20. A Soapbox Moment
It generally isn't a good thing when your athletic director puts a collar and leash on his favorite cliché and takes it for a long public walk. But that's exactly what Notre Dame AD Kevin White has done in recent weeks as the anti-Bob Davie movement tries to reach critical mass.
Not all of this muck is Davie's doing, but perception is reality and the reality is this: Davie will likely take the fall if the 2-3 Irish don't somehow run the table on a schedule that still includes games against USC, at Boston College, Tennessee, Navy, at Stanford and at Purdue. Even Al Michaels wouldn't believe in that miracle.
Of course, White isn't exactly rushing to Davie's defense. The same guy who signed Davie to a contract extension last December is now saying he'll evaluate the Notre Dame football program and its staff at season's end -- just as he does with all of Notre Dame's athletic programs.
That's great, except nobody cares about how Yves Auriol does with the ol' fencing team. They care about Irish football. In short, White's "evaluation" is AD-speak for, "I left Arizona State for this?"
White is semi-stuck because he's the one who signed off on the new deal for Davie, which runs through 2004. But extensions are usually announced to calm the nerves of jittery recruits and give a coach the facade of employment stability. So who knows if Davie's contract is guaranteed, or if the extension includes a pre-negotiated buyout package?
Barring NCAA scandal, don't expect Davie to resign on his own. That's not his style. He's a grinder, and he'll grind away until White hands him some empty cardboard boxes and tells him to start packing.
We're rooting for Davie (we've got a soft spot for no-excuse grinders), but the midseason signs aren't encouraging.
19. Fearless Prediction
Like all athletic directors, White keeps a short list of possible coaching replacements. And if he doesn't, he should.
If Davie gets the heave-ho, don't be surprised if White makes a call or two, or even three to the Pac-10, where the Irish AD has strong ties. One call might go to Oregon's Mike Bellotti, who was wooed by USC last year and has done about all he can do at Eugene (UO has increased its win total in each of the last five seasons -- 6-7-8-9-10). The Ducks lose 11 starters at season's end, including quarterback Joey Harrington, cornerback Rashad Bauman, tailback Maurice Morris, tight end Justin Peelle, linebacker Wesly Mallard and guard Jim Adams. That might be enough to cause Bellotti to consider a South Bend plunge.
Then there's Stanford's Tyrone Willingham, who supposedly is on the NFL fast track. Maybe so, but he'd be perfect for Notre Dame. Willingham has done wonders down on The Farm and he knows how to succeed at a school with a rich academic heritage. He won't knock them dead on the rubber-chicken circuit, but Willingham has a certain dignity, integrity and intensity that would go over big at South Bend.
Washington's Rick Neuheisel is a semi-longshot, not because he wouldn't be a nice fit, but because he had a few NCAA rules stumbles early on at U-Dub. Image is everything at Notre Dame, so that might give Domers some pause.
Ditto for Northwestern's Randy Walker, whose program is chin-strap deep in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of senior safety Rashidi Wheeler. Walker has been exonerated by Northwestern's own internal investigation into the death of Wheeler (Wheeler collapsed and died Aug. 3 during an offseason "voluntary" workout), but the court case has yet to crank up. Notre Dame has just about had it with coaches on witness stands.
18. BCS Alert
The Bowl Championship Series is delaying the release of its first poll until Oct. 22, which makes sense since the numbers mean zilch right now. Publish the thing too early and who knows what the computers will spit out: 1) Florida, 2) Troy State, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Middle Tennessee . . . you get the idea.
It's a fair argument. OU could finish the regular season undefeated, but still risk losing a BCS Rose Bowl bid if it gets beat in the Big 12 Conference championship. Stoops' point is this: how about a little something for the effort, a little risk/reward payoff?
Fat chance. Major conferences such as the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East and ACC don't seem to be in a hurry to have their own conference title games. They also don't have enough teams in those conferences for a two-division system and mini-playoff -- at least, not without expansion they don't.
Anyway, Stoops gives the whole BCS system a tepid thumbs up.
"Outside of [no conference championship game bonus points], I guess it's OK," he says.
17. Player of the Week
Damon Duval, Auburn.
"They did all the work," said Mr. Humble, referring to Auburn's offense and defense.
Maybe so, but Duval kicked the winner from 44 yards away. . . with the rain pouring down at Jordan-Hare. . . with a stiff swirling wind that prompted one writer to say, "If that wind were any stronger it'd have a name." And despite all that, the junior popped the thing right through the middle of the uprights, the same uprights that would be torn from the post moments after Auburn's 23-20 upset for the Tiger ages. Duval also had a 45-yarder, a 32-yarder and two extra points.
