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When perennial Big Ten doormat Northwestern opened its season by losing to Notre Dame by only 15 points in South Bend, it was natural to assume that the game was close because the Irish were looking ahead to Michigan the following week. Now, however, it appears that the time has come to take the Wildcats seriously. Just ask Boston College, which went to Evanston ranked No. 22 and left with a 22-21 loss that, more than anything else, proved that the Northwestern battery of quarterback Len Williams and wideout Lee Gissendaner deserves to be ranked among the best in the country.
With 4:28 to go, the Wildcats trailed 21-14. On third-and-goal from the Eagle nine, Williams found Gissendaner in the corner of the end zone to make the score BC 21, Northwestern 20. Wildcat coach Gary Barnett, heeding his motto of "Just win!" decided to go for two points.
Using Gissendaner as a decoy, Williams pitched out to tailback Dennis Lundy, who got the deuce. When BC kicker David Gordon missed a 40-yard field goal with 1:07 remaining, it snuffed out the Eagles' last chance for victory. As soon as the game was over, the crowd of 31,086 in Dyche Stadium erupted in celebration of Northwestern's second win over a ranked opponent since 1971—the Wildcats' last winning season.
The victory was especially sweet for Williams, a fifth-year senior who almost passed up his final season to try his luck in the pros, in part to help support his two-year-old daughter, Brittany. Williams decided to return to Evanston because, he says, "I felt I owed it to the other guys who were coming back."
A firm believer in himself, Williams said before the season that "I was the best quarterback in the league last season, better than Elvis [Grbac of Michigan] and Jason [Verduzco of Illinois], and I'm the best quarterback in the conference this year." Indeed, Williams led the Big Ten in total offense last year, averaging 227.8 yards per game. His 125 passing yards against BC pushed his career total to 5,803, tying him with Mike Greenfield (1984-87) for the school record. "Len Williams is the real thing," says Eagle coach Tom Coughlin.
So is Gissendaner, who in 1992 was named Big Ten Player of the Year and led the country in average yards per punt return (21.8). And so, perhaps, is Northwestern, which has plenty of reasons to look forward to—dare we say it?—its second bowl trip in the school's 110 years of football. In case you wondering, the Wildcats' other trip was to the 1949 Rose Bowl, in which they defeated Cal 20-14.
THE CARDINAL RULE
Louisville's 35-17 thrashing of Arizona State did a lot of things for the Cardinals, who are coming off two straight losing seasons: It made them 3-0, their best start since 1972; it provided coach Howard Schnellenberger with his biggest home victory since arriving at Louisville in December 1984; and it avenged a 19-0 loss to the Sun Devils last season. In that game, Cardinal quarterback Jeff Brohm was sacked 10 times and the offense rushed for minus-78 yards. Last Saturday, however, Brohm, now a senior, threw for 331 yards and two TDs as Louisville dominated an Arizona State team that came into the game ranked No. 23. "We had something to prove," Brohm said.