By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
..
November 8, 2004

HIGHS AND LOWS FROM SATURDAY (Nov. 6th weekend)

Well, it finally happened. We have warned you here about Tuesday's being the last day/night that we college (and NFL) football lovers had to take a break. And then ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 decided to screw that by playing Toledo and Miami (Ohio) this past Mardi. Give it to the Red Hawks defense for holding Toledo's all-MAC QB Brad Gradkowski to 207 yards while Miami junior QB Josh Betts broke out with a 24-for-41, 295 yard performance to solidify his place as Ben Roethlisberger's replacement. Miami's win put them into a three-way tie for first in the MAC's East conference with Marshall and Akron, and it knocked the Rocket's out of first place in the West side of things, with Northern Illinois in line to get the conference prize that eluded their elite 2003 squad. And to keep to our theme of this section, Toledo makes its own destiny in two more Tuesday games - the Rocket's go into DeKalb this week to face the Huskies, and then they play 11/23 at home against Bowling Green, the team they are presently tied with for second-place. This conference is competitive and continues to impress (see below).

Then Thursday, we saw a CUSA match-up in the budding rivalry between offensive powerhouses Memphis (ranked 10th for total offense) and Louisville (top-rated). It was payback time for Louisville, which lost 37-7 at home to the Tigers last year (11/15/03). Who wasn't glued to the set after nine lead changes, the last obviously the one that put the Red Birds over the top 56-49 there in Graceland. Louisville goes up (21-17) in the series, but, more importantly - as Southern Mississippi (5-2, 4-1) lost to in-conference foe Cincinnati and the fact that the Cardinals (6-1, 4-0) do not play the Golden Eagles- is a game up on Southern Miss. and in that league's driver-seat. Steven LeFlores, consistently impressive as the nation's No.2 passer (179.2 QB-rating), has to keep his team rolling. The resurgent Bearcats come into Papa John's Stadium 11/27, and since they already gave it to Memphis 49-10 (10/23), nothing is for sure in this upstart conference, either.

Then came Friday night's shocker. Akron (5-4, 5-1) came back from being down 28-7 in the third, scoring 24 unanswered points to win on an unlikely field goal as time expired to shock then-first-place Marshall. After scoring with just 2:18 left to make it 28-21, the Zips secured the onsides-kick and again scored to tie it on a pass between Charlie Frye and Jason Montgomery - just as they had 1:33 earlier. Marshall was then held three-and-out, but their long-snap to punter Ian O'Conner was muffed with :39 seconds left, which led to Jason Swiger's 43-yard game-winner. It was one of those games that you just know millions had tuned out by the latter stages (most while muttering something about how bad Akron must be), only to kick themselves as they saw the final score scroll by. As we said above, it gets real good on this East side of the MAC with strong Bowling Green (7-2, 4-1) hosting the Thundering Herd this Saturday there at Doyt Perry field. And since Marshall (5-4, 4-1) beat Miami (Ohio) on 9/29 and Miami (6-3, 5-1) still plays Akron 11/20, there are just too many variations for how things could wind up there in "Middle America". There is just no night you can take off if you want to see quality, competitive college football.

Saturday rolled around, and the big slate ensued. This kid from North Texas made a few superlatives for himself. Freshman RB Jamario Thomas ran for 203 yards to lead his Mean Green brethren to their 23rd-straight Sun Belt win. This was Jamario's fifth 200-yard game this year, giving him the freshman Division I-A record for most 200-yard games, one more than Hershel Walker and Ron Dayne (four each). He is also the only player this year to have achieved the feat, but being on North Texas, Thomas (who runs a 10.4 sec. 100-yard dash) makes no Heisman waves. No one here is claiming the Mean Green (at 5-4, 5-0) and their 109th-rated schedule (see NC.net's SOS) make Thomas' accomplishments comparable to those of players from larger schools (with tougher schedules). But I again conjure the name Ben Roethlisberger and ask what outstanding players from smaller school's have to do to get invited to New York? If Adrian Peterson could have broken the "freshman cherry", why not Thomas - the nation's leading back?

And, speaking of the Heisman topic, we again point to the running of Texas RB Cedric Benson. Saturday's nationally seen performance (23 carries for 141 yards and five TDs) means Benson is now the nation's fourth-rated runner with more ground TDs (17) than any other back. The Longhorns needed Benson's whole effort (also 5 catches for 51 yards) to overcome Oklahoma State's 35-7 late second-quarter lead with 49 unanswered points. Texas QB Vince Young, though, was the main catalyst - he was 18-for-21 for 278 yards while running it 12 times for 123 yards, and a passing TD to go with his 42-yard ground score. Cross-sport analogy: Texas is again the "Red Sox", if you will, to Oklahoma's "Yankees"; always the bride's maid, but never the bride. So does Boston's recent MLB fate signal a change to come for the Longhorns in '05?

