The expected occurred on Thursday night when MAC champ Miami of Ohio met Louisville of CUSA in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile. Both teams had featured explosive offenses throughout the season and more offensive fireworks were anticipated by everyone. Miami of Ohio and super junior QB Ben Roethlisberger proved to be too much for Louisville to handle as they prevailed, 49-28. The RedHawks now have the nation's longest current D1 winning streak, 13 games.
Roethlisberger blistered the Cardinals defense in the first half, throwing for 376 yards and four TDs as the RedHawks jumped out to a commanding 35-7 lead. The Cardinals rallied strongly in the 2nd half before Roethlisberger led his team to two 4th quarter TDs to ice the victory. The teams combined for 1,089 total yards of offense with Miami of Ohio outgaining the Cardinals, 597-492! Miami of Ohio finished the season with a 13-1 mark while Louisville fell to 9-4.
Last night in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, North Carolina State senior QB Philip Rivers put on a performance that was hardly "Mickey Mouse". Rivers led the Wolfpack on long TD marches in their first three possessions on the way to a 56-26 rout of Kansas. Rivers completed 37 of 45 passes for 475 yards and five TDs, both Tangerine Bowl records. Richard Washington hauled in two of Rivers TD tosses and fellow WR Jerricho Cotchery had 13 receptions for 171 yards and one TD. Wolfpack RB T.A. McLendon caught the other TD pass, and also rushed for two scores. North Carolina State rolled up an astronomical 653 yards of total offense and finished the season with an 8-5 record.
Kansas also moved the ball well, running up 463 yards in total offense. Senior QB Bill Whittemore led the Jayhawks, throwing for 243 yards and 2 TDs. However, he was intercepted twice, the game's only turnovers. Kansas, one of a handful of 6-6 teams invited to bowls, simply had no answer for Rivers and the rest of the potent Wolfpack offense. For the Jayhawks, it may have been a case of them being "happy to be there." This was their first bowl appearance since the 1995 Aloha Bowl.
In the Division 1AA Championship Game in Chattanooga on Friday night, Delaware overwhelmed Colgate, 40-0. The Blue Hens quickly took of control of the game, scoring three TDs in the first 16 minutes and coasting to victory. A number of Delaware's stars, including senior QB Andy Hall, are transfers from D1 programs. Colgate is a member of the Patriot League, one of the several D1AA leagues that do not grant athletic scholarships. The talent differential was noticeable from the start as the Blue Hens were simply bigger, faster, and stronger than the Raiders. The loss ended Colgate's 21 game winning streak, including 15-0 this year.
Delaware also finished the year at 15-1. This was Delaware's 7th national title, their first since 1979. Since the establishment of Division 1AA in 1978, there had never been a shutout in the championship game until Delaware hung the goose egg on Colgate. The 40-point margin of victory was also the largest ever in the D1AA championship game. Delaware, the 2nd seed in the 16 team tournament, outscored its four playoff opponents 149-23 on their way to the title.
The Blue Hens were led by QB Andy Hall. Despite playing with torn ligaments in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, he completed 12-20 passes for 183 yards and 2 TDs. He also scrambled effectively and kept Colgate's defense off balance all night with his superb ball faking. Hall was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (D1AA Player of the Year). The winner of the award, Colgate running back Jamaal Branch, was held to 55 yards in 20 carries by the tough Blue Hen defense.
The Division III championship, the Stagg Bowl, was decided Saturday afternoon in Salem, Virginia as St. John's of Minnesota upset mighty Mount Union of Ohio, 24-6. Mount Union came into the game with an amazing 55 consecutive wins and 3 straight Division III titles. They had also won 109 of their last 110 contests! That record obviously didn't phase St. John's and their legendary 77 year old Head Coach, John Gagliardi. Gagliardi passed Grambling's Eddie Robinson earlier this year to become the winningest coach in college football history.
