WEEK 4 Football Fodder - Editor's Insights
  By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor


September 23, 2003

Well, well, well…on this final extensive weekend of those early, fabulously competitive non-conference match-ups, many chickens came home to roost. As is always the case, just when you thought the big-boys had clearly, like cream, risen to the top, upstarts, many from conferences to which you always forget the acronym, got the job done. The rundown of those knocked-off eliminates four Top 10 teams from the undefeated ranks. When it comes to those 18-22 year olds, bankability of teams'/players' performance and outcome flies away through whatever analysis window you want.

It seems to be, though, that instead of judging the losing schools' players and teams, we should be asking why so many underdogs are coming through these days. Many facets boil down to but a few factors, the main one being our modern, everyday ease of information, communications, and travel, and how these improve all coaches' recruiting. The results equal less blowouts and more competitive games that often can go either way. Considering the past week's games, if played back 25 years ago, not many would have given Marshall or Toledo chances of beating major powerhouses like Kansas State and Pitt (we know K-State was another also-ran back then, but the point is still painfully obvious). But much work has paid off in the form of wins that demonstrate such skills and not lucky bounces. Give the non-BCSers (and even larger, fledging programs that are finally improving) their due, don't just condemn those at the top.

The most credit goes to Marshall. The boys from Huntington went into an extremely hostile environment in Manhattan to hand Kansas State its first home, non-conference loss in 41 games, 27-20. More unbelievable is the Thundering Herd did it all under the leadership of backup junior QB Graham Gochneaur. Most unbelievable is that the winning TD, thrown with just three minutes-plus remaining, was thrown to converted-DE Jason Rader, who now plays TE. "It's maybe the biggest win since the win over Xavier (15-13 September 25th, 1971) after the plane crash." Marshall had won I-AA titles twice, in 1992 and 1996, but had never beaten a ranked, major-college opponent until Saturday. Their preceding week's loss in the rematch of the 2002 MAC Championship game to Toledo should have been a wakeup call to KSU and Pitt (who took on Toledo), letting both big-boys know neither under-ranked squad makes many mistakes, and not to make any themselves or pay dearly in turn. Both payed.

Toledo's accomplishment is almost as huge. But the difference there has to do with locale - same way Maryland went to Northern Illinois and didn't see them coming. The other difference being this - not many gave Pitt a chance to win it all, whereas K-State made most experts' short-list of predicted Sugar Bowl participants.

Kansas State got theirs. After stacking patsies into their non-con slots for years, KSU finally brought one in and they weren't ready. In today's game, this archaic formula K-State's AD uses to cream his schedule has no place. Getting the team ready for teams like McNeese State or Massachusetts, and then a decent Marshall team or Oklahoma, is akin to telling a kid he has to write his ABCs and then immediately produce a doctorate thesis - one doesn't get you ready for the other. The Panthers suffer from the same scheduling dilemmas. Cupcakes Kent State and Ball State were not intelligently cast opening acts for this past Saturday's main event. Not their biggest game in 2003, Pitt overlooked a quality opponent for no better reason than they were over-ranked and untested so far. With Strength-of-Schedule being an actual factor as to where a team ranks and therefore finishes, along with the above logic, there is no place for such an inept approach from school organizers when making each year's slate of games.

There really is no excuse for former-#21'Bama not seeing 14-point underdog Northern Illinois coming. After upsetting Maryland with ostensible defensive skills and not fortunate bounces, the Crimson Tide should have remembered how bad Oklahoma made them feel in order to prevent what happened in their home Saturday.

But both Georgia and Michigan do have excuses - they were away, at opponents LSU and Oregon, respectively. The bear bites them as both have their over-inflated rankings reevaluated for this week's Top 25. Upset? Yes…but neither embarrassed.

Texas A&M went into Blacksburg for the hurricane bowl last Thursday. Directly effected by Isabel, the game was played in horizontal rain due to wind. The wind played a trick no one could have anticipated, though. Deciding that having the wind in the fourth quarter would be paramount, head coach Dennis Franchione was instead victimized by his decision. After Tech drove the ball in the middle of the fourth for success and a 28-19 lead, PK Carter Warley pooched his effort on the ensuing kickoff. Booted high, the ball stayed up and A&M's return guy sprinted as he saw the ball, but to no avail. What looked like it would come down around the 20-yard line actually only made it to the 35, so the return man's miscalculation allowed the ball to land and become live ball. Tech recovered and converted to put the Aggies away…ESPN's Herbstreit cursed Tech QB Bryan Randall by telling us how different Randall was from last season, so much more savvy and clear-thinking. Anyone who watches this game we love knows that once a factor like this is pointed out, whatever the information supports will quickly be dashed. In this case, Randall immediately, on the next play, threw an INT. Am I the only one who notices this week-in and week-out?...Besides the game itself, the most entertaining moment came towards the end of the third. I apologize for not noting the kid's name (I think it's Alex Coutzer - sorry, I was in the kitchen when they showed this to us), but the report we saw detailed one of A&M's offensive lineman and his adolescent diet. With food in hand, we were shown his consumption when just two years old - 13 McDonalds pancakes. We then saw a packaged beef roast of about two pounds, what the same player eats nightly now, RAW!!! It was a classic moment in sports history.

