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Friday, November 3

A day of upsets and wild finishes

This past Saturday was college football at its best. We witnessed superlative individual efforts, surprising upsets and nail-biting finishes.

Let's start with the games to remember. We definitely had one for the ages at South Bend where Notre Dame came close to severely damaging the national championship hopes of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Observers often forget that special teams is one-third of the equation. For the Irish, a 100-yard kickoff return by Julius Jones along with Joey Getherall's 83-yard punt return allowed the Irish to pull even with the Huskers, sending the game into overtime. After a Notre Dame field goal on its first possession, the Huskers responded with an Eric Crouch TD run to claim a hard-fought 27-24 victory. Here we saw special teams determine the Irish's fate during the 60 minutes of regulation, only to have punt/kickoff returns no longer exist during the overtime session.

At South Carolina, Lou Holtz is proving once again that he is one of the great college head coaches of all time.

Why is this system in place? You take the one-third I referred to out of the equation. Is that fair to the players and the coaching staff on either side? I say no. Play the game the exact same way in an overtime period as you did during the four quarters of action. Why alter things?

In addition, by placing the ball on the 25-yard line, the defensive structure normally in place has to go by the boards. The NFL has the best possible scenario in place. It isn't perfect, but what system could be ideal? The NFL plays the game the exact same way in overtime, with the first team to score winning the football game.

The flaw would be that there will be times one team doesn't have a chance to send its offense onto the field. Keep in mind, some coaches would rather have their defense on the field for the first drive, attempting to play the field-position game, take advantage of their strength as a football team or adjust to the weather conditions at the time.

With all that said, the best-case scenario would be to just allow the game to be decided during the four quarters of action. If the game ends in a tie, so be it. Throughout the history of college football, some of the greatest, most memorable games ended in a tie. Just ask my good friend, Beano Cook, who is the ultimate college football historian, and he'll back me up 1,000 percent.

Remember, college football games are typically longer than NFL contests. Whereas the NFL keeps the clock running on out of bounds plays, the clock stops in college football in this situation and also stops on a first down while the chains are being moved. This adds to the wear and tear of the young football players, opening up the possibility for injuries to occur due to fatigue. And with the ball placed on the 25-yard line, there is more of a physical strain on the athletes, particularly those in the trenches.

Major Applewhite
Texas QB Major Applewhite has thrown for 1,020 yards and 9 TDs.

Of the upsets this past weekend, heading the list were Washington over Miami (Fla.) and South Carolina over Georgia. On paper, the Hurricanes are the better team overall, but the wild card going in for the Huskies was their brilliant senior QB Marques Tuiasosopo. He provides multidimensional ability, along with tremendous leadership.

At South Carolina, Lou Holtz is proving once again that he is one of the great college head coaches of all time. Holtz can do more with less -- as he did at N.C. State, Arkansas and Minnesota -- and is currently attempting to do at South Carolina. Or he can win a national championship when he has superior personnel, as was the case during his tenure at Notre Dame. On Saturday, we saw Holtz once again maximize the talent of his Gamecocks, sending the team with better overall personnel, the Georgia Bulldogs, to their first defeat of the season.

At Texas, hats off to Major Applewhite. The classy junior didn't sulk when Chris Simms was named the starter, and he took advantage of the opportunity to rally the Longhorns against Louisiana-Lafayette after Simms completed just 1 of his first 4 passes, including an interception return for a TD that saw the Longhorns trail 10-0 early on.

At Bloomington, Cam Cameron's Hoosiers are fielding a creative, exciting offense directed by highly skilled junior Antwaan Randle El. Unfortunately, their defense, which struggled mightily last season, again figures to have all kinds of problems containing the opposition. That was evident on Saturday when N.C. State rallied to pull out a dramatic 41-28 victory over the Hoosiers. True freshman signal-caller Philip Rivers was outstanding, hooking up with super blue-chip sophomore wideout Koren Robinson for the game winner. With new head coach Chuck Amato and veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow knowing they have a talented signal caller like Rivers for another three-plus years, Wolfpack fans have a great deal to be excited about.

I'll leave you with this. Based on what I've seen the first two weeks, there doesn't appear to be a truly great team in college football. Florida State, the defending national champion, can't run the football on a consistent basis and has a very suspect kicking game. As far as Nebraska is concerned, special teams breakdowns nearly led to their demise against Notre Dame. Plus, I don't feel the Huskers defense is all that smothering.

Michigan is currently getting by very well with redshirt freshman John Navarre at the helm. He benefits from a great supporting cast. David Terrell and Marquise Walker are brilliant wideouts, you can't question RB Anthony Thomas's productivity, and OG Steve Hutchinson ranks as the top player at his position in the country. Defensively, they haven't been tested in the early going against Bowling Green and Rice. This week, against UCLA, we'll see if all those key graduation losses, as well as the injury to safety Cato June (out for the year), prevent the Wolverine defense from performing at a national championship level.

Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, and Kansas State all have plenty of talent, but there are questions. And at Virginia Tech, we know Michael Vick and the Hokie offense will light up the scoreboard, but will the young defense be able to hold up their end of the bargain over the long haul this season? In the Pac-10, Washington and USC are much-improved, but to remain unbeaten is asking an awful lot from both the Huskies and Trojans.

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