Oklahoma lost frosh RB phenom Adrian Peterson with an arm injury in the second-half of their tough 42-35 victory over Texas A&M. A&M had revenge in mind after last year's 77-0 plastering became the worst loss in the 108-year history of their program. The Aggies' 23rd-ranked rushing defense was determined to not let Peterson run on them Saturday, holding the Sooner's main ground threat to 101 yards on 29 tries. Of course, OU QB Jason White then sliced-and-diced them for 292 yards and five TDs on 19-of-35 passing. As A&M and others find out, Oklahoma is almost impossible to stop. But even with OU returning all of their offensive linemen this year, A&M's ability to stop the OU ground attack means even better foes (likely USC or Auburn for the BCS title game in Miami) can now see vulnerability and/or weaknesses in what seemed like the best line in America up until this past week. Peterson did break the NCAA I-A mark for most consecutive 100-yard performances (9) for a freshman, but he again - for the sixth time - failed to garner a catch and/or to give White any viable target when he's in the backfield. This kid has to get some hands before teams like A&M can be more easily confused and therefore thwarted. And kudos to Herbstreit and Corso for not putting Peterson in either's personal top five Heisman candidate lists.

We wrap up the Big XII updates with Iowa State's 34-27 home upset of Nebraska. This puts the North-leading Cyclones (5-4, 3-3) in control of their own destiny in this diluted half of the conference, even though the Cornhuskers also share the same record(s). After a bye week, ISU goes to Kansas State (4-5, 2-4) and then hosts Mizzu (4-5, 2-4), either of which could move into the lead by beating State. With so many permutations of how this conference, too, could wind up, here's another one to stay tuned to down the wire.

What is in a Name I - This is a good time to reiterate the praises of two guys named Omar (one who uses an extra 'r' at the end), each of whom have shaken things up for their respective teams as they have come onto the scene. Most of the talk about Mississippi State has been concerning the hiring and progress of the SEC's first black head coach, the Bulldog's Sylvester Croom. But much of their clear turnaround and marginal success is due to versatile sophomore QB Omarr Conner. Croom's first SEC win (38-13 versus Florida on 10/23) was largely in part to the solid, mistake-free play of Omarr. Conner, the former Mississippi "Mr. Football" in his senior year of prep, will clearly be the centerpiece for any future Bulldog winning seasons - something which hasn't happened in Starkville in three years. The other Omar, Bowling Green's QB Omar Jacobs, continues to roll in his first year as the Falcon's starter. The nation's fourth-rated passer (170.1 efficiency rating) also leads the nation with 27 TDs, and is one of six I-A QBs with two INTs or less. This past weekend, he led the Falcons to a school-record 49 points and 551 yards in the first half. It is not too far ahead to look at BGU's 9/3/05 match-up at the Big House there in Ann Arbor, for this could be Jacobs' and the Falcon's only serious obstacle to an undefeated 2005 season. Just remember the name Omar(r) and apply each whenever appropriate.

What is in a Name II - A Bowden finally beat Larry Coker! Ok, it wasn't the head of the clan, Bobby (FSU's venerable skipper who is 0-5 versus the Cane coach) but his son Tommy who at last accomplished the task Saturday night with his Clemson Tigers in front of a national audience. Clemson's 24-17 OT win - after being down 17-3 at the half - means the Canes, for the second consecutive year, have lost twice in a row in the season's 10th and 11th weeks. It was UM's first homecoming loss since 1982's 24-7 loss to FSU, and it put Miami (6-2, 3-2) into fourth in the ACC behind soon-to-be foes Virginia (7-1, 4-1) and Virginia Tech (7-2, 4-1). The Cavaliers and Hokies play 11/27, so we get even another conference with too many possibilities for anyone, especially when viewing this Miami loss and knowing Tech's pension for November disappointments, to make any title-winning calls yet. Ooo, it sure is getting good...

