ROOM WITH A VIEW
Ithaca College coach Jim Butterfield has a lovely view from his office window: a sweeping panorama of South Hill and, far below, the shimmering blue surface of Cayuga Lake dotted with sailboats. Of course, there's a pleasing view from the other side of the building too. From there the coach can look out at Jim Butterfield Stadium.
In the 26 years that Butterfield—the man, not the stadium—has been at the west-central New York school, his record is 195-65-1. And every one of his seniors has graduated. So after Butterfield's Bombers won their third NCAA Division III national championship last season, the school decided it would be only fitting to rename South Hill Field.
The latest win for the 64-year-old Butterfield—or Butts, as he is affectionately known around Ithaca—came last Saturday on a bright and breezy afternoon in his personal stadium. The Bombers, with their option attack clicking behind the powerful rushing of senior fullback Jeff Wittman, rolled over Division II Springfield College 31-7. The victory left Ithaca undefeated through four games of this season and, considering that Springfield was the only team to beat the Bombers in 13 games last season, poised for a run at another national title.
"This was the first time we were under pressure all season," Butterfield said after the game, presumably referring to the Chiefs' first-quarter touchdown, which made the score 7-7, the only points given up by Ithaca in the first period this year. "But the kids responded. They stepped up together to the next level."
Together. Butterfield insists that "everybody's equal at Ithaca." From the sign in the locker room that reads RENEW THE FAMILY HUNGER to Butts's insistence on daily blocking drills for the entire team to the closed-door team meetings at which players all take turns speaking, the emphasis at Ithaca is on family.
As in any family, however, there are favorite sons. Foremost among them is Wittman, a 6'0", 210-pound battering ram from Rochester, N.Y., who is one of the best small-college backs in the country. In only three quarters against Springfield, he rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. It was the 17th 100-yard game of his career and his fourth straight this season.
Once determined to run over defenders, Wittman has developed under Butterfield's urgings into a swift and evasive runner. Says Wittman, "When I first came here, Coach watched me and said, 'Wouldn't it be fun if, instead of running into the guy, you put a move on him and got around him and maybe scored?' He was joking, but I looked at the size of some of the guys I was running against, and I realized he was right."
The big question for the Bombers going into '92 was who would replace graduated All-America quarterback Todd Wilkowski. The answer is a former Olympic Festival team handball player named Joe Fitzgerald, a 6'1" senior from North Babylon, N.Y. Fitzgerald, a close friend of Wilkowski's, won the job in the preseason, then laid to rest any lingering doubts about his ability by taking the team 83 yards, capping the drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass, on the Bombers' first series in their opening game, against Albany.
Last Friday, Butterfield sat in his office and tried to explain why he still coaches. "I first decided to become a coach when I was in the fifth grade, back at the Eli Whitney School in Westboro, Mass.," he said, the sound of New England still sharp in his voice. "Well, I am a coach, and I'm still as excited about it now as I was when I was dreaming about it back in 1937."
Should the Bombers go on to another national championship, what would be left for Butterfield to accomplish? When reminded that only he and Woody Hayes have won national championships in three decades, Butterfield says, "Well, that's pretty neat company." Then he grins. "And you know what else?" he says. "Woody's sister went to school at Ithaca." As always Jim Butterfield was thinking family.
BADGERING THE BIG TEN
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Wisconsin's 20-16 win over Ohio State was a fluke. Under coach Barry Alvarez, who is in his third year since leaving Lou Holtz's side at Notre Dame, the Badgers have improved to the point where they may now be Michigan's most serious—only?—challenger in the Big Ten (at least until Penn State comes aboard next season). This, of course, is faint praise. The Big Ten may be at an alltime low. Its non-conference record is 13-17-1, including a woeful 2-11-1 mark against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25.
Alvarez, for one, is doing his part to improve the Big Ten's stature. During his first spring practice in Madison, Alvarez was so demanding that 52 players left the team. The Badgers went 1-10 that season, but Alvarez was able to replace the departed players with promising newcomers, including four high school All-Americas. His first two recruiting classes ranked in the top 30 nationally.
Last season Wisconsin finished 5-6, the fourth-best turnaround in the NCAA. The Badger defense ranked 24th nationally, but Alvarez was unhappy with his offense. So he recruited quarterback Darrell Bevell, who had spent the 1989 season at Northern Arizona before dropping out to work as a missionary in Cleveland for the Mormon Church. "I'd never heard of Wisconsin," says Bevell, who's now a red-shirt freshman at the age of 22. "Somebody told me Wisconsin plays in the Big Ten, and I'm like, 'Yeah, right.' " Against Ohio State, making only his third career start, Bevell completed 18 of 30 passes for 214 yards.
Considering the fact that Wisconsin doesn't have to play Michigan this season, it's possible that the Badgers could finish unbeaten in the Big Ten and, assuming the Wolverines stumble, earn a trip to their first Rose Bowl since 1963. Their stiffest test is Saturday's game against Iowa in Iowa City. "The sign of whether we've matured will be if we can play good games back-to-back," Alvarez says. "I think it's way too early to say we've turned the corner. But obviously this was a big step."
At Notre Dame, under the protective gaze of Touchdown Jesus and with the vaunted Lou Holtz in charge, things that aren't supposed to happen have been happening quite a bit lately. In 1990 Stanford came to South Bend a 16-point underdog and parlayed three turnovers into a 36-31 victory. In 1991 Tennessee rallied from a 31-14 halftime deficit to deflate the fifth-ranked Irish 35-34. And last Saturday, Stanford again stunned Notre Dame, 33-16, scoring 33 unanswered points in the second half and dealing the No. 6-ranked Irish their worst home loss in eight seasons.
