Chris Fowler
Thursday, October 12
Big 12 steals the spotlight Saturday

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.

Jonathan Beasley
K-State's Jonathan Beasley has 12 TDs rushing and thrown for 10 and 1,359 yards.
The Sooner DBs are young pups. Can they stick with talented, tested veteran receivers like Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett? No. So, the OU defensive plan will consist of less man-to-man since those matchups are not to the liking of coordinator Mike Stoops. KSU generates an astounding number of big plays when Jonathan Beasley scrambles and heaves it deep. Morgan and Lockett and Martez Wesley catch everything in sight.

The Sooners' defensive strength is at linebacker. Torrance Marshall (No. 10) is the key guy to focus on if you're watching Saturday. He needs to harass Beasley. The Sooners don't "spy" QBs in their schemes, but they will pay plenty of attention to the designed runs for Beasley. He's used like a tailback from the shotgun, running behind the lead block of the single back. Opponents who don't plan for the ten or so times per game the Cats run these plays, pay for it. Don't believe it? Watch the Colorado game tapes.

Oklahoma's offense has some of the most impressive red zone stats you will ever see: 26 trips, 22 TDs, three field goals, one missed field goal. They were able to simply line up and slice clean through the lazy Longhorns' defense Saturday, so the stats might be a tad inflated. But with Josh Heupel's decision-making skills and accurate arm, the Sooners are pretty deadly in close and that must continue at KSU.

Now, some of the personal dimensions to the game. Heupel, from the plains hamlet of Aberdeen, South Dakota, grew up as a football junkie/coach's son. He didn't get a sniff from big schools and wound up in the equally remote Ephraim, Utah at Snow Junior College. That's where he met Mario Fatefahi, a 305-pound defensive lineman. Together, they survived what Fatefahi calls "a boot camp" football program, lacking even the most basic staples, like a decent weight room.

Fatefahi described the conditions at Snow JC in a Daily Oklahoman article, reliving the joys of running wind sprints while the overpowering stench of nearby turkey processing plants hung thick in the air. Eventually, Fatefahi found happiness in Manhattan, Kansas, which must seem like paradise after Ephraim.

Saturday, he'll try his best to put his old teammate on the turf. Fatefahi has a team-high 6 sacks. He was Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year while Heupel took the offensive honors. Keep an eye on their friendly personal matchup Saturday and remember that (as Fatefahi put it), "we came from the same gutter."

For more on Heupel's interesting journey to Norman, check out Curry Kirkpatrick's piece on Gameday. Now, to the coaching staff stuff. You probably know that Bobby Stoops was a big part of KSU's historic turnaround as Bill Snyder's defensive assistant for seven years. Heck, Stoops even worked with Snyder as a general assistant on Hayden Fry's Iowa staff.

When Bob left to be Steve Spurrier's defensive guru, there were no hard feelings. When he got hired at Oklahoma and brought his little brother Mike from KSU to coach the defense, nobody blinked.

But, when two other KSU assistants followed the trail to Norman, well Bill Snyder was surprised and displeased. Those two are Mark Mangino (who'd been an ace recruiter) and Brent Venables, who's OU's co-defensive coordinator. Mangino is the guy Snyder accused of trying to re-recruit guys he had contacted while at KSU. All of the ex-KSU assistants are quick to express their admiration for Snyder's coaching brilliance.

Toss in Chuck Long, the Heisman runnerup who played under Snyder's tutelage at Iowa, and this is a group heavily influenced by Snyder. They all they learned a great deal from him. No one is disputing that.

But, please, if I read once more that there is nothing but love between the staffs, I'll have to call "bull."

This is not the week to stir things up in the papers, so none of these coaches will.

Good for them.

But if there is one game both staffs want to win more than any other on the schedule, it's this one.

The same goes for those KSU fans old enough to remember the dark days. Like 34 years of futility against the Sooners from 1935-68, when the Wildcats took up residence behind the Sooners' woodshed.