Both Purdue and Minnesota have now lost four in a row. Both squads started 5-0 before falling apart as the meat of their respective Big Ten schedules was being served . Purdue, though, has to be the bigger disappointment of the two, with former-Heisman candidate Kyle Orton (now injured) leading the Boilermakers' downward spiral through three late fourth-quarter collapses. Too bad they don't play each other soon, for modern overtime rules mean one of them would have to win, thus ending at least one of these "pity skids". Hey, pass the bowl of pity skids over here…

Bad Coaching Award - Phillip Fulmer wins this week for calling a pass play deep in his own end just before the end of the first half, an aimless play-call which resulted in the loss of starting Tennessee QB Erik Ainge for the remainder of the game and possibly longer. The injury, via a 16-yard sack/forced fumble from senior Irish LB Brandon Hoyte, allowed Notre Dame to more-easily stifle the Vols lifeless offense in their 17-13 win there in Knoxville. Ainge was only 21 yards from breaking Casey Clausen's Vol record for yardage by a freshman, and, ironically enough, it was Clausen's brother (junior) Rick who came in to replace the injured Ainge. The non-con loss to ND means Tennessee (7-2, 5-1) remains in first in the SEC East. Even though UT beat Georgia 19-14 (10/9) and both squads had one loss going in this week, the Vols were ranked 9th before the game, behind the Bulldogs at 8th. Now, they have no one but themselves - and maybe their coach - to blame as they tumble to 15th in this week's AP poll. A statistical side note here - how come the official defensive stats do not credit Hoyte with the sack and/or the forced fumble?

Speaking of awards, this week's Most Versatile Scoring Award is given to Ohio State's freshman WR Ted Ginn Jr. A former USA Today and SuperPrep national Defensive Player of the Year (2004), Ginn was recruited as a DB, but has shown enough speedy elusiveness to merit his offensive and special team touches. Jim Tressel's eye for talent really paid off with Ginn (pronounced with a hard 'g' sound, not like the martini ingredient or cotton-deseeding machine), who easily ran 17 yards in the first for his first score, returned a punt 60 yards for the second score, and caught a 58-yard TD pass to put Ohio State ahead for good 25-19 with 1:37 left. Ginn is a real-deal game-changer, something Ohio State hasn't had since the ominous departure of RB Maurice Clarett. Along with exciting newbie QB Troy Smith, the resurgent Buckeye nation has a real chance at victory in two weeks when conference unbeaten Michigan (8-1, 6-0) comes to the Horseshoe.

Lagniappe - Arizona State senior QB Andrew Walter threw four TD passes to give him 80 career scoring strikes, a new Pac-Ten record (beating Stanford QB John Elway's 22-year old mark of 76). Walter's last TD was the margin in the Sun Devil's 34-31 come-from-behind home win against Stanford Saturday night…Reggie Bush could easily be the nation's most versatile talent - the super-quick "RB" has now run (4), passed (1), caught (6), and returned punts (2) for TDs. If this guy doesn't get an invitation to the Downtown Athletic Club…With many TV-cameras zooming in from over 200 feet away, the fog that affected the game between USC and Oregon up in Corvallis became thick enough to make the ball (on most plays) indistinguishable to the viewing eye…Every single Top 25 team is slated to play this weekend…Wednesday's game (USF at UAB) was a washout, literally. Alabama-Birmingham fell at home 45-20 in what was a downpour (1.14 inches of rain fell) most of the game. Officially, 9,220 was the paid attendance, but there couldn't have been more than a few hundred people left by game's close…Mike Price's UTEP finally came out from under the radar at No.25 in the latest AP poll…Boston College's tilt with Big East leader West Virginia this weekend in Morgantown poses the Eagles' last chance to win the league crown before moving to the ACC next year…And speaking of this year's best return men, Tulsa's Ashlan Davis returned a kickoff for a TD in his fourth consecutive game to set the I-A record for most total KO returns in a season for TD. But even with his amazing one-man highlight shows, Davis remains rated third nationally in this category…One week after upsetting FSU, Maryland went back their dismal offensive ways in losing 16-0 at Virginia…Harvard remains the nation's only undefeated I-AA team at 8-0, and all eyes are on this week's conference-deciding scrimmage with Penn, which has a 20-game Ivy League win-streak going. We are going to guess that Harvard's new policy - (and check on this, please) of paying the tuition for those undergrads that do not make (either themselves or their parents) $40,000 annually - is starting to reap dividends on the football field…Illinois broke their 14-game Big Ten losing sequence with a 26-22 home win over upstart Indiana…and, finally, Baylor tried to end their 34-game conference road losing streak against Texas Tech. You guessed it - the Bears took the streak to 35. Baylor has had only two in-conference games in the past six seasons in which they were within one score by games end. But last week's victory against (then-No.22) A&M - 35-34 in OT - is as big a win for this program as they have seen since 1997, when they beat Texas 23-21 in only their second year in the Big XII. Hey, they still have to go to Oklahoma State--- I mean, No.36 looks imminent.