Let the Game Begin
No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Miami easily won their final tune-ups for their long-awaited showdown in Tallahassee on Saturday. The Seminoles crushed South Carolina 38-10, and the Hurricanes defeated West Virginia 27-3. Florida State will take a 10-0 record and a 16-game winning streak into the game, but 8-0 Miami is unimpressed. "Somehow, someway," says Hurricane fullback Stephen McGuire, remembering how highly touted Florida State teams have played themselves out of national title consideration in each of the last five years, "you know the 'Noles are going to find a way to mess up."
Maybe so, but we don't think it's going to happen this time. It says here that Florida State coach Bobby Bowden's best team will give him his biggest victory. Here's why:
•The Seminoles have already proved themselves against tougher opponents, having beaten BYU, Michigan and LSU on the road and Syracuse at home. The Hurricanes' best win was over Penn State, 26-20.
•If the game were being played in the Orange Bowl, where the Hurricanes have won 43 games in a row, Miami might prevail. However, in Doak Campbell Stadium you have to like the Seminoles, if only because their fans will make Miami numb with their silly war chants.
•Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon is 15-0 as a starter—perhaps the most important stat of all. With six receivers who have at least one reception of 49 or more yards, and with two relentless runners in tailback Amp Lee and fullback Edgar Bennett, Weldon operates the most talented offense in the land. "My job with this team," says Weldon, "is to spread the wealth around."
•The Hurricane offense takes pride in its ability to make the big play, but it has yet to prove it can sustain a drive, something that may be fatal against a gambling Florida State defense, which can match Miami's extraordinary speed, player for player, stride for stride and gibe for gibe.
•Miami quarterback Gino Torretta isn't as dangerous as his illustrious predecessors, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson. The last time he faced Florida State in Tallahassee, as a replacement for the injured Erickson in 1989, Torretta threw four interceptions, two of which were picked off by linebacker Kirk Carruthers. Although Carruthers is still around, he may only be Florida State's second-best linebacker, after sophomore Marvin (Shade Tree) Jones.
•In safety Terrell Buckley, the Seminoles have the best defensive back in the nation, a player who can take over a game. With nine interceptions this season, including two in his head-to-head battle with Michigan's Desmond Howard, Buckley deserves to be considered for the Heisman. Just ask him.
Both teams have such gambling defenses and big-play offenses that the only upset would be if they played a dull, low-scoring game. So make it Florida State 38, Miami 35 in a game that we'll still be discussing late on New Year's Day. Having said that, let us add that we agree with Miami defensive end Rusty Medearis, who said after the West Virginia game, "It's time for the talk to be ended. It's time to walk the walk instead of talking."
Still in the Hunt
The winner of the Florida State-Miami game will emerge as the front-runner for the national title, followed closely by Washington, which no doubt will improve its record to 10-0 by creaming winless Oregon State on Saturday. However, it would be a mistake to leave No. 5 Florida (8-1) out of the championship picture. The Gators still have a chance to be No. 1.
They clinched at least a tie for the SEC crown by whipping Georgia 45-13 in Jacksonville. The win was especially satisfying for Florida because, since '66, the Dawgs had beaten the Gators four times with the conference crown on the line. This year Florida was clearly superior on both sides of the ball. The Gators can wrap up the league championship—and the host spot in the Sugar Bowl—by beating hapless Kentucky on Saturday in Gainesville.
"Florida is awfully good," said Georgia coach Ray Goff after the Gators had rolled up 512 yards in offense while holding the Dawgs to 220. "They've beaten Alabama, they've beaten Auburn, they've beaten Tennessee, and now they've beaten us. They deserve to be champions."
Shane Matthews, Florida's junior quarterback, riddled Georgia, completing 22 of 31 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns. In 10 of 20 starts for the Gators, Matthews has thrown for at least three touchdowns, and he has passed for 300 or more yards nine times. In addition, his second TD pass to Willie Jackson last Saturday gave him 24 for the year, tying the SEC's single-season record set by the Gators' John Reaves in 1969.
So how can Florida win the national title? Well, it will need a little Gator-aid. Florida will play host to Florida State on Nov. 30 in its final regular-season game. The Gators hope that the Seminoles will still be unbeaten and ranked No. 1. That way, a Florida victory would make the Gators no worse than No. 3, behind Washington and perhaps Michigan, heading into the bowl games.
If the Wolverines, who lost badly to Florida State in Ann Arbor, were to squeak by the Huskies in the Rose Bowl and Florida were to win impressively in the Sugar Bowl, the Gators would have every right to claim the national title. Their only loss, 38-21 on Sept. 21 at Syracuse, now appears to have been a fluke. The Gators dropped behind 14-0 early in that game and never recovered.
