Whether they will admit it or not, the 62 sportswriters and broadcasters who vote in the weekly Associated Press poll must have been relieved when Washington was upset by Arizona (page 32). In ending the season-long dogfight between the Huskies and Miami for No. 1, Washington's defeat eased the pressure on the voters, whose picks are being scrutinized as never before. Not only are the voters' selections being made public for the first time, but the new bowl coalition is using them to determine a number of bowl pairings.
Understandably, a lot of fans have been concerned about whether the poll is in good hands. Well, relax. After taking our own poll, we are pleased to reassure everyone on the following points:
•Most voters seem to have acceptable credentials. Even Pittsburgh Pirate beat writer John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times, who inherited a vote only because the Pittsburgh newspaper unions are on strike, covers some Pitt football games and watches a lot of college football on TV. He put the Hurricanes No. 1 on his first ballot and, unlike some of his wishy-washy fellow voters, has kept them there ever since.
•Unlike some voters who in the past would send in their ballots before they got the late scores from the West, most current voters claim to put considerable thought into their rankings. Says longtime voter Dave Campbell of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald, "I cover a game weekly, see a couple of others on TV, see highlights shows and talk to quite a few coaches and sportswriters." A glaring exception is columnist Corky Simpson of the Tucson Citizen, who says, "What you don't want to do is give it any thought. If you research the thing, you look like an idiot." Simpson, by the way, is the only voter who has picked Alabama No. 1 every week.
•Finally and most hearteningly, the voters are unanimous in their advice for those run-it-up coaches—you know who you are—who operate under the delusion that the voters reward teams that win by big margins and penalize those that don't. Says Ronnie Christ of the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, "I tend to be turned off by schools that run up a score. I rate a three-touchdown spread the same as I would a 45-point margin."
NO PENN PALS
Bragging rights are more meaningful when the rivals are neighbors, so it's no wonder that a crowd of 9,106 braved snow and wind to see Lycoming and Susquehanna tee it up at Lycoming's 4,000-seat Person Field in Williamsport, Pa. Fans who couldn't get tickets to the game between the two undefeated Division III teams peered through the fence or looked over it from the tops of cars or from porches across the street.
Lycoming and Susquehanna are only 30 miles apart, and heading into the game their series was even closer: 15-15-1. A victory was especially important to the Lycoming seniors, whose only regular-season loss in four years had been to Susquehanna 24-17 in 1989. On Saturday the lead had changed hands five times when, with three minutes left and Lycoming trailing 19-16, Warrior wide receiver Ron Wiest caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ellio Domenick to give his team a 23-19 victory. One of the keys for Lycoming was holding Crusader tailback Frank (Night Train) Lane to 42 yards, 26 fewer than his average.
The win brought the Warriors' record to 7-0-1 and kept alive their chances for a berth in the Division III playoffs. But the Lycoming seniors, who began exercising their rights to brag as soon as the final gun went off, were more excited that the team had all but nailed down its fourth straight Middle Atlantic Conference title. Said senior tailback Cory Sheridan, "What other team in the country, at any level, can boast of that?" Michigan can, and Pittsburg (Kans.) State may soon be able to, but still, you can't blame him for being proud.
As we ponder the future of the Southwest Conference (page 70), let's pause and toast Southern Methodist, which earned one of its most memorable victories since the glory days of Doak Walker and Kyle Rote in the late '40s. Three years ago SMU, playing its first season after getting hit with the NCAA death penalty in 1987, endured a humiliating 95-21 loss to Houston. Last week the Mustangs whipped the Cougars 41-16.
How sweet was it for the 32 SMU seniors who were on that 1989 team? After the game, Mustang wide receiver John DeVoss imitated the siren that had accompanied each of Houston's scores during the '89 debacle at the Astrodome. "That's all I remember hearing in that game," DeVoss said.