Are some coaches these days taking strange, unperscribed medications? Games that were already won were put on hold due to stupid moves. Tennessee had the ball and the Gators late in their SEC square-off. But an offensive play-call to pitch the ball with 1:24 left led to a Vol fumble that kept Florida alive. Same thing happened to Ohio State in their contest with MACster Bowling Green, a planned pitch! This is taboo, ask any NFL coach. And with 18-22 year olds? Luckily, the Buckeyes had a recovery by one of their own. Michigan State's pass late in their tilt at Notre Dame was another gutsy call, but it worked out well - they scored on the play. One-in-three are odds that should clearly spell out just how bad of a move it is to choose to put the ball in the air late in a game when not necessary.

Oklahoma has yet to show supreme dominance -especially offensive - since whomping 'Bama in their opener. Against UCLA this past weekend, the Sooner's O-Line was met by the Bruin front-four and negated for quite some time before the scores readily came for OU. Special teams were the deciding factor in this one. Antonio Perkins' record-breaking punt return efforts were good for three scores and set up a fourth (he had 214 yards on five returns and two TDs in just the first half). OU, a punt-blocking machine in 2003, had four blocked punts coming in, and they got another one in the second half. UCLA even went for it on a 4th-and-1 instead of risk possible problems. This reflects depth for the Sooners, but it has to equal the kind of play worthy of their paramount rankings. This was the hardest hitting game I saw.

Special teams cost the Georgia Bulldogs their road visit to Baton Rouge. Instead of having a 12-7, or even 9-7, lead at the half, K Billy Bennett made but 1-of-4 first half FGAs (to trail 7-3 at the half) and the Dawgs never threatened the rest of the way. It was really the announcer's fault, again - he told us how Bennett was second only to legendary UGA kicker Kevin Butler for lifetime accuracy just before Bennett's first missed try.

In New York AGAIN this past weekend, I was left wanting for the games aired there. Army-Tulane, Syracuse-UCF, and Wisconsin-North Carolina were the games aired early Saturday. C'mon now - this is the number one television market in the countryOhio State couldn't give the game to Bowling Green, but they surely tried. But think about it - if OSU continues to play to its competition as they have, they will repeat, right?Rashaun Woods seven TD receptions is one record not likely to be matched by any I-A BCS-level players anytime soon. Woods broke a record held by Tim Delaney of San Diego State (vs. New Mexico State) since 1969. Neither will Perkins' 277 yards and three TDs earned through punt returnsDivision II record-setting Minnesota-Morris College finally snapped their losing streak at 46 games, defeating Principia 61-28 Saturday. It was their first win since November 14th, 1998Does California seems to be on TV every week, or is it me and where I travel?Keep an eye on Mizzu as they sneak up on over-inflated Big XII opponents. QB Brad Smith has only beaten Illinois to pad his 2003 resume, but I expect him to step up as neededABC gets more kudos for their switch-over calls. They went from the OU-UCLA blowout over to Autzen Stadium to let us see Michigan try to recover against Oregon as time expired there in EugeneFlorida State's home victory versus Colorado isn't what it seems. Stellar Buffalo QB Joel Klatt was sidelinedIs NC State finally for real? Their streaky play should iron out so that future opponents are shredded until the Wolfpack meets the Noles In Tallahassee November 15thPenn State has their Big Ten schedule kick in this weekend. Lion QB Zach Mills didn't inspire confidence in Happy Valley with his 12-for-31 performance against Kent StateIowa QB Nathan Chandler has inspired hope in the corn-belt. He has easily surpassed expectations as Brad Banks' replacement, and the D is ranked in the Top 25. They, like Mizzu, have easily flown under most radar's until now - the next three for the Hawkeyes are against (at) Michigan State, Michigan, and (at) Ohio State. Like NC State, they match up well versus the Buckeyes with such an in-control snap-taker…OU and Miami both take a week off to enjoy the view from the top, and with few heated match-ups to be had, it is a good weekend to re-up your insulation - winter is coming soon.