Chris Fowler
Saturday, September 30
A month full of surprises, upsets and newfound heroes

September's unfolded exactly as we envisioned. You see, a month ago, Corso, Herbstreit, and I assembled some trusted advisors and plotted how the first month of college football would play out.

South Carolina would be undefeated and ranked, Alabama would be 1-3 and unranked.

Keystone Staters Temple and Pittsburgh would be 7-1 combined, the mighty Penn Staters would be 1-4. Northwestern would get woodshedded by TCU, then rally past Wisconsin.

The Pac-10 would become the hot league, with wins over Miami, Michigan, Texas, Bama, Penn State and Colorado (twice).

Half the preseason top 25 would have losses in the first three weeks. Conference offices would come out and ADMIT that officials had blown call after crucial call.

Quarterbacks with zero experience would become instant heroes at N.C. State, Michigan State, South Carolina, Arizona State and Notre Dame, all engineering dramatic comeback drives.

Nebraska's quarterback would throw for five TDs the same day Florida's QB would run for four.

Woodroe Dantzler
Woodrow Dantzler has thrown for seven TDs and run for five more this season.
Clemson's Woody Dantzler would become the (very) early Heisman frontrunner.

Yeah, this is just what we foresaw as we convened over cold cuts and Gatorade in the wrestling room at Virginia Tech (our HQ for Blacksburg shows) the night lightning struck Corso's rental car. Mmm-hmm.

This September to remember still has a weekend remaining, so fasten your seatbelts as nine of the top twelve hit the road for conference games. It's the first time in hostile surroundings for Wisconsin, Kansas State, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Expect three of the four to struggle. The Vols visit once-feared Death Valley, where UAB just beat LSU. Enough said.

Upon further review...
I will be brief. But I feel compelled to hammer recent officiating. Lately, far too many college football games have been administered with all the fairness and competence of a Yugoslav election. Except Super Slo-Mo (unlike Slobodan Mo) doesn't lie.

In just three weeks, the list of games influenced by blown calls has grown alarmingly long.

The bumbled fumble calls that robbed Illinois Saturday night were so clearly captured by instant replays that the Big Ten office felt compelled to admit it. That prompted an angry phone call from Lloyd Carr, who still somehow claims that the game was "relatively well officiated." God, I hope you're wrong, Lloyd. If that debacle in Champaign was an above-average job by the zebras, heaven help us the next three months. Carr didn't seem too pleased with the officials work when they flagged his safety Larry Foote for unsportsmanlike conduct after a very brief gesture to the Illini bench during a critical fourth quarter drive.

A week earlier, Carr had complained about the Pac-10 officials' calls in Michigan's loss at UCLA. Last week, the Bruins were robbed of an obvious touchdown at Oregon when Freddie Mitchell was ruled out of bounds in the endzone. An official standing in perfect position just missed the call. It didn't change the outcome of the game, but it cost UCLA four points. The Pac-10 crews have often seemed disoriented and confused, if not downright visually-challenged over the years.

But we expect more from the SEC. Lately, it's hard to have an SEC game that isn't clouded in some sort of officiating mess. Last Saturday, officials didn't catch Arkansas with twelve men on the field during a critical third and 11 scramble by Robby Hampton during Arkansas' winning 80-yard drive. With Alabama defending the extra receiver, no one was left to spy the QB.

Then again, maybe these things do even out. The Tiide got a gift against Vanderbilt when an obvious Freddie Milons' fumble was missed. The SEC office had to publicly come clean on that one, too.

Marshall got the typical MAC team on the road treatment at North Carolina, where an obvious catch and fumble was ruled incomplete. Why does it always seems that these gaffes go against the likes of Marshall, Vandy and Illinois?

I applaud conferences' honesty these days. It's refreshing to hear "sorry, our employees screwed up," or words to that effect. It's just too bad that, unlike in Yugoslavia, there are no re-counts or do-overs in college football. Instant replay would never work and will never happen. So, in the era of parity, more close games, and more high-speed offenses, get used to more crucial blown calls and more conference press releases.

Sorry, that wasn't too brief. I've just been flagged for delay of column. But it was worth it.

And one more thing. . .
The polls are for promotional purposes only, and not to be taken seriously until the leaves turn colors and fall off. More proof: Oregon, which was inexplicably ranked 34th in the coaches' poll before flattening UCLA, is now inexplicably ranked 25th, still well below the team it just beat by 19 points.

Item two: Notre Dame has fallen from the polls, despite the fact that its two losses are to No. 1 Nebraska in OT and at Michigan State on a fourth and 10 prayer that was answered. The Irish are well below the Purdue team they just knocked off. Texas A&M and Purdue are two quality wins, when a bunch of ranked teams have none.

If Jeff Smoker's slant pass had been deflected on its way to Herb Haygood, Notre Dame would've won and probably vaulted back into the top 12. Does the outcome of one play change a team's ranking that much? I guess so.

To lighten the mood, I offer this vintage quote from Lou Holtz, upon learning that his Gamecocks had cracked the polls. "If we're the 23rd best team in the country, there's a lot of bad teams out there." Lou, you are correct, sir. But your team is deserving of a ranking.

Holtz also had this to say. "I told this team they could play with any team in the country. I just haven't figured out WHAT country yet."

College football is more lively when Lou's got it going, isn't it?

We can be heroes
One theme of this wacky month: late-game heroics from youthful quarterbacks with either no prior experience...questionable pedigrees...or both.