Mount Union opened the scoring in the 2nd quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Ricky Ciccone. However, the Purple Raiders' extra point attempt was blocked and from that point on it was all St. John's. They scored just before halftime to take a 7-6 lead and then took control with ten points in the 3rd quarter to go up 17-6. Mount Union drove to the Johnnies 2 yard line in the 4th quarter but CB Mike Zauhar intercepted a Jesse Burghardt pass and returned it 100 yards for the clinching TD. Division III Player of the Year Blake Elliott led the Johnnies 2nd half surge by scoring on a 51 yard end around that extended St. John's lead to 17-6. He finished with 168 all-purpose yards, 156 in the 2nd half. Gagliardi has no plans to retire despite winning his 2nd Division III championship (the first coming in 1976).
The Fort Worth Bowl figures to be an interesting game as WAC Champion Boise State (12-1) meets CUSA runner-up TCU (11-1). Despite the game being played on TCU's home field, the Broncos are 10-point favorites over the Horned Frogs in what could be billed as the "D1 Non-BCS Conference Championship Game" (Miami of Ohio fans would question that, though). The Broncos feature a powerful offense led by senior QB Ryan Dinwiddie. He threw for 4,031 yards this year, 3rd best in the country. They also have a solid ground game with David Mikell, who rushed for over 1,000 yards. They'll be going up against a speedy TCU defense led by DE Bo Schobel who recorded a school record 16 sacks this season. The Horned Frog offense features freshman RB Robert Merrill who also gained over 1,000 yards. Boise State. is better at stopping the run than the pass, so this should be a good match-up as well. All in all, this is a game well worth watching.
The Las Vegas Bowl (where else would you play on Christmas Eve?) matches Oregon State (7-5) of the PAC 10 and New Mexico (8-4) of the Mountain West. The Beavers are 2.5-point favorites over the Lobos. The game features Oregon State's junior running back, Steven Jackson, against a stingy New Mexico defense. Jackson, a big, bruising runner, carried 322 times for 1,396 yards. If the Lobos can somehow contain Jackson, they have a good chance to pull the minor upset. Beaver QB Derek Anderson can be very erratic, especially if he's forced to go to the air too often.
The Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu pits Houston (7-5) of CUSA against the hometown Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (8-5) of the WAC. The odds makers have Hawaii as a 10.5-point favorite. This game features two wide open passing offenses against two questionable defenses. Plan for a long game if you take a break in the Christmas festivities to tune in! The Cougars of first year Head Coach Art Briles are led by freshman QB Kevin Kolb. Junior QB Timmy Chang runs the offense for June Jones' Rainbow Warriors. The home field advantage and a better defense gives the edge to Hawaii. If the game gets boring, you can be sure the TV crew will show a lot of shots of girls on the beach, so stay tuned!
The Motor City Bowl in Detroit has MAC runner-up Bowling Green (10-2) taking on Big 10 also-ran Northwestern (6-6). The Falcons are favored by 7 points over the Wildcats. This will be the final game for outstanding Bowling Green QB Josh Harris, the son of former N.F.L. player M.L. Harris. Northwestern features the running of Jason Wright. The 2nd Team All Big Ten pick carried for 1,151 yards this year. This one is for football fanatics only.
Also on Friday, a more interesting contest will take place in the Insight.Com Bowl in Phoenix. The 4th place team in the Big East, Virginia Tech (8-4), opposes California (7-6) of the PAC 10. The Hokies have lost their last two games but are still a narrow 2.5 choice to defeat the Golden Bears, the only team to defeat USC this year. It will be interesting to see how Hokie Head Coach Frank Beamer handles his quarterbacks in this game. He has played quarterback roulette during the 2nd half of the season between Junior Bryan Randall and redshirt freshman Marcus Vick with poor results. This could be the final college game for Hokie stars RB Kevin Jones and CB DeAngelo Hall. Both are expected to declare for the NFL draft and both could end up being 1st round picks. California finished the year by winning four of their final five games. Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears feature a balanced offense with the passing of JUCO transfer QB Aaron Rodgers and the running of senior TB Adimchinobe Echemandu. If California can contain Kevin Jones, they have enough weapons on offense to pull off the upset.
