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Monday, November 6

Oklahoma still faces serious obstacles

The mad scramble continues to see which two teams will end up playing for the national championship at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 3. Oklahoma is in the driver's seat, since the Sooners control their own destiny.

Curtis Fagan
Wideout Curtis Fagan, right, caught two touchdown passes in the first half to help the Sooners take a 42-0 lead over Baylor on Saturday.

But there will be a few major hurdles to overcome for the Sooners, beginning this Saturday when they travel to College Station to face a steadily improving Texas A&M squad that features a vastly underrated signal caller in sophomore Mark Farris as well as a rising star at wide receiver in junior Robert Ferguson.

After closing out the regular season against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the Sooners will face either Nebraska or Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. Either way, beating a quality team twice in the same season is never easy.

Miami (Fla.) won going away against a Virginia Tech squad that desperately needed the services of a healthy Michael Vick. With the super blue-chip quarterback hampered severely due to an ankle injury, the Hokies weren't able to put up much of a fight against the Hurricanes, as they were outmanned from start to finish.

This tells you why Vick was the leading candidate for the Heisman, even though he was completing just 50 percent of his passes. With Vick under center, the Hokies could play with anybody. Without Vick, they resembled a very average football team.

For the Hurricanes, the remaining schedule presents three tricky games in the Big East. Miami hosts an up-and-coming Pittsburgh Panther squad this week, then has to travel to the Carrier Dome, where the Syracuse Orangemen are always dangerous.

Then, the Hurricanes close out the regular season at the Orange Bowl against Boston College. The Eagles spoiled Notre Dame's national championship hopes in 1993 with a 41-39 victory at South Bend. This year, BC is 6-3 and features the dynamic running-back tandem of Cedric Washington and William Green.

OU's Heupel leads three-way Heisman race
Speaking of the Heisman, I have a difference of opinion with my good friend, Lee Corso. I have OU quarterback Josh Heupel clearly at the top of the list, while Lee feels that FSU signal-caller Chris Weinke is the leading candidate. While Weinke has been on fire of late and was far less than 100 percent in the Seminoles' loss to Miami on Oct. 7, Heupel has passed every test along the way, proving to be the leader of an OU squad that is unbeaten and holds the top spot in the polls.

In addition, the Sooners have been forced to deal with a much tougher schedule. They dominated a solid, well-coached Texas Longhorn squad by a count of 63-14. That day at the Cotton Bowl, the weather conditions were less than favorable, yet Heupel flawlessly directed the OU offense.

The following week, OU jumped to a big lead, then held off Kansas State in Manhattan. Heupel again was outstanding. Then, he led the Sooners to a convincing 31-14 victory over Nebraska, leading OU back from an early 14-0 deficit.

While Heupel directed his team to upset victories against three quality opponents, Weinke is one of many stars on a talent-laden FSU squad.

Keep in mind, the Sooners were underdogs in all three of their major battles against Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska. Folks, that says it all. Great players elevate their teams to new heights. With Heupel leading the Sooners into battle, they managed to not only come away with three upset victories, but actually dominate the action much of the way against Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska.

While Heupel directed his team to these upset victories against three quality opponents, Weinke is one of many stars on a talent-laden FSU squad that has been more than an 18-point favorite in nine of 10 games this year. The only exception was their loss at Miami. Even in that game, the Seminoles were favored by a touchdown.

With all that said, there are hurdles to overcome for both Heupel and Weinke. As mentioned, OU goes on the road this week to face a talented Texas A&M squad, then has the Big 12 championship game to deal with. For the Seminoles and Weinke, the huge test comes in the regular-season finale at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee against the Florida Gators.

While Heupel and Weinke are getting most of the attention, don't forget about Purdue's Drew Brees. While the Boilermakers aren't in the national championship hunt, they have enjoyed a terrific season, entering this week's battle at East Lansing against Michigan State with a 7-2 record highlighted by victories over Minnesota (38-24), Michigan (32-31), Northwestern (41-28), Wisconsin (30-24 in overtime) and Ohio State (31-27).

In Purdue's two losses -- both of which were by just two points and on the road against Notre Dame and Penn State -- special-teams mistakes actually led to the Boilermakers' demise. Brees has definitely posted Heisman numbers, and his leadership, competitiveness and clutch play in several come-from-behind performances are the reason why he should be considered one of the top three candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

Nehlen a classy coaching act
In closing this week's review, I would like to pass along my appreciation to coach Don Nehlen for the tremendous job he did over 21 seasons as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Nehlen, 64, announced his retirement Saturday (effective at the end of the season) following a 31-27 loss to Syracuse.

During Nehlen's tenure, WVU played for the national championship against Notre Dame in 1988. In 1993, the Mountaineers finished the regular season with a perfect 11-0 record before losing to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Over his 21 years in Morgantown, Nehlen's Mountaineers had only four losing seasons. Before his arrival in 1980, WVU suffered through four straight losing seasons.

Don Nehlen's accomplishments at WVU were more than anyone could have expected. The consistency of the WVU program under Nehlen has been incredible. And through it all, Nehlen always handled himself with class and dignity. He is a credit to the coaching profession, and I just hope that all Mountaineer fans truly appreciate the phenomenal job he did over his 21 seasons in Morgantown.

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