- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Everybody starts out tied for first, the saying goes. Then the season begins, and well before the first frost, the college football landscape starts taking on a familiar look. Oh, there are the surprises, the upsets and the upstarts, but the game always settles comfortably into its three-tiered hierarchy. There is, as we have noted, the Top 20. Then there are those teams celebrated as the "others receiving votes." Some of those schools will find their way into a bowl game at the end of the season. Some will even rehire their coaches. But the bulk of the Bottom 86 are schools that get, well, eighty-sixed on a regular basis. They are the visitors at all those homecoming games. The mispronounced teams. Teams that visit Clemson for its opener. Teams even Keith Jackson hasn't heard of. Teams that have been rebuilding for so long that their brand-new, state-of-the-art stadiums are nearly eligible for landmark status. And teams to whom the word bowl means what the linebackers' coach does with his wife every Monday night.
So, which of the Bottom 86 are the almost great, which are the supremely mediocre and which are the just plain rancid? Paul? Music for this?
Last September, when Florida State signed on with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the league enacted the 'Fraidy Bill, which called for a one-year waiting period before the Seminoles could join the conference and mow down their new mates. So until 1992 this conference is a race among Top 20 contenders Georgia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina. Virginia, so thrilling in its sudden ascent last season, is dominant no Moore—Shawn and Herman are both gone—and that No. 1 ranking is but a warm memory. Wide receiver Herman is irreplaceable, though Terrence Tomlin and Brian Satola will try their best, while stepping in for quarterback Shawn, with better odds of success, is Matt Blundin. Tailback Terry Kirby, who moonlights as a basketball player, is expected to be the Cavaliers' main offensive threat.
At North Carolina State, noseguard Ricky Logo is the favorite to succeed his grandfather as one of the four district chiefs of Samoa. If 80-year-old Gatia Lavatia should die, Logo will give up his scholarship and return home to assume the throne. That is the only title the Wolfpack is likely to attain in Raleigh, in spite of a defense featuring two All-ACC candidates, linebackers Tyler Lawrence and Clayton Henry. Four offensive linemen at Maryland actually nabbed a perpetrator this spring when he tried to break into their dorm. If only these guys had been half as attentive on the field last season, then perhaps quarterback Scott Zolak might not have suffered 40 sacks. Zolak is gone, but Jim Sandwisch will have more of the same to look forward to this fall. Any hopes for a Duke basketball/football national championship double in 1991 were snuffed out when Wallace Wade resigned as the Blue Devil football coach in 1950. The Duke attack is solid, but the defense, which gave up 377 yards per game last season, has to improve. What's to be said about Wake Forest? Well, there is no depth and no speed, but there is experience. There is also one of the grand names in football history at tight end: Rhett Blanchard is the grandson of Doc Blanchard, the 1945 Heisman Trophy winner from Army.
In the Big East, Alonzo Mourning is back at Georgetown, and look for Villano...hold on...huh?...they're playing what? O.K., so this league is kicking the ball for the very first time, and the local bully—if you consider South Florida to be in the same neighborhood as Boston and Syracuse—is definitely Miami. The Hurricanes are Top 20 contenders again this season. Syracuse has a fine young quarterback in Marvin Graves, but a shaky offensive line and a dearth of experienced receivers could be the undoing of the Orange. Temple was Division I's most improved team last season (from 1-11 in '89 to 7-4), but the Owls have two big trouble spots this season: quarterback and defense. This year's Kerouac Cup will be awarded to Virginia Tech quarterback Will Furrer, who steers the Hokies on the road to North Carolina State, South Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Orlando, to play Florida State, in consecutive games. West Virginia offensive guard Ron Bunofsky caught a man who jumped out of a third-floor window from a burning building in Morgantown, last January. Bunofsky and his beefy linemates also will be relied upon for heroics on the field, though the defensive line is a major question mark. Boston College is the place to see many of the sport's All-Americas this season. Unfortunately for Eagle fans, they will all be wearing visiting uniforms. Michigan, Miami, Georgia Tech and Louisville all go to Boston this fall. At Pittsburgh, coach Paul Hackett had to cancel the annual spring game because of a lack of players at skill positions. Rutgers can only hope that it is as good as Pitt.
Twenty years ago the Big Eight settled its differences with the epic Game of the Century between the league's two titans, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Since then, there have been as many Games of the Century in this conference as play-action passes: about 20 each. Over the last two decades, the Sooners and Huskers have won or shared all but two conference championships. Guess what? This is not a rerun. Reserve the La-Z-Boy for Nov. 29.
Colorado, last year's co-national champion, lost 13 starters and three assistant coaches, but a soft early-season schedule may ease the learning process for some of coach Bill McCartney's inexperienced players. Junior cornerback Deon Figures is the best of the veterans. This fall the beef is at Iowa State, where the Cyclones can roll out 336-pound tackle Lance Keller, 319-pound tackle Todd McClish and 308-pound guard Doug (Tiny) Skartvedt. With the loss of 15 scholarships courtesy of the NCAA, Oklahoma State has begun a campus recruiting drive called Uncle Pat Wants You. Coach Pat Jones, who presided over one of the nation's 10 worst passing teams in 1990, has reportedly been seen scouring the intramural fields looking for a few good spirals.
It's a case of beauty and the beast at Kansas State, where the Wildcats are whispering about—sssshhh—a winning season. On the one hand, tight end Al Jones modeled last summer in Stockholm; on the other, 5'11", 315-pound nosetackle Evan Simpson has the training regimen of a hippopotamus. "I just like to eat as much as I can," Simpson says, "then lie down and sleep." They're also looking classier at Kansas, where they haven't seen .500 in a decade. Senior tailback Tony Sands wears a tuxedo to every game, but during the off-season he keeps in shape by pushing a pickup truck one block at a time. Since this is Kanas football we're talking about, Sisyphus comes to mind. On defense, Missouri was truly the team of the 90's—93rd in scoring defense (32.7 points per game) and 98th in total defense (443.6 yards per game). Things got so bad, it was almost as if opposing offenses were getting a fifth down.
The big three in the Big Ten are Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State, but don't overlook Michigan State, where a wide-open play is when tailback Tico Duckett runs outside the tackles. While studies show that three out of four insomniacs are cured by watching Spartan football, you can't quarrel with coach George Perles's success. In yet another instance of off-season heroics by a lineman, Illinois guard Tim Simpson tackled a burglar running from his girlfriend's apartment and held him in a headlock until police arrived. When not otherwise occupied, Simpson anchors a front wall that is the best in the league this side of Ann Arbor. September in Indiana means that it is time once again to talk about a flashy tailback. This fall it's Vaughn Dunbar, who rushed for 1,224 yards last season and scored 13 touchdowns. The year will open on a sour note for the Hoosiers, though, as they face Notre Dame, in South Bend, for the first time since 1958.
In popularity, Minnesota coach John Gutekunst ranks somewhere between Bill Musselman and Mike Ditka around the Twin Cities. Despite his critics, Gutekunst has proved to be the most stubborn Gopher since Caddyshack. This season, led by Joel Staats at linebacker and Sean Lumpkin at safety, Minnesota will be the best team not to go to a bowl; the NCAA hit the Gophers with a one-year probation for financial aid violations. Last year Purdue's average rushing play gained about as much as a tailback falling on his face (1.9 yards). The Boilermakers' good fortune is being in the same conference with Wisconsin, where second-year coach Barry Alvarez still has a long way to go to produce a winner, and with Northwestern, which is an excellent academic institution in Evanston, Ill.