Get up early for this one, sports fans! The day's only bowl begins at 11:00 A.M. with Virginia (7-5) of the ACC tangling with Pittsburgh (8-4) of the Big East in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. Despite having a worse record, the Cavaliers are a 2.5-point favorite. The Panthers feature a strong passing attack with senior QB Rod Rutherford. Sophomore WR Larry Fitzgerald, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, is the man Virginia will have to watch. Rumors have Fitzgerald petitioning the NFL to enter the draft next year, so this could well be his final game in a Panther uniform. Pittsburgh does have several other talented receivers such as junior Princell Brockenbrough, true freshman Greg Lee, and senior TE Kris Wilson. The Panthers have struggled to establish a ground game most of the year. However, the return from injury of starting RB Brandon Miree two games ago may recharge the ground game. The Panthers will need some semblance of a running game to neutralize a speedy and experienced Virginia defense, led by 6' 7" 285 lb. Junior DE Chris Canty. Offensively, Virginia features a well-balanced run attack led by senior QB Matt Schuab, a certain NFL draft choice next April. Schaub spreads the ball around to a number of receivers, including running backs Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman. The young Panther defense has struggled all season, and it may be asking too much for them to bottle up The Cavs. It looks like Pittsburgh will need to score a lot of points to win this one.
Four games are on tap. The Alamo Bowl in San Antonio features 9-3 Nebraska taking on 8-4 Michigan State. For the Cornhuskers, this will be the debut of interim Head Coach Bo Pelini. The former Defensive Coordinator replaced Frank Solich, who was fired after defeating Colorado in the Huskers' final regular season game. Nebraska's defense has been solid most of the year. They will have to continue to play well to contain the Spartans' offense, led by senior QB Jeff Smoker. First year Head Coach John L. Smith has had an impressive debut in East Lansing. Michigan State finished a dismal 4-8 last season. He can get the Spartans their 9th victory if he can contain Nebraska's potent ground game. As usual, the Huskers still struggle mightily when they are forced to pass. Nebraska is favored by 3 points.
In a game with a marked contrast of styles, Navy meets Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl. Texas Tech lives and dies with their passing attack, led by senior QB B.J. Symons. The Red Raiders have the #1 rated passing game in Division 1. On the flip side, their running game ranks #101. Texas Tech needs to control the ball, since their defense has struggled all year and is ranked #110. The Middies rely on a strong running game featuring QB Craig Candeto and FB Kyle Eckel. Their defense is small by Division 1 standards, but they are well coached and are seldom out of position. Though ranked 30th in the country, the Middies defense will be severely tested by Texas Tech's aerial circus. The Red Raiders are favored by 12.5 points.
The Silicon Valley "Classic" in San Jose is one of those bowl games you can and should avoid. UCLA (6-6) faces Fresno State (8-5). Under first year Head Coach Karl Dorrell, the Bruins jumped off to an impressive 6-2 start, then dropped their final four games. Of Fresno State's five losses, three came at the hands of ranked teams: Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Boise State. UCLA is a somewhat surprising 4-point favorite.
Finally, two teams that narrowly missed playing in a BCS Bowl meet in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Texas (10-2) lost out on a BCS Bowl when Kansas State upset Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Washington State (9-3) wasn't as close, but could have won the PAC 10 if they'd beaten Washington and USC lost to Oregon State in each team's final game. Neither happened. Will Texas be upset by their exclusion from a BCS Bowl and take out their frustrations on the Cougars? Good question. The Longhorns are 9.5-point favorites. After losing once again to Oklahoma, Texas has rattled off six straight victories. The Longhorns have a powerful offense, with Mack Brown rotating junior Chance Mock and freshman Vincent Young at QB. Mock is the better passer, while Young is a dangerous runner. Senior WR Roy Williams is a sure-fire 1st Round pick in the NFL draft in April. Junior Cedric Benson is a vastly underrated runner. Washington State has a very solid defense, but they will be severely tested in this game. First year Head Coach Bill Doba has surpassed expectations in Pullman. However, in order to win this game, he'll need to find more offensive firepower than the Cougars have shown so far. Senior QB Matt Kegel is a first-year starter, and has frequently struggled despite having some potent weapons in running back Jermaine Green and WR Devard Darling.
