By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
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December 6, 2004

HIGHS AND LOWS FROM WEEK 14 (Dec. 4th weekend)

We again start this, our final HIGHS and LOWS for the 2004 season, with those upstart MACsters. Thursday night in Detroit, ESPN gave us a great primetime game that was well played by both Miami (Ohio) and Toledo. The difference between these two western Ohio teams came down to the running game and the poignant arm of Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski (7th in I-A for pass efficiency). Sophomore Rocket RB Scooter McDougle ran it 35 times for 167 yards (with 4 catches for 23 yards) to set up four Gradkowski TD throws, with three of them coming in yet another second half comeback. Down 14-7 at the half, the Rockets were able to shoot out to a 35-20 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining. Toledo had just come back the week before against Bowling Green, making up for a 27-7 halftime deficit by winning 49-41 to get to the crowning game in Detroit. They also came back against (another western MAC foe) Northern Illinois just a week before the BG win, finding a way from 10 down to win 31-17, so this ability of Gradkowski's should have NFL scouts at least curious. RedHawk QB Josh Betts, who had led Miami over the Rockets 23-16 in Oxford just one month earlier in a rare Tuesday night scrimmage, did get 304 passing yards, but also turned it over twice. Betts, who will return as a senior, has succeeded Ben Roethlisberger well, but couldn't win the game in his first try that it took Ben three seasons to even get to (and then win). But Josh will surely make Miami a non-BCS school that Ohio State (whom they play 9/3/05) should not overlook. Gradkowski, a junior, could be playing on Sundays next season. And since six MAC teams had a shot at making it to Detroit as of just two weeks ago, the annual power struggle that eventually defines the MAC should be unpredictable again in '05.

Of course Saturday was our last gasp of regular season games. All of those crucial tilts were a great ending climax, and Hawai'i's 3 a.m. (time on the east coast as game ended) 41-38 comeback win over Michigan State was the proverbial non-bowl cigarette that usually follows such enjoyment. But, referring to my prior HIGHS and LOWS statements pertaining to the fleeting quality level(s) of Big Ten play, is this actually more about the Rainbow Warriors' home efforts or the Spartans' inconsistencies? Making such statements mean it therefore must some combination of the two - when Chang gets hot at home, even teams from the Big Ten will succumb (Hawai'i's 49-41 home-win last week over Northwestern)…or is it - when Big Ten teams falter in Honolulu, even Chang gets hot? The NCAA passing record-holder has played inconsistently himself, making each week an adventure for Warrior fans. Regardless of this chicken-egg conundrum, both affected the final outcome. As you may have noticed but failed to realize, teams line up to play year-ending, non-con games at Aloha Stadium, for a trip to Hawai'i in late November or early December often beats a cold-weather bowl trip to Detroit or Memphis. Do you think Hawai'i ever wants to go anywhere else, seeing how they are 7-12 (0-4 this year) when playing away in the last four years? Or is it that 5-6 hour (depending when you go there, for they do not practice daylight savings time) time differential that seems to affect whoever the visiting team is?

Pittsburgh just became the number one football destination. At the college or professional level, that town arguably has one of the top eight teams in the nation. The BCS confirmed this by guaranteeing the Panthers a major bowl bid as winners of the Big East. Pitt becomes the "by default" champion over a bunch other 8-3 teams, making this the only BCS conference with its best squad dragging in a trio of defeats. Who wants to make it official? I will - if Louisville can again play at the high level they showed us this year, they will easily be Big East champs and BCS-bowl bound.

The Big XII Coach of the Year has been named, and it is embattled Colorado head man Gary Barnett. If you want to know how to measure the ethics and morale of where college football is headed, it is in off-the-field areas like this. We all know of the actions and comments of Barnett, from his comments about/treatment of a female placekicker to his ignorance concerning school recruiting practices. What many may not know is that, as the chips fell in the aftermath, the university rid itself of their wishy-washy athletic director instead of Barnett. Winning at football (and therefore making money for the school at bowl games and on TV) is evidently more important than instilling even basic morals. So, what kind of message does this send, when we hold such a marginal human being to this respected light, awarding those in power who are supposed to be shaping young psyches that, actually, genuinely degrade others when given half the chance? It stinks, and it produces the "winning at football, no matter what, is more important than seeing the humanity in the people making it" attitude we now are finding more and more. Instead of cutting their losses, Colorado had actively instilled this lesson in its football program. And since this is an award voted on by his fellow coaches, we can see that this problem spreads much wider than just something that can affect CU, for how else could other coaches condone his ways? Now, with such moral bankruptcy displayed at these high levels, we are going to have to look inside ourselves and see if we can remember and perpetuate the real Gary Barnett, or the vilified image of Barnett that gets rewarded for his despicable actions.

