|Thursday, October 12|
Big 12 steals the spotlight Saturday
By Chris Fowler
Special to ESPN.com
|The SEC, Big Ten and Pac-10 have had their moments this season. Saturday, the Big 12 has its day on the main stage.
The conference boasts three of the remaining seven unbeatens. In the entire college football landscape, there are only four potential matchups of unbeatens in the coming months. Three of them would be in the Big 12.
"The Little Apple"|
Manhattan, here we come. Oklahoma's visit to Kansas State is the week's most fascinating scuffle. There's conference and national title significance... there's tension between the coaching staffs... there's plenty of old unresolved ill will between the K-State faithful and whomever is wearing Sooner uniforms... even a personal rivalry that goes back "to the gutter" according to one Wildcat. It's all good stuff. It's also still early enough in the season that both teams are still surrounded by some mystery. Particularly the Sooners. Can this young squad that surrendered leads so often in road games last year display its professed new toughness in a stadium where the Cats have taken down 25 straight visitors? OU was 2-5 away from Owen Field last year and this is their first true road game of 2000. They haven't played a close game yet and haven't been tested. But neither has K-State. We'll get to the ill will. First, the "serious football," as Herbstreit and Corso like to call it.
In response to the friendly Miami fans who requested (demanded) that I (finally) give the Hurricanes respect: OK. They deserve it. The four-hour slugfest in the deafening steam bath that was the Orange Bowl was one of the most courageous efforts I've ever seen. The game is in my personal top five. How big was the Ken Dorsey-engineered drive to win it? One of the best pressure drives I've seen by a young QB, on a par with Michael Vick's heroics at West Virginia last year. Miami had just fumbled away the hard-fought lead and seemed headed for yet another close-but-not-quite big game heartbreaker. Then, Dorsey and company rewrote the program's recent legacy and delivered a drive that could reshape its' near future. With past greats (Kosar, Kelly, Irvin, even greats who are not Miami fans like South Florida resident Marshall Faulk) looking on from ringside, the Miami offense shredded an FSU defense that features perhaps six future NFL starters. Dorsey was so drained, he checked himself into the hospital late Saturday night to get intravenous fluids for cramping. Heck, each fan who walked out of the Orange Bowl felt like they'd just played in a four hour game. The season's best collection of matchups sliced the number of Division I-A unbeatens from 13 to 7, one less than I'd predicted. It'll be cut to six Saturday, after the Battle in the Little Apple. The other unbeatens should get by.
Everybody's calling TCU to ask the Frogs' coaches, "How'd you stop Northwestern?" Before they suddenly became the Big Ten's unstoppable upset kings, the Wildcats were flogged by the Frogs in Fort Worth. Damien Anderson was held under 100 yards, no small feat, and the Cats got their lone long TD thanks to a busted coverage by TCU's backup safety. LaDainian Tomlinson ran wild and the Frogs had two TD's called back, or the 41-14 score would've been even uglier. But back to the defense. Sorry, Big Ten coaches, there is no magic Frogs formula for containing the no-huddle Northwestern spread that's scored 136 points in three conference wins. TCU just did it with athletes. Lots of speedy athletes. The Frogs pursue and close to the ball very quickly, and have the speed on the edge to man up on wide outs and eliminate creases that have allowed Northwestern to make big plays. Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana were erased because they couldn't match TCU's pursuit. With gifted pass rushers (like end Aaron Schobel) the Frogs get after QB's, too. There was a huge speed gap between TCU and Northwestern and the Wildcats never had a chance. If you doubt this, consider that an average of 12 NFL scouts visit TCU's practices each week. Some have told Dennis Franchione that up to 11 of his guys will be in NFL camps next summer. TCU has more talent than anyone on their schedule. In two weeks, they will solve their recent nemesis, Rice. But the game to circle is a November 4th visit to San Jose State, the bunch that beat Stanford and had USC almost beaten. Superb Spartan scatback Deonce Whittaker should be healthy by then. This is the Frogs' highest hurdle to a perfect season. Top five
