The early returns are in from the Southeastern Conference, and now it looks even more likely that Alabama and Florida, the preseason divisional favorites, will be the participants when the league holds its first postseason championship game, on Dec. 5 in Birmingham. The Crimson Tide won its second conference game, allowing Southern Mississippi only 58 yards in an ugly 17-10 victory, and the defending SEC champion Gators opened their season with a 35-19 win over Kentucky.
Both SEC favorites received a boost when the teams that were supposed to be their closest rivals, Mississippi State in the West division and Georgia in the East, were upset. The more shocking of the two losses was Mississippi State's 24-3 defeat at Louisiana State. It may have been that the Bulldogs just weren't as inspired against LSU as they had been the week before when they beat Texas 28-10. On the day before the Longhorn game, a local rancher had brought a bull onto Mississippi State's practice field. Then, to "motivate" the players, the bull was castrated by a vet while the team looked on. Coach Jackie Sherrill defended the action, saying, "I don't think that calf was embarrassed."
In Athens last Saturday, Georgia piled up 569 yards in total offense but lost 34-31 to Tennessee. The Bulldogs were done in by six turnovers and a porous defense of their own, which couldn't contain Heath Shuler, the Volunteers' sophomore quarterback.
Tennessee's 2-0 start has been surprising; coach Johnny Majors missed both games while recovering from heart-bypass surgery, and the team was so decimated by graduation and the pro draft that it has had to play eight true freshmen.
The Vols host Florida on Saturday, and Gator coach Steve Spurrier will undoubtedly remind his players that two years ago—the last time Florida played at Tennessee—the Vols put a 45-3 licking on the Gators. Incidentally, that's the last time an SEC team beat the Gators, who have an 11-game winning streak in a league that's supposed to be impossible to dominate.
Bravo for New Mexico State, which we described in our college football issue (Aug. 31) as having the worst Division I program in the nation. The Aggies responded to our evaluation in two ways: First, they put black "107" decals on their helmets, referring to both the number of teams in Division I and their ranking among them, according to SI; and then they won their first two games for the first time since 1978. In a 42-39 victory over New Mexico last Saturday, Aggie running back Ray Washington ran for three touchdowns and quarterback Charles Puleri threw for 314 yards.
You can take off the decals, guys. Number 107 no longer applies to you. But that raises a question: Who's 107th now?
TIE ONE FOR THE GIPPER
When Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer decided to pass up the NFL draft and return to South Bend for his senior year, he said it was because "I want to win a national championship." If that doesn't happen this season, one reason might be that Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz didn't give his team a chance to go for a win during the last minute of its 17-17 tie with Michigan last Saturday in South Bend.
The Irish had one last chance after Notre Dame free safety Jeff Burris intercepted Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac at the Notre Dame 12 with 65 seconds left in the game. Irish fans have come to expect last-minute, game-winning drives ever since Joe Montana routinely produced them as the Notre Dame quarterback in the late '70s. In fact, Mirer, who wears number 3, just as Montana did, says he models himself after Montana.
But instead of marching into field goal range against the Wolverines, the Irish used 50 seconds to advance two yards. First, Holtz called for Jerome Bettis, his 247-pound fullback, to go up the middle on a draw play. That gained seven yards and used up 29 seconds, but it also gave Notre Dame a chance to size up Michigan's defense, Holtz explained later.
Then, having sized up the defense, Holtz ordered another handoff on second-and-three with 36 seconds left, this one to Reggie Brooks, whose 12-yard gain was nullified by a motion penalty. The Irish didn't get off their next play until 15 seconds remained in the game. After a couple of futile Mirer pass attempts, the game ended, and many Notre Dame fans, who had begun booing after the handoff to Bettis, continued to voice their disapproval.
While Mirer acknowledged that the jeers of the Irish faithful "kinda hurt," he refused to second-guess Holtz. "When you're behind, you've got nothing to lose, and you go for it," Mirer said. "When it was tied, we had to protect what we had."
The last time Notre Dame protected what it had was its famous 10-10 battle with Michigan State in 1966. That tie ended up being the only blemish on both team's records that year, and they wound up sharing the national title. It's doubtful that the Irish—and Mirer—will get that lucky this season.
After Iowa had defeated Iowa State 21-7 for its 10th consecutive victory over its intrastate rival, Hawkeye senior nose-guard Bret Bielema, one of Iowa's co-captains, grabbed Cyclone coach Jim Walden's hand at midfield and said, "I've enjoyed kicking your ass the past five years." Walden was somewhat taken aback but responded, "I'm glad you enjoyed it." Later, when elaborating on his eloquent comment, Bielema said, "Coach [Hayden] Fry has the respect of Iowa. It's a Hawkeye state because of that. He's a class person, and we're class people."...
When Washington State placekicker Aaron Price lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt against Arizona, he was under some pressure: The game was tied 20-20; there were just 35 seconds left; the Cougars hadn't beaten Arizona in Tucson in 11 years; and it has been made plain in Pullman that Washington State must win this season for Cougar coach Mike Price, Aaron's father, to retain his job. "Kick it," said the elder Price to his son as he sent him into the game. The ball sailed dead between the uprights....
Before this season Penn State coach Joe Paterno told friends that Boston College might be the sleeper in the East this season. The Eagles have made Paterno look good, going 2-0 for the first time since 1987....
The winning touchdown in Idaho State's 24-20 upset of Boise State was set up by a play that came straight off the sandlot. Remember how, on a kickoff, everybody would bunch together and then take off in different directions, trying to confuse the tacklers? Well, in the Idaho State playbook, that's known as The Globe of Death. The guy who kept the ball, Robert Johnson, returned it 50 yards to the Boise State 42....
After firing Gerald Kimble as Southern University's football coach at the end of last season, athletic director Marino Casern hired coach Houston Markham away from Alabama State. Or at least he thought he did. While Casern was planning a press conference at Southern to announce the hiring, Markham returned to Alabama State to clean out his desk. Instead, Markham decided to stay and reneged on his agreement with Southern. Casern went ahead with his press conference anyway but announced that he was coming out of retirement to coach the team himself. His first opponent last Saturday? None other than Markham and Alabama State. Casern knew a good coach when he almost hired one: Alabama State beat Southern 30-10.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Colorado sophomore quarterback Kordell Stewart completed 16 of 17 passes for 251 yards and three TDs in a 57-38 win over Baylor. He left with an ankle sprain after the first half.
Purdue senior linebacker Eric Beatty made 16 solo tackles and recovered a fumble in the Boilermakers' 41-14 upset of California. Bear running back Russell White was held to 79 yards.
University of New Haven tailback Roger Graham, a sophomore, rushed for 298 yards on 18 carries and scored five TDs in the Chargers' 69-48 win over the University of Buffalo.