Now, onto the mantra I have been singing since week three. How does a flavor of the month (OU RB Adrian Peterson) get invited to New York? Simply - hype. As stated over and over, Cedric Benson, Texas' back who has been doing just as well for four years, beats Peterson in most major categories this year. The usual formula of making an upperclassman the Heisman winner holds water with these two, for this way media hype cannot overcome worthy players who actually lead their teams as people, too, and not just as statistical specimens. Peterson is not the best back, let alone player. The nature of the press elevating Peterson above others who are better and have been doing it longer really - like with Gary Barnett but in a much different way - shows you where the integrity of this sport is headed, towards objectifying players instead of looking for and embracing humanity within the game. Again, as we have had to do before, we say outright that this does not mean that we feel Peterson somehow isn't awesome - he is, and possibly has the most potential of any back in college. Peterson, like Mike Vick, may be the scariest person in the game to have to bring down. But potential is not what the vote is about, quality of performance is. His 11 100-yard games break the freshman record of 10 that was set by Wisconsin's Anthony Davis in 2001, yet he has been contained at several crucial times when his team has needed him most, luckily having the likes of QB Jason White to also keep opponents on their heels. Next year's greener OU line will tell much about Peterson's ability. Reggie Bush, USC's stellar RB/WR/KR, deserves just as much dap as either of the other two. Bush has a quality that few ever grace the college ranks with and puts him over Peterson easily - he can will his team to victory, like he did with his two attention getting TD runs (65 and then 81 yards). He was the difference in the 29-24 win this weekend over UCLA, and sheer desire was his weapon. That is Heisman-worthy. Catching only three passes, Peterson's total this season, isn't. Add it all up and make your own conclusions. But, most importantly, be weary of any member of the press who is willing to turn these kids into objects just so they can be right about something.

What happened at the Miami-Virginia Tech game that knocked the source signal offline and kept us from seeing about three minutes of the second quarter at a key junction? With Tech up 7-0 down there in the Orange Bowl and driving again, we suddenly had ABC's New York studios on our screens. Well, while away, Miami stopped the Hokies, scored to tie it, and held Tech to three-and-out. So, as we get back to things about seven minutes later, it is tied and Miami has the ball. Boing…The studio guys did little to give us play-by-play, instead pulling off ABC's back up plan - they bantered about the BCS, of all topics. If this is all ABC can do in the age of cell phones and T1 lines to keep us appraised, then I guess they somehow feel providing even marginal coverage isn't as important as blowing the coverage completely at critical junctures of a game. At least smoke signals are better than nothing, guys. Yes, Virginia Tech held Miami off 16-10 to win the ACC in its first year in the league. And since the Canes would have been the champs if they had won this game, it seems obvious that the ACC can only get better with these two having joined.

A little pat on our back for telling you early on just how important the hurricane-delayed games would be to the final BCS picture. With California struggling to win 26-16 at Southern Miss, they dropped in the rankings just enough points to be the odd team out. Texas goes instead, playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl. How ironic, for you'd figure a Golden Bear could beat a Golden Eagle soundly enough if he just got a good hold on it, but USM was in position to win until late. The game changed on a bizarre play, as Cal blocked a USM PAT try at 17-16 which would have tied it. The ball was then run back 98 yards by Cal for a two point score and therefore a three point swing to instead make it 19-16. Cal then got the kickoff and went in to score and put it away. But this was not enough to keep the Longhorns and their solid record from overtaking Cal in the polls. Heck, they should have those two one-loss teams play. Or, at least, Auburn should get whichever is the wildcard selection, for that would provide the best test for the Tigers to see if they are worthy of a (possibly) shared national title. Instead, Auburn gets a two-loss Virginia Tech squad in the Sugar. It isn't perfect, but the BCS seems to try and screw it up, huh?

Lagniappe - Colorado was only allowed 46 total yards on their 44 plays against Oklahoma, including -4 yards rushing on 16 carries and three first downs on their way to losing 42-3. OU had the ball for 39:32. This was the most convincing win by the big three undefeated teams, but the Buffaloes were also the weakest out of all of their foes…Hurricane jersey No.6 was the one beat in coverage for VT's game-winning score. Projected as a top ten draft pick, how many times did you see Antrel Rolle get beat this year?...Anyone poo-pooing Pitt for their BCS birth (vs. Utah in Fiesta Bowl 1/1) need only see junior QB Tyler Palko's 19-for-28, 411-yard, five TD performance to see a dangerous team that beat Notre Dame, Boston College, and West Virginia. Well, USF does have the 105th-ranked pass efficiency defense, so…Louisville won their record-setting fifth game in a row when scoring 50 or more points, beating Tulane 55-7…As Navy beat Army 42-13, they pulled even in the series 49-49-7 by winning their sixth in a row in the series and finished with nine wins in a season for the first time since 1963. I would make a crack about President Bush flipping the commemorative coin sent from Fallujah, Iraq to open the game, but it just seems to easy…Four TDs by Tennessee were the most against Auburn in any one game this year, but they weren't enough to overcome as the Tigers won 38-28 in the SEC championship game…FSU finishes as the team giving up the least total TDs - 16, but that was in 11 games. Auburn and VT gave up 17 in 12 games for the lowest TDs-per-game averages…North Texas gave up only two INTs, but that was on only 227 throws. Georgia has given away three INTs, but they threw it 322 times and against much tougher competition…Northwestern's junior LB, Tim McGarigle, had the most aggregate tackles (151 in 12 games), meaning a guy who failed to get any all-American mention on this site has 291 tackles over two years…Texas senior LB Derrick Johnson led Division 1 with six forced fumbles…Marshall's Jonathan Goddard finished with 28 total TFLs (23 solo) to win that category hands-down. Goddard also took the crown for most sacks (16) …Louisville's PK, Art Carmody, set the all-time I-A mark for PATs in a row with 72…Jason White was stopped at 198 consecutive passes without an INT. Oklahoma's Heisman-winning QB (2003) also became the school's all-time passing leader in Saturday's Big XII title match…and we digress. Until our 2005 previews come out in the spring, we wish all of you our best and thank you for continuing to support this fledging site.