I've never been less enthused about or less sure of whom to put in my AP top five. Sure, most of us have already come to grips with the lack of a single, dominant team this season. But somebody has to be Number One. No. 1 Nebraska: A week after dropping the Huskers, I moved them back up after FSU's loss. The struggle at Ames was hardly inspiring, though. No. 2 Kansas State: Edge over Virginia Tech because of defense. Normally, I'd want another quality win or two from my number two, but most of the unbeatens are a little short on quality wins. I'm looking forward to watching the Cats in person against the Sooners. No. 3 Virginia Tech: The Hokies haven't shown a championship defense, yet, but with Vick, Davis, and Suggs, they won't need one. Until November 4th. No. 4 Miami: The Canes have the highest quality win of anybody, and three straight strong efforts. A win over the Hokies on the above-mentioned date would position them at no worse than No. 2 in the polls after the Big XII contenders hook up. How they'd stack up in the BCS ratings against the other folks with one loss is still anybody's guess. Two potential problems for UM: Ohio State or Clemson running the table and vaulting ahead of them. No. 5 Ohio State: The Buckeyes get a slight edge over Oklahoma because of an undervalued road win at Arizona and a thumping on the road of Wisconsin. OU's first true road test is, of course, at Kansas State. My rankings could change quickly if Kansas State thumps the Sooners. If Oklahoma wins, then beats Nebraska next week how can you not rank them No. 1? Clemson did not wow me by struggling with N.C. State. I'm anxious to see the Tigers in their road test at North Carolina next week. Undervalued teams
For weeks, I lamented the low rankings given the Oregon Ducks. Finally, the AP poll has them in the top ten. The coaches still don't. The Ducks could make me look bad by flopping in their first real road test at unraveling USC, but I don't think they will. The other teams I am ranking three of four slots higher than their standing in the coaches poll are: Southern Miss, Mississippi State, Purdue, and Notre Dame (26th in the coaches' poll). I place importance on HOW teams win and lose, not just their records. Southern Miss came up just a few inches short of sending its game at Tennessee to OT. Mississippi State lost at South Carolina on a miracle fourth-and-ten fade pass before thumping Florida and Auburn. Purdue is a few plays from being unbeaten, and nearly survived two punting disasters at Penn State. Notre Dame lost to the No. 1 team in OT and at Michigan State on another one of those fourth-and-ten miracles. Quiet Cats
The ranked team with the least hype must be Arizona. Each year, a Pac-10 team is picked near the bottom of the conference and shocks everyone by contending for the Rose Bowl. The Cats could be this year's model. They're about as racy and glamorous as a dusty old pickup. Gone are Dennis Northcutt and Trung Canidate. This is a team with no stars. Even Ortege Jenkins has become more of a role player. They run the ball, avoid mistakes and play tough defense. They don't gain many yards (273 per game) and until Saturday's whipping of USC, hadn't scored many points. They threw just 12 passes against the Trojans and managed just 42 yards in the second half as they sat on the lead and simply stuffed SC's feeble attempts to come back. Old school Dick Tomey is digging it. He's getting solid performances from young guys all over the depth chart. Arizona has perhaps the youngest secondary in the country, uses a true freshman center that had never played the position before, and a true freshman tailback (Clarence Foster) who's had consecutive 100-yard games. They rotate eight defensive linemen. Beware, you bandwagon jumpers, though. Arizona is not immune from ANY upset, even a Saturday visit by lowly Wazoo, and it's farfetched to imagine the Cats winning at Oregon and Washington. But they already have two road wins and finish with four of six in Tucson. If they can win the home games, split the two toughies in the Northwest, who knows? Then again, they could lose five of the last six. That's what makes them an interesting team to keep an eye on. Quick outs
College Football ... On Campus with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Corso: Not So Fast, My Friends
Tirico: Big East now big player