What makes this even more remarkable is that Duval is the same guy who was nearly banished by coach Tommy Tuberville as a freshman. Now this -- BMOC status.
Runner-up: Nick Novak, Maryland.
His parents teach at the University of Virginia, so Novak grew up not really caring much for the ACC-rival Terps. But he decided to walk-on last season and former head coach Ron Vanderlinden thought enough of him to offer him a scholarship. Then Vanderlinden got fired, but new coach Ralph Friedgen said he'd honor the scholarship.
Problem is, Novak stunk it up during fall workouts and wasn't any better once the season began. He was a miserable 4-of-10 going into last Thursday's Georgia Tech game. Friedgen had tried everything -- huddling the whole team around Novak as he kicked in practice. . . yelling at him. . . pressuring him -- but nothing worked. So Friedgen decided to leave the redshirt freshman alone.
Good idea. Novak kicked a game-tying 46-yarder as time expired, and then an eventual game-winning 26-yarder in overtime. The 46-yarder (his jersey number is 46) was 13-yards longer than his career high.
Thanks to the Hurricane DBs, Florida State quarterback Chris Rix now has a permanent nervous tic.
Six touchdowns -- five passing, one rushing -- against Oklahoma State ought to quiet his critics. For at least a week.
301 yards, 4 touchdowns. Is that any good?
16. Co-Coaches of the Week
Auburn's Tuberville and Maryland's Ralph Friedgen.
Afterward, while standing at the edge of the AU emblem in the middle of the Tigers locker room, Tuberville addressed his team.
"We were 21-point underdogs," he said to kneeling players. "One of those magazines picked us No. 55 before the season. We were picked last in the division. Let me tell you something, you guys just put on a great effort. A great effort. You played with your heart, with your soul and with what the good Lord gave you. Everybody feel this feeling, because it doesn't happen very often."
Tuberville thanked his seniors, his younger players, and then warned the Tigers that a half season remains. Then he awarded game balls to the entire Auburn roster.
That done, the locker room doors were opened so several dozen high school recruits could come inside. A couple of Auburn players moved toward the entrance to greet them. One recruit, still amazed by the victory, shook the Auburn player's hand.
"Good job, dude," said the recruit. "Dang!"
Tuberville & Staff made all sorts of right moves Saturday evening against the Gators. Rather than hope for the best from talented, but limited redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Campbell, Tuberville replaced him early with senior Daniel Cobb, who played at the same junior college as former Auburn running back Rudi Johnson. Cobb could run the entire offense. Plus, the sturdier Cobb (6-4, 226 pounds) could actually run the ball when needed.
And the Tigers' defensive plan had something to do with four Rex Grossman interceptions. Grossman entered the game with only three interceptions for the season.
Later, someone asked defensive end James Callier about preparing for Florida.
"What did you think you could take away from them?" a reporter asked.
"Their heart," Callier said. "We thought we could take away their heart."
If nothing else, they took away Florida's chances at an undefeated season and, barring lots of help, a chance at a national championship.
We hate the boring helmet logo (The design team must have spent nearly 20, 30 seconds deciding to go retro with that always-exciting script, "Terps."), but we've got a soft spot for Friedgen, sort of the Rick Majerus of college football.
This is Friedgen's first-ever head coaching job. The Maryland alum and former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator spent 33 years in the business before someone gave him a chance. "I thought that was a possibility, that I wouldn't achieve this situation," he said this past summer at the ACC Football Kickoff meetings.
When Friedgen was a graduate assistant at Maryland way back when (Frank Beamer, now the big kahuna at Virginia Tech, was a fellow GA at College Park), he wrote every Division I-A program looking for a full-time job. The first rejection letter he received was from none other than the legendary Bear Bryant. Friedgen had $50 in the bank when he finally got an offer from The Citadel.
"It's a lesson in persistence," says Friedgen, who also made a run at the Maryland job when it opened in 1996. "If you want something bad enough. . ."
And how about this prediction from Friedgen back in July. Asked about the possibility of a Maryland turnaround this season (the Terps hadn't won more than five games in the previous five years), Friedgen said, "I really think it's the right time at Maryland."
Friedgen kept it short and sweet in the craziness of the visiting locker room after beating Tech. He recited a quick list of positives and negatives and then simply said, "Congratulations, you're bowl eligible." The Terps players went nuts.