Holtz shouldered the blame for the loss—sort of. He acknowledged that instead of simplifying his game plan at mid-season as he usually does to avoid overburdening his troops, he presented them with a full package for Stanford. (How's that for a mea culpa: The Irish weren't up to my rigorous standards.) And why should he have eased off? Holtz sounded as if he was already making excuses even before the game, when he fretted that the course load at Notre Dame in the early fall frequently sends the team into a slump. "Hey," countered one Stanford player, "we go to school too."
Ballyhooed as a Heisman hopeful, Notre Dame's Rick Mirer stuck around for his senior season hoping to see his name linked to Irish quarterbacking legends like Johnny Lujack, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana. But his numbers are not even vintage Rusty Lisch. He completed only 13 of 38 passes for 195 yards on Saturday, and he has connected on only 44.3% of his throws this season. "I didn't seem to be on the same page as the receivers more than once," Mirer said. "Maybe we got too complicated."
The Cardinal defense, ranked second nationally, caused five turnovers, including an interception by free safety John Lynch with 14:11 left to play that broke Notre Dame's spirit. The Irish were on the Stanford eight-yard line, trailing 20-16, when Lynch stepped in front of a Mirer pass in the end zone and returned it 24 yards. The Cardinal defense so thoroughly dominated the game that when Notre Dame wide receiver Lake Dawson was asked how physical Stanford had been, he simply lifted his jersey to reveal the ice pack that was taped to his bruised ribs. "How physical was Stanford?" Dawson asked. "Here's the proof."
Stanford coach Bill Walsh dismissed notions that he gained insight into the Irish strategy while working as a color man on Notre Dame telecasts in 1991. "Being just an average analyst—and that was written enough—I was more concerned about players' hometowns and who won fishing derbies as kids," Walsh said. "And I still got their names backwards."
Nobody is referring to the Mid-American Conference as the Big MAC, but in the Midwest, the men from Madison aren't the only ones stealing some thunder from the once mighty members of the Big Ten. The 10-team MAC is too. MAC schools Toledo and Central Michigan have upset Big Ten teams Purdue and Michigan State, respectively, and Bowling Green, the defending conference champion, played Ohio State tough in Columbus before losing 17-6. "There are no negatives in our program," says Bowling Green coach Gary Blackney. "And we do have talent."
In recent years the MAC has been sending its champion to the California Raisin Bowl, where Bowling Green whipped Fresno State 28-21 last year to complete an 11-1 season. The Raisin Bowl has now shriveled up, though, so the MAC will dispatch this season's winner to the inaugural Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 18. Blackney's Falcons took a major step toward earning that trip when placekicker Brian Leaver booted a 33-yarder with 3:59 remaining to give the Falcons a 17-14 win over Central Michigan last Saturday. The Falcons are now 3-2, and 2-0 in the conference.
Before Blackney arrived in Bowling Green in 1991, the Falcons had had five consecutive losing seasons; they have now won 10 league games in a row. "Coach has brought in all the intangibles, like hard work and dedication. They might all be clichès, but they're so significant to his and our success," says quarterback Erik White, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 204 yards against the Chippewas.
The Falcons will need the best from Blackney and White and a little luck to make it to Vegas. They play only eight conference games this season, one less than Central Michigan. Since league rules stipulate that the champ is the team with the best winning percentage, Bowling Green could go 7-1 and still lose out if the Chippewas go 8-1. "Our backs are against the wall every week," Blackney says. "One loss puts us out."
Georgia Tech's Scott Sisson made the sixth game-winning boot of his career when his 29-yard field goal with no time left on the clock beat North Carolina State 16-13. The others came against Boston College (42 seconds remaining, in 1989), Virginia Tech (eight seconds, 1990), Virginia (seven seconds, 1990), Furman (21 seconds, 1991) and Virginia again (no time remaining, 1991)....
The Citadel upped its record to 5-0, the best start in the school's 85-year football history, with a 25-0 victory over Appalachian State, the defending Southern Conference champion. The Citadel's wishbone attack produced 386 rushing yards, and its defense handed Appalachian State its first shutout at home since 1979....
For the fifth consecutive year the Williams-Trinity game was decided in the final three minutes. This time Williams won 40-33 when Ephmen quarterback Jon Birknes tossed an eight-yard TD pass to John Streng with 19 seconds remaining....
Princeton's Keith Elias is the new Division I-AA-record holder for yards gained rushing in consecutive games. He followed a 299-yard performance against Lafayette two weeks ago with 273 yards in a 38-28 triumph over Lehigh last Saturday. The previous mark of 568 yards was set by Delaware State's Gene Lake in 1984....
The biggest offensive line in the nation? It no doubt belongs to Ellsworth Community College of Iowa Falls, Iowa. The starters average 6'5" and 354 pounds. They are Ryan Conover (6'3", 330), Matt Johnson (6'5", 325), Herb McMath (6'7", 365), Ghaton Ross (6'3", 330) and Charles Murphy (6'7", 420).
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Maryland's John Kaleo, a senior quarterback, completed 24 of 37 passes for three touchdowns and a school-record 415 yards in the Terrapins' 47-34 defeat of Pittsburgh.
Miami junior defensive end Kevin Patrick, a fill-in for injured starter Rusty Medearis, had seven tackles and three sacks in the Hurricanes' 19-16 victory over Florida State.
Senior quarterback Steve Austin of UMass Boston threw for three touchdowns and 447 yards as the Beacons beat Worcester State 32-27 in a Division III game.