Fans of a more recent vintage can look back in anger at the humiliating days of the Switzer era. Check these scores: 75-28, 52-0, 56-14, 63-0 in consecutive years from '71-'74. How about 41-6, 56-10, 59-10, 70-24, from '85-'88?

In one episode never to be forgotten in Manhattan, the Sooner starters actually shed their jersies and shoulder pads and lounged on the bench during the second half of one rout, laughing at the hapless Cats.

KSU even sold back a home game to OU for the gate receipts in '89.

So, forgive the KSU fans for never forgetting. All of this will explain the venom directed at the visitors Saturday. Good old fashioned intense dislike. Can't wait.

By the way, Manhattan ranks as one of my favorite Gameday locations, thanks to the amazing turnout for our one and only show there, in '98. The fans were even good sports when Kirk brought a stage-full of state troopers to surround him as he predicted a Nebraska victory that day. True, some were less than good sports after the game. But the Little Apple is right there with Lincoln and Blacksburg as my favorite show locations.

Georgia Tech controversy
George O'Leary
Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary in under fire for a drill he ran in practice.
I'll not engage in a long dissertation on the case of Justin Vaitekunas, a backup offensive lineman at Georgia Tech who would've played out his career in quiet anonymity had his mother not threatened to sue Jackets' coach George O'Leary for subjecting her son to a punishing practice drill.

It's already been hugely overblown in Atlanta and if you want, read the detailed accounts on our site or the Atlanta Journal Constitution's.

I'll just say this: O'Leary has to be accountable for what happens in practice, and the ten seconds of "miscommunication" that he says led to four defensive linemen tackle the 320-pound Vaitekunas are ultimately his responsibility.

But O'Leary's track record is good. He's not a Bob Knight type by any stretch. He doesn't make a habit of humiliating players and certainly not trying to get them hurt. Vaitekunas has the right to soul-search after being singled out and embarrassed. He can quit the sport if he wants to. That's his right. But that decision also makes it pretty clear that he wasn't really cut out for bigtime football anyway.

The Knight saga will continue to have an effect on how future situations like this are viewed. It will be

Interesting to see if Georgia Tech's administration demands that O'Leary apologize or in some way chastises him. These days, it may feel compelled to.

Showdown Saturday fallout
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.

  • Ohio State will get a fight from Minnesota, but prevail for the 17th straight time in this series.

  • Nebraska will struggle again in Lubbock, because Texas Tech has the pass attack to trouble the Huskers but lacks the athletes to upset them.

  • Clemson won't have much trouble rolling up points on Maryland, which has surrendered 120 of them to West Virginia, Florida State, and Virginia.

  • TCU is idle, pondering ways to wow the pollsters. Somehow cracking the top six in the BCS ratings by season's end would guarantee a BCS bowl slot. It'll be almost impossible, with the strength of schedule a drawback. More likely, the 11-0 Horned Frogs would be ranked between 7th and 12th, making them BCS eligible but hardly a sure thing. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl has scouted a TCU game and is "tracking them," but when the corn chips are down, my guess is a Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-10 runnerup would prove too tempting.

    Alvarez on line one, Saban on line two
    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
  • Payback is a motive for South Carolina Saturday. The Gamecocks want to get bowl-eligible, of course, but they also recall the 48-14 pounding Arkansas put on them in Lou Holtz's old stomping grounds of Little Rock last year. It was the seventh and most humiliating loss for Holtz last season. Six coaches on the Hogs' staff either played for or coached for Lou. You think he wants to return the favor this time?

  • Motivational job of the week was done by Gary Barnett. The Buffs' boss benched hyper-talented linebacker Jashon Sykes at the start of the win at Texas A&M. Barnett told him he needed to understand that playing is a privilege. Message delivered. Sykes came off the bench inspired, with 13 tackles, two sacks, and a broken up pass. He credits Barnett with doing the right thing.

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

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