|Saturday, September 30|
A month full of surprises, upsets and newfound heroes
By Chris Fowler
Special to ESPN.com
|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.
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:
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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