A Quick Trip Around The Conferences
The drama continues in Lincoln as A.D. Steve Pederson has yet to announce the permanent replacement for the fired Frank Solich. The Cornhusker faithful will not be pleased unless Pederson can lasso a "big name" to fill the vacancy. Two names that have come up recently are Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders and Utah Head Coach Urban Meyer. Pederson is, as he did at his prior stint at Pitt, giving out no clues.
The NCAA granted Oklahoma QB Jason White a 6th year of eligibility. White missed one entire year and virtually all of another after suffering serious injuries to each knee. You have to wonder if White would still have beaten out Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald for the Heisman Trophy if voters knew White would be returning to Norman for another year. The NCAA needs to come up with firm guidelines on what circumstances should permit the granting of a 6th year of eligibility. The decision now is entirely subjective, and leads to complaints that the NCAA plays favorites.
Another welcome first for the SEC. Shortly after Mississippi State named Sylvester Croom as the first black head coach in conference history, Georgia hired Damon Evans to replace Vince Dooley as A.D. Evans is the first black A.D. ever in the SEC.
After a disappointing 5-7 season, that old magician Lou Holtz announced that he's taking over the play calling responsibility in Columbia. That responsibility previously rested with Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Skip Holtz, Lou's son. I wonder who told Mrs. Holtz! It certainly appears that Holtz needs to turn things around at South Carolina next season or he might be made to disappear.
Who might replace senior Casey Claussen as Tennessee's QB next season? Very possibly his younger brother Rich, who sat out this season after transferring from LSU.
- Two more D1 Head Coaching vacancies were filled. UTEP was desperate enough to hire Mike Price and Price was desperate enough to accept the job. After a successful stint at Washington St., Price bolted for Alabama after the 2002 season but was fired before he ever coached a game for the Crimson Tide after a few "off the field incidents" became public knowledge.
- UTEP is coming off a 2-11 season, with their only victories coming over D1AA Sam Houston State and winless SMU. If he can pull off a turn around in El Paso, it will truly be a miracle.
- Cincinnati hired Ohio State defensive Coordinator Mark Dantonio to replace the fired Rick Minter. Dantonio has done an outstanding job with the Buckeyes' defense and deserved the opportunity to run his own program. The Bearcats are scheduled to move into the Big East in 2005.
- There was a noteworthy Division II head coaching hire also. Former NFL QB Jim Harbaugh was named as the new coach at San Diego U. (as opposed to D1 San Diego State).
- The wolves are howling in Provo. Brigham Young went 4-8 last season after going 5-7 in 2002. Head Coach Gary Crowton has received a verbal from top JC QB Jason Bech, who will compete with holdover Matt Berry for the position next year. BYU's offense has really struggled under Crowton, and his job will be on the line next year for sure.
- Notre Dame announced that their exclusive home game TV contract with NBC has been extended for another five years through the 2010 season. The pact provides about 9 million dollars per year to the Irish. Will this be enough to keep Notre Dame as an Independent in football? If the new BCS contract eliminates the "sweetheart deal" that the Irish currently have, they may still be forced to hook up with a BCS conference.
- Finally, rumor has it that the 2004 Black Coaches' Association Classic will match up Virginia Tech and USC. The Hokies will be moving to the ACC along with Miami in 2004.
Basketball News and Notes
Is Perry Clark in trouble at Miami? The Canes are still struggling with attendance even after moving into their new on-campus arena last year. With their move to the ACC coming next season, Clark may need to get an NCAA bid to stick around.