Honorable mention: Larry Blakeney, Troy State.
Troy State 21, Mississippi State 9.
15. Loyal Longhorn
Major Applewhite, who owns 40 school passing records and is a former Big 12 MVP, isn't saying a peep about his stay on the Texas bench, even though he remains the supposed people's choice to replace Chris Simms as the Longhorns' starting quarterback. That's because fickle Texas followers would strap a helmet on Bevo and have the big fella moo signals if they thought it would help UT win another game.
Simms has done better than you think. With the win against Oklahoma State, the Longhorns are 5-1, ranked in the top 15 and not necessarily out of the BCS mix. Simms has passed for 1,317 yards, completed 117 of 201 attempts (58.2 percent) and has 11 TDs against 7 interceptions. He threw for five TDs and ran for one against the Cowboys. So what's the problem?
Well, the memory of three fourth-quarter interceptions by Simms in the loss against Oklahoma doesn't help. But Texas also has suffered from an acute lack of offensive chemistry. The Longhorns spent their first two games trying work on their running game. Meanwhile, the passing game -- and Simms -- have needed extra time to catch up. Looks like they did it against 2-4 Okie State.
Now comes another critical opportunity with Saturday's game against Colorado in Austin. Another solid performance would help Simms quiet the radio stalk show callers and take some of the heat off coach Mack Brown, who has stood by the junior QB all season.
As for Applewhite, he's taking the high and silent road. "I just don't think that's everyone's business to know how I feel about what's going on," he told reporters earlier in the week.
This isn't going to go away, especially if Simms scuffles anytime between now and the season-ending Texas A&M game. But don't bother asking Applewhite about the talk show support from the Als of Austin and Jimmy Joes from Jefferson.
"It doesn't mean anything," says the senior. "I appreciate it. I thank them. Polls, call-in shows, things like that, if that's what they need to get it off their chest, that's fine, let them do that. It's coach Brown's decision. I have to live by that."
14. Memo to Football Writers Association of America
To: Tulsa World's Dave Sittler, President of FWAA
Re: One from the heart.
I'm sure you saw the recent item detailing the tragic death of Alcorn State freshman linebacker JeKelcy Lee Johnson. Johnson was murdered on campus when he and a friend tried to help a woman who was being harassed by four lowlife creeps on a joy ride.
Just a thought, but perhaps the FWAA can establish JeKelcy Lee Johnson Courage Award and present it annually to the college player who best exemplifies those traits. At least that way, Johnson's heartfelt deed never goes forgotten.
13. Stat of the Week
Florida, which was playing without leading rusher Earnest Graham, had exactly zero rushing first downs against Auburn. Tailback Robert Gillespie had 12 carries for 4 yards.
12. Quote of the Week
-- Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary on junior running back Joe Burns' decision to run out of bounds on a third-down play with less than 1:30 left in Tech's game against Maryland. Maryland was out of timeouts, but Burns's gaffe later gave the Terps enough time to drive down the field and convert a game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation.
Poor Burns fumbled the ball away twice in the game -- one that was picked up by Maryland and returned for a touchdown, the other that ended the game in overtime.
11. The Crying Game
As the defeats mount at Vanderbilt, so do the tears.
"It's discouraging, I'm not going to lie," Vandy guard Jim May told the Nashville Tennessean. "I think I take it harder than anybody. After the last couple of losses, I've been crying."
May probably had the Kleenex out again Saturday after the Commodores lost their sixth consecutive game against Georgia. Vandy, which hasn't finished above .500 since 1982, is now 1-4.
Given the preseason mandate by school officials to coach Woody Widenhofer -- show improvement, or else -- it looks like a few pink slips will be presented at season's end. The Commodores were 5-6 in 1999, 3-8 in 2000 and have that lone win in 2001.
10. This Is Their Story and They're Sticking To It
You could fry chicken fajitas on Hal Cowan's forehead these days. Cowan is the sports information director at Oregon State, and overseer of the late, great Heisman Trophy campaign for Beavers running back Ken Simonton.
OSU, Sports Illustrated's preseason No. 1, has been a bust this year and Simonton has struggled, too. So when word got out that Oregon State wasn't renewing its contract with a public relations firm hired to assist in the Heisman campaign, well, it looked as if OSU was throwing in the Simonton towel.
But according to a positively annoyed Cowan, the non-renewal is much to do about nothing. Cowan says the company was hired to do specific work on the Simonton campaign. It did it, was paid, and that's that. The contract wasn't renewed because why would it be? Simonton is a senior. He doesn't get a Heisman do-over.
