Memo to Pitt Head Coach Walt Harris:
- Your linemen on both sides of the ball are at best below average and must be significantly upgraded.
- You need to work on tackling fundamentals more, even if it results in a couple of injuries on the practice field.
Memo to Pitt A.D. Jeff Long:
- Don't be in any hurry to schedule a future series against Miami.
Rutgers ended the year on a high note by defeating Syracuse, 24-7. The win left Rutgers with a 5-7 record and a 2-5 mark in the conference. It's the first time they've won 2 Big East games since 1998. The Scarlet Knights were once again led by redshirt freshman RB Brian Leonard who had 37 carries for 138 yards and a TD. He also caught 6 Ryan Hart passes for 45 yards. The Knights will have a formidable backfield next season with junior QB Hart, and sophomores RB Justice Hairston and Leonard who can play both RB and FB. The Knights' rapidly improving defense held the Orangemen's offense to only 198 yards. Syracuse's star RB Walter Reyes gained just 40 yards on 18 carries. Their only TD came on the recovery of a blocked punt in the 1st Quarter. Syracuse needs a victory over Notre Dame in the Dome on Saturday to avoid another losing season.
Another team in a downward spiral is Virginia Tech. The Hokies lost to Virginia 35-21 in Charlottesville. After opening 6-0, Virginia Tech went 2-4 down the stretch, including losses in their final two games, and will travel to Phoenix for the Insight.Com Bowl.
West Virginia notched their 7th straight win and a share of the Big East title by thumping Temple, 45-28. With star RB Quincy Wilson sidelined, Jason Colson started in his place and rushed for 2 TDs. In his final home game, senior CB Lance Frazier set up one score with an interception and returned an Owl punt for a TD. 8-4 WVU is headed to the Gator Bowl, where they'll face Maryland. The Terps destroyed WVU earlier in the year, but the Mountaineers are clearly a much better team now. Getting a share of the Big East title was an early Christmas present for WVU Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. He earned a 75K bonus check.
In the best game of the day, ACC Champion Florida State came out of Gainesville with a thrilling 38-34 victory over Florida. The Seminoles have now defeated the Gators in 5 of the last 6 years. The game was a real seesaw affair. The Gators went ahead 34-31 on a 26-yard TD pass from freshman QB Chris Leak to TE Ben Troupe in the back of the end zone with 2:55 remaining in the game. FSU QB Chris Rix then led his team to the winning TD. After overthrowing a wide open P.K. Sam a few plays earlier, Rix rolled right and found Sam in the end zone on a 52-yard bomb with just 55 seconds on the clock. The game was marred by some blatantly bad calls by the ACC officiating staff, which went against Florida. After the game, most of the Seminoles congregated at midfield and celebrated the victory by jumping on Florida's logo. That triggered a major brawl with a number of players involved from each team. Local police needed to use pepper spray to break it up. There should be at least several suspensions handed out to players on each team. It will be interesting to see how this matter is handled by the ACC. and SEC!
Elsewhere, Maryland overcame a sluggish start to defeat Wake Forest, 41-28. Having already secured a Gator Bowl invitation, Maryland quickly fell behind the Demon Deacons but staged a 2nd half rally led by RB Bruce Perry, who rushed for 237 yards. Wake Forest also had a great rushing performance by Chris Barclay, who ended up with 243 yards.
The regular season ended for all eleven teams last week. Michigan is headed to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State is very likely headed to the Orange Bowl. Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Wisconsin will also receive bowl invitations. Northwestern at 6-6 is bowl eligible, but will be unlikely to receive a bid.
Nebraska concluded a 9-3 season with a 31-22 victory over Colorado in Boulder on Friday. The Buffalos' loss left them with an uncharacteristic 5-7 mark. Nebraska A.D. Steve Pederson spent the days leading up to the game angrily denying the rumors that he would fire Head Coach Frank Solich after the game. Then on Saturday, Solich was given the pink slip by Pederson despite the victory. The reality was that Solich needed to at least win the Big Twelve North to keep his job. That goal ended when Kansas State demolished Nebraska in Lincoln on November 15th to clinch the North Division crown.
In the only other game, Missouri capped off their finest season in years by dumping Iowa State, 45-7. Sophomore QB Brad Smith had another strong game and will be a Heisman candidate next year. The Cyclones dropped to 2-10, with their only wins being over D1AA Northern Iowa and MAC doormat Ohio U. Head Coach Don McCarney will need to turn things around quickly in Ames.
The only game was an OOC matchup between Stanford and Notre Dame. The Irish kept their bowl hopes alive by burying the Cardinals 57-7 in Ty Willingham's return to Palo Alto. Senior RB Julius Jones ran for 218 yards and a TD. Jones became the 1st Notre Dame player to run for over 200 yards 3 times in one year. The Irish's other RB, Ryan Grant, scored 3 TDs in the rout.