Some of September's heroes: Philip Rivers (N.C. State), Erik Kimrey (South Carolina), Jeff Smoker (Michigan State), and Jeff Krohn (Arizona State). Three freshman and a former seventh-string walk-on. All except Smoker were lightly recruited (at least as QBs).

Within an hour's time Saturday, Smoker and Kimrey connected on fourth and 10 touchdown passes to win games. In Kimrey's case, it was his first pass attempt of the game, only his eighth of the season, and came against a Mississippi State defense that yields yardage like New York cabbies yield the right of way.

Kimrey is a freckle-faced, Opie-looking, walk-on math major whose other choice for college was the Naval Academy. He was South Carolina's seventh-string QB a year ago. And this is not a team blessed with a whole bunch of depth at that position.

Saturday, Phil Petty twisted an ankle, Kimrey got two warmup tosses, and suggested to Skip Holtz that he could throw the fade route. Jermale Kelly's juggling catch in the endzone (his ninth catch of the game) sent the Gamecock faithful into delirium, after a second win this month over a ranked SEC team.

Now, the SEC-style reality check: five of their final seven games are on the road. By the way, former stars for Holtz' national title team at Notre Dame, Tony Rice and Chris Zorich, watched from the sidelines Saturday and got caught up in Gamecock-mania. Rice had given the team a pregame speech.

Up the road in Raleigh, an 18-year-old has had an Elway-like month. Philip Rivers is an Alabama native who was recruited mostly as a safety by Ole Miss, Auburn, and some others. Alabama laid off Rivers.

In a month, the true freshman has proven to be a very gifted quarterback, and the recruiting oversight has proven to be a very hot issue on the radio talk show circuit in Alabama.

Rivers, like Kimrey, is a coach's son. That may explain his astounding poise and natural feel for the game. When a rookie comes in and tells the vets how it should be done, and they listen to him, well, he must have something special.

What Rivers has done in a month is real special:
  • Save NC State an embarrassing setback in Chuck Amato's debut, by rallying the Pack to a game-tying drive during a downpour against little Arkansas State, a game they won in OT.

  • Rally State from 15 points down in the final quarter at Indiana with three TD passes.

  • Beat Georgia Tech with an overtime throw to Koren Robinson, overcoming a 13-0 deficit and seven sacks, in his first real test against an athletic defense.

    Rivers to Robinson has become September's deadliest combo. The sophomore receiver is having a huge year, after finally deciding to buy into Amato's tough-guy discipline. Robinson already has 27 catches for 498 yards and seven TDs! In fifteen career games, Robinson has ten 100-yard games. He's also a gifted return man and ranks fourth nationally in all-purpose yards.

    At ASU, Jeff Krohn has been far less spectacular, but the redshirt freshman walk-on has been increasingly solid as a fill-in for Ryan Kealy. Krohn's dad quarterbacked for Arizona, but when it came to college choices, it was ASU or Cornell. Krohn chose to walk on, and was a scout teamer last year. Saturday, his first two attempts were touchdowns of 72 and 70 yards against Utah State. In 76 attempts, he's thrown one pick, and that was a controversial dual-possession call in the opener.

    Kealy is back after a Bruce Snyder-imposed hiatus, but Krohn will start Saturday at UCLA, which gets its starter, Cory Paus, back. Beating the wounded Bruins is a tall order.

    By the way, the Sun Devils are the quietest of the 20 unbeatens, receiving just six points in the coaches' poll, and are doing with surprisingly stout defense. Mini-linebacker Adam Archuleta is filling the Pat Tillman role, and if you want to amaze your buddies with knowledge of the nation's best defensive newcomer so far: it's Terrell Suggs, a 17-year-old rush end who shares the Pac-10 lead in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (7) and toted a pick to the endzone last week. He's a local kid who chose ASU over Tennessee.

    Quick outs
  • Welcome back to college football, Kansas State. The Cats' first real test is Saturday in Boulder. Should be a big-play contest, since neither offense will have much success with sustained ground marches. KSU's receiver play has been far superior to CU's, and so has its corners. Thus, an edge to the Wildcats.

  • Steve Spurrier has never lost to an unranked team in his eleven years at Florida. But visiting Starkville for the home opener, against an angry and wounded Joe Lee Dunn defense is not your typical game with an unranked team. Be very careful, Gators. Florida's defense has been surviving (barely) because it's been a great takeaway bunch. Even from the '99 defense, which wasn't that great, Florida's sacks and tackles for loss are way down. Good thing Florida's offensive turnovers have been more than cut in half from '99's pace.

    If Mississippi State stops beating itself, this will be real interesting. By the way, I won't tell Bulldogs' fans that Gameday would've been there for this showdown if they hadn't surrendered that fourth and 10 touchdown to that South Carolina walk-on if you don't.

  • LSU has now lost nine straight games decided by six points or less. Six turnovers, 13 penalties, numerous dropped passes and the dismal decision-making of Josh Booty caught up with them against UAB. All that stuff usually will.

  • One team with an even worse offense: Cal. It's hard to believe, but the Bears began six straight drives in Fresno State territory and managed. . .nothing. No points.

  • It was supposed to be a record-breaking season in Happy Valley. It still will be, but the records will belong to Drew Brees. The Purdue QB should own the Big Ten's career touchdown pass and total offense records after Saturday's visit to Penn State.

    Shameless cross-promotion (again)
    College Gameday (and our On Campus radio show) will come from Michigan's Big House Saturday, as we count down to the noon Eastern kickoff for the Wolves and Badgers. It's Gameday's sixth visit to Ann Arbor.

    Chris Fowler is the host of College Gameday and his column appears every Thursday.

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    Corso: Not So Fast, My Friends

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