Another senior, quarterback Dan Freiburger, wanted to throw long passes late in the game to run up the score on Houston coach John Jenkins, who was the Cougars' offensive coordinator in '89. "When I see John Jenkins, I get a bad taste in my mouth," said Freiburger. "He took advantage of us when we were freshmen." SMU coach Tom Rossley didn't let Freiburger exact any revenge.
Saturday was a memorable day for the league's three other private schools as well. TCU, a 17-point underdog to Texas, shocked the Longhorns 23-14 to win its first game against Texas in Fort Worth in 34 years. Rice ripped Texas Tech 34-3 thanks to running back Trevor Cobb, who rushed for 155 yards, and defensive back Sean Washington, who returned interceptions 56 and 60 yards for touchdowns. And Baylor ventured into the ACC and knocked off Georgia Tech 31-27. "The old privates aren't dead yet," said Baylor coach Grant Teaff, who plans to retire at season's end after 21 years in Waco. "Hey, maybe the private schools of the Southwest Conference will have to withdraw to join a superconference."
With Princeton hanging on to a 20-14 lead over Penn, Tiger coach Steve Tosches inserted Michael Lerch, a 5'6", 160-pound wide receiver, at defensive end. Lerch blew past a blocker and sacked Quaker quarterback Jim McGeehan to save the game for Princeton, which is 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Ivy League....
It may sound like a quackpot idea, but the Independence, Freedom and Copper Bowls are taking a hard look at Oregon. Now 5-4 after a 37-17 defeat of Cal, the Ducks will close out the regular season against 4-5 UCLA and 1-7-1 Oregon State....
We Are the Boys from Old Florida, the song Florida fans sing during every game, has been deemed sexist by the school's Committee on Sexism and Homophobia. The tradition dates back to the 1920s, when Florida was an all-male school....
Michigan sure was lucky to get rid of that Desmond Howard guy a year early. At this point in 1991, the Wolverines' offense and special teams had scored 12 times on plays of 20 yards or more. This year they've done so 24 times....
Eric Watts, who took his lumps last season as the quarterback for a 2-9 Louisville team, is now a rookie on the World Championship Wrestling circuit. Instead of Ohio State and Tennessee, his opponents are Van Hammer, Big Van Vader and Vinnie Vegas.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
In a 69-21 defeat of Maryland, Florida Slate quarterback Charlie Ward, a junior, completed 26 of 37 passes for 395 yards and four IDs and ran for 111 yards and a score.
Cornerback Carlos Brooks, a senior at Bowling Green, made three interceptions and 10 tackles to help the Falcons beat Kent State 28-22 and clinch the MAC championship.
Senior Greg Novarro, a tailback at Division III Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., ran for 240 yards, threw for 43 and caught two passes in a 43-14 victory over Upsala.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
When Gary Barnett became coach at lowly Northwestern last December, he didn't expect to inherit someone who would become the nation's leading punt returner. Yet that's what he has in 5'9", 173-pound Lee Gissendaner, whose 25.00-yard average is 3.16 yards ahead of second-place James McMillion of Iowa State. If Gissendaner ends up No. 1, he'll become the first Wildcat football player to lead the nation in any statistical category.
Gissendaner grew up in Stow, Ohio, where he was not only an all-county running back but also a 13-foot pole vaulter. He was headed for Kent State—his father and brother had played for the Golden Flashes—until Northwestern offered him a scholarship. During his first two years in Evanston, Gissendaner, who's a junior, was a second-string receiver, but he led the Wildcats in punt returns last season, averaging 5.6 yards on 10 returns. "We were mainly going for the block then," says Gisscndaner.
Apparently the Northwestern special teams are now going for the return. In a 35-24 loss to Stanford on Sept. 19, Gissendaner returned three punts for a school-record 121 yards, including a 72-yarder for a touchdown.
Although Barnett is disappointed with the Wildcats' 2-7 record, he can take solace in the fact that Gissendaner, who's majoring in human development and social policy/organizational studies, will be returning kicks again next season. "Lee's got everything you want back there—courage and vision," says Barnett. "Now if we can just force the other teams to punt."