Moments after opening with a 29-6 victory over Boston College, several Pittsburgh players attended a press conference wearing BEAT OKLAHOMA T-shirts. Said quarterback Alex Van Pelt, who completed 18 of 26 passes for 181 yards, "I don't care who we play, we're going to beat them."
Van Pelt and his teammates might not have been quite so cocky had they seen Oklahoma's 34-14 crushing of UCLA in 120° heat in the Rose Bowl. The Sooners, who play Pitt this Saturday in Norman, looked very much like the team that everyone in college football had feared for so many years. Against UCLA they had to make do without tailback Ike Lewis and with a banged-up offensive line. No matter. Tony Levy recovered two Bruin fumbles on punts, both of which set up easy touchdowns. Quarterback Steve Collins adroitly directed an option attack that netted 299 yards on the ground, and the defense intercepted four UCLA passes and held Bruin runners to 28 yards on 27 carries. "Right now," said coach Gary Gibbs, "our defense is ahead of our offense, but we are better than last year in both areas."
At Pitt, meanwhile, coach Paul Hackett didn't sound as optimistic as his players. "As far as the offense goes," Hackett said, "we have a long way to go. We are way behind schedule." That's no place to be when you're heading for Norman.
Bill Curry left Alabama under such bitter circumstances (SI, Jan. 22, 1990) that his supporters had to chuckle when they saw the score of new coach Gene Stallings's debut: Southern Mississippi 27, Alabama 24. Their glee did not last, though. On Saturday evening, Curry's current team, Kentucky, was embarrassed by Rutgers, 24-8, at the Meadowlands. The Wildcats' stats against the Scarlet Knights, who were 2-7-2 in '89, included eight turnovers and minus-seven yards rushing. "This," said Curry, "was a total team effort."
Alabama fans may prefer Stallings, a former assistant under the revered Bear Bryant, to Curry, but that doesn't mean Stallings will have an easier time wresting control of the state, and the SEC, from Auburn, which crushed Fuller-ton State 38-17. Southern Miss got little more than a cameo appearance from its standout quarterback, Bret Favre. Still recovering from injuries suffered in a July 14 automobile accident, Favre wasn't cleared to play until last Friday. He completed only nine of 17 passes for 125 yards, but his mere presence helped the Golden Eagles almost as much as Alabama's mistakes did. The winning points came on a 52-yard field goal by Jim Taylor with 3:35 to play.
Alabama's next opponent could erase all doubts that Stallings's honeymoon is over. Florida, an impressive 50-7 winner over Oklahoma State in its first game under coach Steve Spurrier, will be visiting Saturday. A loss to the Gators would give Alabama a four-game losing streak (over two seasons) for the first time since 1956.
Here's what we have to say about West Virginia's 14-10 loss to Maryland: Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, serves you right, all of you Mountaineer fans who made such a big deal over the fact that, for the first time, a woman is the university's Mountaineer mascot. Natalie Tennant, a 22-year-old broadcast journalism major, won the job by beating a male rival in a "cheer-off" at a basketball game last winter. When Tennant was announced as the winner, there were boos from the student section and chants of "Go back to the kitchen!" Later someone hung a bra on the Mountaineer statue near the student union, and buttons and bumper stickers appeared around Morgantown that said—we are not making this Up—WE DON'T WANT A MOUNTAINDEAR, GIVE US BACK OUR MOUNTAINEER.
This doltishness diverted attention from what the football team is going to do now that quarterback Major Harris is no longer around. While his replacement, Greg Jones, was completing only six of 18 passes for 88 yards, Maryland's Scott Zolak was connecting on 23 of 42 attempts for 313 yards. Zolak's 59-yard scoring pass to Gene Thomas with 2:27 to play marked the second week in a row that the pair had hooked up for a game-winner in the closing moments.
Like a played-out oilfield, the SWC had begun to resemble a succession of dry holes. But the league is gushing some good football again. On a Saturday when its two best teams, Arkansas (which leaves for the SEC next year) and Texas A&M, were idle, the SWC still went 4-3 against outside competition—and that could have been 5-2 had Texas Tech caught another break or two in a tough 17-10 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.
The conference's most important victory was the 17-13 beating that Texas handed to Penn State, in State College, Pa. The once-mighty Longhorns, who haven't finished in the final Top 20 since 1983 and who are coming off their first back-to-back losing seasons in 51 years, trailed 7-6 at intermission, but quickly took control when Adrian Walker returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards. That set up a six-yard touchdown run by Chris Samuels and a two-point conversion for a 14-7 lead.
"I've preached and preached that most opening games are won or lost by the kicking game," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, and he was right. The Nittany Lions' kicking game also included a blocked punt, a blocked field goal attempt and a missed 31-yard field goal try. Kicking wasn't a total washout, though. The Lions' Gary Brown returned five kickoffs for a school-record 201 yards, including a 95-yard return of the opening kickoff, which set up Penn State's first TD.
The Longhorns have a week off before learning if they are for real, against Colorado on Sept. 22, but one Texas player has already made up his mind. "We have a chance to win the national championship now," says cornerback Van Malone.
Hey, slow down, Van. Most Texas fans will be happy just to see the Longhorns compete for the SWC title and put some meaning back into the Oct. 13 showdown with Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.
Pittsburg (Kans.) State extended the nation's longest regular-season winning streak to 47 with a 45-7 victory over Missouri Western, but Westminster (Pa.), the NAIA Division II champion the last two years, had its 27-game winning streak stopped by a 7-6 loss to Northwood (Mich.) Institute....
Kansas' 38-12 victory over Oregon State, coupled with Kansas State's 27-6 win over Western Illinois, marked the first time since Nov. 17, 1984, that both teams won on the same day....
Ohio State fans who disliked Earle Bruce might be interested to know that his current team, Colorado State, which he took over in 1989, beat Montana State 41-5, and is off to a 2-0 start for the first time in 13 years....
Iowa didn't go to a bowl last season for the first time in nine years, so coach Hayden Fry has shaved his mustache. His wife, Shirley, is tickled by the lack of hair on her husband's stiff upper lip. "She's never liked the mustache," says Fry, whose Hawkeyes open on Saturday against Cincinnati, "but I'm a superstitious guy. The first year we went to a bowl game, I had a mustache, so I kept it, and we kept going to bowl games every year after that."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Substituting for the injured Chuck tailback at Tennessee, rushed for 248 yards on 22 carries, and scored on runs of 69 and 80 yards in a 40-7 victory over Mississippi State.
With eight seconds to play against Minnesota, La Von Edwards, a junior cornerback, picked up a blocked field goal attempt and dashed 91 yards for a touchdown to give Utah a wild 35-29 win over the Gophers.
Mark Brown, a senior running back at Central Missouri State, gained 227 yards on 27 carries and had touchdown runs of nine, 13 and 32 yards as the Mules beat Washburn 24-7 in a Division II game.