9. Does Not Compute
The Hurricanes have a little message for Jerry Palm, the BCS poll expert who had Miami No. 13 in last week's unofficial rankings:
Miami 49, Florida State 27. Stick those numbers where the computer chips don't shine.
And by the way, to the people who poo-poohed Miami's 38-7 win against first-year D-IA Troy State, ask Mississippi State how good the Trojans are.
8. Christmas Wish List
A happy ending for JoePa. . . a national TV game for Indiana's Antwaan Randle El. . . less BCS computer nonsense. . . more serious discussion about a playoff (C'mon, fellas, enough with the season-is-too-long argument. BYU is playing 13 regular season games, plus a bowl game.). . . a revised NCAA infractions book. . . a new drainage system at Mississippi State. . . a win for Navy and Duke, and an actual race for the ACC championship.
7. The Mighty Gators
Talked to an NFL scout who has seen both Florida and Miami several times this season. From a personnel standpoint the scout says there's no comparison: Florida has more physical talent. Period. End of story.
Don't tell that to Auburn. Or Miami.
6. Troy State Fever
Admit it, you wouldn't know where Troy State is if we handed you a Rand-McNally and pointed to the South. That's OK, Jackie Sherrill can tell you how to get there.
Troy, Ala., is now on the Division I-A football map, thanks to the Trojans' shocker at Lake Starkville, otherwise known as MSU's Scott Field. Thanks to a storm system that led to a tornado warning which stopped play for 70 minutes and a huge downpour, there were standing puddles/ponds everywhere. The only thing missing was the AFLAC duck. . . and Mississippi State.
Maybe it's coincidence, but the Troy State media guide cover features Trojan players around a pool of water. Reads the cover headline: "Diving Into I-A."
They dove. MSU drowned.
Call it post-Auburn loss letdown, or call it a case of visiting Troy State handling the elements better than the big, bad Bulldogs. Whatever it was, MSU is 1-4 and reeling, and Troy State is 2-3 -- and the Trojans have played a tougher schedule.
5. Speaking of Schedules. . .
Troy State played at Nebraska, at Middle Tennessee, at Miami, at Mississippi State, and still has games at Maryland and Louisiana-Monroe.
The Trojans will be cashing guarantee checks next year, too. They travel to Arkansas, Iowa State, Marshall, Maryland, Mississippi State (that will be interesting), Nebraska and UAB.
4. Heisman Trophy Race
Moving up: Wisconsin's Anthony Davis.
Staying same: Toledo's Chester Taylor, Illinois' Kurt Kittner.
Slipping: Florida's Rex Grossman (just a little), Boston College's William Green.
Thanks for stopping by the booth: Northwestern's Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson.
3. Hefty Bag Time
Here's guessing a few paper shredders and garbage cans were in full use around the country this week after Northwestern admitted it violated NCAA rules governing "voluntary" workouts.
The results of the Wildcats' summer workouts were given to the coaching staff, which is considered an NCAA no-no. Northwestern self-imposed penalties, including the elimination of six practices this season. The NCAA can accept the penalties for the "secondary" violations, or add more.
But don't kid yourself: Northwestern isn't the only D-IA program that was feeding workout results to its coaching staff.
2. Whatever Happened To. . .
. . . the movement to hire more African-American head coaches?
Counting Stanford's Willingham, there are only five black coaches out of 117 Division I-A programs. There were eight when Willingham came to Stanford seven seasons ago.
One Hack's Weekly Elite
Honorary No. 1: Navy aviators.
1. Oklahoma: Trying to stay interested until Oct. 27 game vs. Nebraska.
2. Miami: Think of the Hurricanes as No. 1A.
3. UCLA: Should breeze by Cal, then hit road vs. Stanford, Wash. State.
4. Nebraska: Huskers had to work a little for win at Baylor.
5. Virginia Tech: The Oklahoma of the Big East.
6. Oregon: Joey Harrington plays like a million bucks -- minus $250 K for billboard.
7. Texas: Have offensive momentum entering big game vs. Colorado.
8. Fresno State: In Asen Asparuhov, they trust.
9. Auburn: For first time since '42, an unranked Auburn team beat a No. 1.
10. Florida: Mighty Gators have mighty tough schedule remaining.
Waiting list: Maryland, Toledo, Michigan, Colorado, Washington State, Clemson.
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Movers and Shakers appears each Sunday during the college football season. E-mail Geno at email@example.com.
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