season in '95.
Two years ago most everybody thought it would be a bad idea for Mason to go to Minnesota, which last beat a Top 5 team in 1986, last had a winning record in '90 and last won the Big Ten in '67. But there Mason is in the North Country, and there he was at Penn State last Saturday, throwing some Gopher meat into the national championship stew with a 24-23 victory over the previously unbeaten and second-ranked Nittany Lions. "I've taken jobs nobody else wanted because I thought that was the only way I could get to coach against coaches like Joe Paterno," says Mason, who even started wearing ties on the sideline because that's what Paterno does.
Taking fashion direction from Joe Pa is questionable judgment, but so far Mason has done just about everything else right Consider his character-building preseason conditioning program, which he decided should begin at 6 a.m.; the latest any player showed up in this preseason was 5:48. "I liked to get there before everybody, but it was getting ridiculous," Mason says. "I was showing up at five, and I wasn't the first one in the door."
Until Saturday, however, the Gophers had little to show for their bleary-eyed steadfastness, having lost to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue by a total of 11 points. The high quality of their play didn't, however, escape the attention of Paterno, who a few days before last week's game pro-claimed Minnesota "the best team we've played." Everybody smiled, for Joe Pa would have said the same thing had Our Blessed Sisters of Illegal Procedure been his Homecoming opponent instead of the Gophers. But Minnesota can be among the Big Ten's powers next season. With the exception of All-Big Ten safety Tyrone Carter, most of the key members of a solid defense will return, and much-heralded redshirt freshman quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq will be ready to take over the offense.
Last Saturday, Minnesota's offensive specialty was the deflected pass, which twice helped the Gophers sustain drives. The second—which was touched by Minnesota wide receiver Ron Johnson and Penn State defensive back Derek Fox before it landed in the hands of wideout Arland Bruce for a 27-yard gain on fourth-and-16—set up freshman Dan Nystrom's game-winning 32-yard field goal as time ran out. Nystrom had practiced all week by kicking over a ladder six yards in front of him to simulate the leaping rushes of Nittany Lions linebacker LaVar Arlington, who barely missed getting a couple of fingers on this one.
Minnesota's renaissance leaves the Big Ten with a frozen smile. Yes, it's now the toughest conference in the land. But a home loss by its top team in November almost certainly cost the conference a chance at the national title. "I suppose now people will say we all should play tougher non-conference schedules," says Mason. "It's not enough that we beat each other's brains in every week. I've got to tell you, though, it was nice to be the one doing the beating for a change."
Oregon State Is Bowl Bound
Beavers End 35 Years of Futility
Last August, Oregon State's Dennis Erickson compared coaching the Beavers to his previous college job. "When I went to Miami [in 1989] and replaced Jimmy Johnson, our goal was to win the national championship," said Erickson, whose Hurricanes won the title that year and in '91. "What a lot of people don't realize is that winning six games here is just as hard." Last Saturday, Oregon State, which finished 5-6 a year ago, beat California 17-7 to raise its record to 6-3 and qualify for its first bowl game since the '64 season. The Beavers likely will fill one of the Pac-10's two bowl slots in Hawaii on Christmas Day.
Qualifying for a bowl game has become football's equivalent of earning a bid to basketball's March Madness. To get a bowl berth a team must have a winning record, which means six wins in the typical 11-game schedule or seven for the handful of schools that play 12 times. That distinction is crucial to Ohio State, which has a dozen games on its schedule this year. Illinois (5-4) at Ohio State (6-4) is one of the games this week in which both teams must win to qualify or stay alive for a bowl invitation. Others: Kentucky (5-4) at Vanderbilt (5-4), where the winner will likely go to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, and Notre Dame (5-4) at Pittsburgh (4-5).