The Mighty Have Fallen
Moral victories are for perennial losers, not for proud Southern Cal. Yet that was about all the Trojans could claim after holding Washington to two touchdowns in a 14-3 loss in Los Angeles. The defeat dropped USC to 3-6 and assured the Trojans of their first losing season since 1983, when they finished 4-6-1 while on NCAA probation. Obviously looking to the future, coach Larry Smith started 13 underclassmen against the Huskies. Two true freshmen, quarterback Rob Johnson and guard Clay Hattabaugh, played most of the second half.
Washington coach Don James, who had not beaten Southern Cal in L.A. since 1980, thought the win was just peachy—or rosy, if you will, considering where the 9-0 Huskies will almost certainly be playing on New Year's Day. Though the Washington offense failed to dominate a Trojan defense that had surrendered 52 points to Cal the week before, the Huskies' defense performed as usual, holding USC to zero yards in the fourth quarter.
"I'm not disappointed with our offense," said James, who got 158 yards and two touchdowns from tailback Beno Bryant, a product of Los Angeles's Dorsey High. "How can I be? It's the first time since 1980 that I've been able to smile after a game down here. It's a real tough place to play."
The Trojans played without tailback Mazio Royster, who had been benched for missing a film session last week. When asked about the benching, Royster indicated that he had already given up on this season. "Last year I felt the same way," he said, "but at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It's hard to go to practice when the light is dimmer."
Poor guy. Hasn't anybody given Royster the old pep talk about how adversity builds character? Probably not. That's a speech that Southern Cal coaches haven't had to use very often.
Since we've criticized coaches in the past for playing for ties or being otherwise wimpy, it seems only fair to mention two gutsy calls that we think epitomize the spirit of college football:
•With his team leading LSU 20-17 and 1:43 left in the game, Alabama coach Gene Stallings gave in to his players' wishes and, instead of punting, went for a first down on fourth-and-inches at the 'Bama 43. "We could see he [Stallings] wanted to kick the ball," said Crimson Tide tailback Siran Stacy, "but the offense had a chance to end it right there. Everybody wanted to go for it." Fullback Kevin Turner burrowed into the right side of the line and picked up the first down by a foot, allowing Alabama to run out the clock. "It wasn't a smart call on my part," said Stallings, whose surprising team is 8-1. "I let my heart override my good judgment."
•With his Buffaloes trailing lowly Oklahoma State 12-10 and 14 seconds remaining, Colorado coach Bill McCartney called for a fake field goal. Holder Robbie James, a fifth-year walk-on wide receiver who didn't make his first catch until this season, took the snap on the Cowboy 27 and made the first pass of his career, throwing to tight end Christian Fauria for the winning touchdown. Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones, who had called two consecutive timeouts in an attempt to unnerve Colorado kicker Jim Harper, was duly impressed. "The play at the end, however long I've been coaching, is the gutsiest call I've ever seen," said Jones.
Through nine games, Minnesota has been more successful on two-point conversions (two of three) than on one-point kicks (one of six). In case you're keeping score, that adds up to nine touchdowns, which just might be a reason that the Gophers are 2-7....
A 37-7 win over Iowa State in Ames snapped Kansas State's streak of road losses at 30. Until last Saturday, the Wildcats' last victory away from home was a 20-17 triumph over Missouri on Oct. 26, 1985....
Stanford's 27-10 defeat of UCLA means that for the first time since 1941, the Pac-10's two San Francisco-area schools, Stanford and California, have each defeated the league's two Los Angeles-area schools, UCLA and Southern Cal, in the same year....
Houston placekicker Roman Anderson became the NCAA's alltime leading scorer and the first player to surpass 400 points in his career when he got five points in the Cougars' 23-14 victory over Texas. The bad news was that he also had an extra point blocked, ending his streak of conversions at 136....
The dumbest decision of the season was made by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who signed an agreement last month stipulating that his league's runner-up would play in the Holiday Bowl this season. That could be 10-1 Iowa, which would have been a serious candidate for one of the more lucrative Jan. 1 bowls. Said Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry following his team's 38-21 rout of Indiana last week, "The conference is leaving a lot of money on the table with the decision."
...After a 59-14 loss to Michigan, Northwestern coach Francis Peay said, "What does it mean to hold [Desmond] Howard to one touchdown catch? It means [Wolverine coach] Gary Moeller is a humanitarian." That touchdown made Howard Michigan's alltime leading scorer with 120 points. The previous record of 117 points was set by Tom Harmon in 1940, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Nebraska's Calvin Jones, who is a freshman running back, came off the bench in the first quarter and, on 27 carries, set school records with 294 yards rushing and six touchdowns as the Huskers beat Kansas 59-23.
Cornerback Carlton McDonald, a junior at Air Force, intercepted two of Army's five passes and made five tackles—three of them were behind the line of scrimmage—in the Falcons' 25-0 defeat of the Cadets.
Senior tailback Brian Grandison, who plays for Division Ill's College of Wooster, went over the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive year by rushing for 292 yards on 33 carries in a 54-20 victory over Earlham.