USC will need to defeat Oregon St. on Saturday and then hope that the BCS Computer rankings keep them at #2 in order to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the National Championship. I'd imagine the BCS crew is praying that either USC or LSU is defeated in their final game to avoid the controversy that is certain to occur if both finish with only one loss.
Georgia locked up the East Division slot in the SEC Championship game on Saturday with a solid 34-17 win over Georgia Tech. The Bulldog's victory coupled with a win by Tennessee and Florida's loss gives them the tiebreaker nod over both the Vols and Gators. Tennessee once again got a great defensive effort and just enough offense to defeat Kentucky, 20-7. RB Cedric Houston rushed for 87 yards and a TD for the Vols. Despite a 10-2 mark, Tennessee will likely be passed over for one of the two at-large BCS Bowl slots.
- In CUSA, Southern Mississippi crushed East Carolina 38-21 to win the title. Also in CUSA, South Florida ended Memphis' 5-game winning streak, defeating the Tigers 21-16. The Bulls' victory also prevented Memphis from a consecutive 3 game sweep of the teams leaving CUSA for the Big East in 2005.
- In an OOC contest, the Alabama Crimson Tide were drowned by Hawaii, 37-29. Bama finished the year at 4-9, the 2nd most losses in their long history. The win leaves Hawaii with an 8-4 record and a final home game against Boise State on Saturday.
- Expect at least two of the many NFL Head Coaching vacancies that will occur to be filled with current college head coaches. The two names most often mentioned are Nick Saban of LSU and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. I had previously noted the rumor that Nebraska A.D. Steve Pederson was targeting the Cleveland Browns' Butch Davis to replace Frank Solich. Now that Solich's firing is official, you have to believe Pederson has his replacement already lined up. If it's not Davis, the two other names being thrown around are Walt Harris of Pitt and Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia.
- Speaking of the Big East, is Syracuse finally ready to pull the plug on Paul Pasqualoni? Pasqualoni has been at the helm of the Orangemen for 13 years, and has always enjoyed strong support from his administration. However, unrest among the alumni has been growing in recent years and the Orangemen need a win over Notre Dame on Saturday just to finish 6-6 and avoid a 4-game losing streak. One name to keep in mind if the job opens up – Tom Coughlin. The ex-B.C. and Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach has said he'd prefer to get an NFL job. However, he is a Syracuse alum and his tough no nonsense style is much better suited to college than the pros. If he opts for the NFL, the Giants, Falcons, or Bears would be good fits.
- Congratulations to Mississippi State for hiring Sylvester Croom as their new head coach. He is the first-ever black head coach in the SEC. He faces a major rebuilding job in Starkville as the program has gone south (no pun intended) in the last several years of Jackie Sherrill's tenure.
- As I'd predicted a few weeks ago, Arizona hired Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops to fill their head coaching vacancy. Expect him to have the Wildcats program turned around quickly. His first staff hire was younger brother Mark as Defensive Coordinator. Mark is currently the Secondary Coach at Miami.
- Cincinnati apparently did not believe Rick Minter was the man to head up their coming move to the Big East. Minter was fired today after the Bearcats completed a 5-7 season that included a season-ending 3 game losing streak. Don't be surprised if Minter's replacement is a current MAC Head Coach.
- As the college football season is winding down, there have been some interesting early developments in basketball. NCAA Champion Syracuse dropped their opening game to an underrated Charlotte team, then barely got by Rhode Island on Saturday, 69-65. Are the Orangemen still basking in the glory of last season or are they waiting for Carmelo Anthony to bail them out? I suspect that Jim Boeheim will have their problems corrected before the start of Big East play.
- Congratulations to Georgia Tech for winning the Pre-Season NIT. The Yellow Jackets of Paul Hewitt surprised #1 UConn in the semis and drubbed Bobby Knight and Texas Tech in the finals.
- Another ACC stalwart wasn't as successful as 2nd ranked Duke fell to Purdue, 78-68 in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage. The Blue Devils once again appear far too dependent on their perimeter game. Against Purdue, their guards combined to shoot just 11-28 including 4-14 from 3 point range. Seton Hall captured 3rd place in the Shootout by defeating Liberty 65-47 behind 28 points from PG Andre Barrett.
- Some other ranked teams had close calls over the weekend. 16th ranked Gonzaga slipped by Georgia 82-76 in OT in Spokane; #5 Missouri outlasted Oakland (Michigan) 90-85; # 9 North Carolina beat Cleveland St. 82-76; #13 St. Joseph's held on to nip Old Dominion 75-72; #20 Stanford rallied in the 2nd half to upend Rice 60-56; and #24 Oklahoma St. defeated Pepperdine 84-82 in Stillwater. On the losing end, #17 Louisville fell to unranked Iowa, 70-69 in OT. As opposed to D1 college football, parity continues to increase in college basketball each year. That's why March Madness is such a spectacle!