St. John's pulled the plug on Mike Jarvis, the first time in Big East Conference history that a head coach was fired in mid-season. Associate Head Coach Kevin Clark was named the interim coach by Red Storm A.D. Dave Wegrzyn. St. John's was 2-4 at the time of Jarvis' firing, with two of the losses coming at home against Fairfield and Hofstra. Last year, the Red Storm had a so-so regular season but then finished strong by capturing the NIT Championship. In addition to on-court troubles, the program suffered several embarrassing off-court incidents. The latest involved the arrest and subsequent dismissal of senior guard Willie Shaw for marijuana possession. Also fired was Jarvis' son Mike, an assistant coach. The rumor mill has several names being mentioned as Jarvis' successor next year. Some of the more prominent are Manhattan's Bobby Gonzalez, Bronx native and former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, and Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech, another native New Yorker. Personally, I doubt Hewitt will leave Georgia Tech, and despite his reputation as a master recruiter Cremins may be considered too old. Gonzalez is a strong possibility, but another name to consider is Brooklyn native Jim Baron. Baron did a great job at St. Bonaventure and has revived the program at his current post, Rhode Island. The Rams nearly upset Syracuse in the Dome in their opening game and recently defeated a talented Providence team. Baron is widely respected for both his coaching ability and integrity, and he knows NYC basketball. Jarvis failed largely because he never was able to build a rapport with the local high school and AAU coaches and thus lost virtually all of the many big-time recruits from the NYC area.
UConn has moved back into the top spot in the latest A.P. Top 25 poll. The 8-1 Huskies have a slim 22-point margin over #2 Kentucky. Other Big East teams cracking the Top 25 are unbeaten Pittsburgh at #16, and Syracuse (5-1) at #17.
The top ranked team in the ACC is #3 Duke (8-1), followed closely at #4 by undefeated Georgia Tech (10-0). Also making the Top 25 are 7-0 Wake Forest at #8, North Carolina at #9, and Maryland (6-2) at #24. Wake Forest and North Carolina played one of the most exciting games I've ever seen on Saturday in the "Dean Dome." The Deamon Deacons finally prevailed over the Tar Heels, 119-114 in 3 Overtimes. This marked the 1st ACC conference game for new North Carolina coach Roy Williams. It was the first time in North Carolina's long and storied history that they lost a game when scoring at least 100 points.
The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 25, but all are in the lower portion. Wisconsin (7-1) is #19 after edging Marquette at home on Saturday, 63-59. Illinois at 6-2 is at #21. #22 Purdue was shocked by SMU, 60-59, in the finals of their own tournament (the Boilermaker Invitational) and fell to 8-2.
Kansas handed center Jeff Graves an indefinite suspension. The Jayhawks fell to #12 after being shocked by Nevada, 75-61 on Sunday in Las Vegas. The top ranked Big Twelve team is Oklahoma (8-0) at #7. 5'7" freshman PG Andrew Lavender has looked very good in the early going. Others in the Top 25 are Missouri (4-1) at #11, and Texas (5-2) at #18. The Longhorns were smashed by Duke on Saturday, 89-61 in Madison Square Garden.
Atlantic Ten member St. Joseph's is at #10. The Hawks are a perfect 8-0 behind star PG Jameer Nelson. Another A10 member, Dayton, is at #23. The Flyers are 9-0. CUSA is represented by #14 Cincinnati (6-0) and #20 Louisville (5-1). The remaining member of the Top 25 is #15 Gonzaga (7-2) of the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs have looked good since the return of star PF Ronny Turiaf.
5th ranked Arizona (6-1) has looked great despite having only 7 scholarship players, one of whom rarely plays. In addition to their lack of depth, the Wildcats also lack size. However, they are one of the quickest, most athletic teams around. It remains to be seen if Lute Olson can somehow get them deep into the NCAA Tournement. The California Golden Bears are a team to be reckoned with as the season progresses. Head Coach Ben Braun has four freshmen in the top six in his rotation, including imposing PF Leon Powe and PG Ayinde Ubaka.