They ran from the field through a tunnel in the north end zone,
having driven a demon from their schedule. Miami was drubbed and
dead, 41-17, left embarrassed under a full autumn moon in
Tallahassee, and now Florida State would be poised to rush into
November as the No. 1 team in the nation. But in the harsh
fluorescent light of the locker room, even as the celebration
flowed, Seminole coach Bobby Bowden stuck his players with a
reality prod. "Men, a lot of teams got upset today," Bowden
said. "Got up there, sittin' high, and then it happened. Lot of
teams. Michigan, Colorado, Virginia. We must not let it happen
Football coaches. Put Akron on their schedule and they'll tell
you it's Nebraska. It's like part of the job description. Must
have delusions of potential disaster, preferably 24 hours a day.
Bowden had a particularly noteworthy week leading up to the
Miami game, disclosing in an interview that he isn't voting his
team No. 1 in the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll, "because some
week it might be unanimous and everybody will know who I voted
for," and claiming deep fears of a young, toothless Miami team
because of the Hurricanes' history of success against Florida
State. And Bowden is one of the more honest guys.
But then on Saturday afternoon, as Bowden and his players killed
the hours leading to their night game against a faded rival,
they surfed through an ocean of upsets. Right there on
television, Northwestern over No. 7 Michigan 19-13 in the Big
House (page 48) and North Carolina over No. 9 Virginia 22-17.
The Seminoles got to the stadium and heard two more finals as
they dressed and stretched. Kansas over No. 4 Colorado 40-24.
Texas Tech over No. 8 Texas A&M 14-7. "College football," said
Florida State linebacker Todd Rebol. "Better play hard every
week." The body count: Four Top 10 teams beaten on the same
Paranoia, meet reality. Reality, paranoia.
College football coaches have sought willing ears for nearly a
decade now, pleading the cause of parity. Lately they would
point to the NCAA-mandated limit of 85 scholarships per school
(25 in any given year), which spreads the best athletes around
the country, and to the epidemic of probations in both the
Southwest and the Southeastern Conferences, which has caused
further dispersal of the talent pool. Limitations were placed on
recruiting hours, and suddenly Washington State could spend as
much time chasing a kid as UCLA. Watch, the coaches all said.
But national titles were won by Notre Dame, Nebraska, Florida
State, Miami, Alabama. Status quo, we thought, not noticing the
titles taken by Georgia Tech (co-titlist with Colorado in '90)
and Washington (co-titlist with Miami in '91). Football isn't
like basketball. One player--or one coach--can't turn a program
around. Change is subtle, hinting occasionally at its approach.
Last Saturday was one of those days we got a hint. By the end of
the weekend Kansas State (No. 8) and Kansas (No. 10) were ranked
in the Top 10 together for the first time, while Northwestern
was 2-0 in the Big Ten and Penn State was 0-2. And the word
upset has become virtually meaningless.
At the top, five teams remained with a chance at the national
title: Florida State, Nebraska, Florida, Ohio State and USC. And
after the events of the weekend, the distance from No. 1 to No.
25 seems much shorter than it did just a week ago.
There is no better example of how the landscape deceives than
Kansas's decisive victory over Colorado. Approaching the game,
we might have seen that 5-0 Colorado had been charmed, riding
the fresh intellect and rookie enthusiasm of coach Rick
Neuheisel but still playing a backup quarterback, John Hessler,
and, just maybe, running out of wind after a brutal early
schedule. Or perhaps we might have noticed that Kansas was 4-0
against weak opposition but that senior quarterback Mark
Williams was 5-0 over two seasons as a starter and that the
Jayhawks' new defensive coordinator, Mike Hankwitz, spent 10
years at Colorado, the final seven as defensive coordinator,
before Neuheisel offered him a demotion to position coach. Or
that Kansas had two weeks to prepare for the game. Nope. We saw
Colorado versus Kansas, a game that Kansas hadn't won in 10
years. Oddsmakers saw it, too, making Colorado a 23-point
Jayhawk coach Glen Mason, whose previous high point at Kansas
had been a victory over Brigham Young in the 1992 Aloha Bowl,
promised his players throughout the week that they would beat
Colorado. "I told our guys all along that I had a gut feeling,"
said Mason. "Whether it was the stars, the horoscope or
whatever, I just had this gut feeling we would win the game."
But it was nothing so nebulous as gut feelings that created this
victory. It was Williams, completing 25 of 35 passes for 299
yards and one touchdown. Said Neuheisel, "He looked a lot like
another quarterback who used to play here--Kordell Stewart."
It was also junior running back June Henley running for 137
yards and catching passes for another 87 yards. Henley's 43-yard
touchdown run gave Kansas a 33-24 lead early in the fourth
quarter. (Henley's parents took in orphaned Ohio State wide
receiver Terry Glenn when he was 13, which means that with
Glenn's 175 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes'
28-25 win over Penn State, the Henley household of Columbus,
Ohio, had a very good day on Saturday.)
In all, Kansas rang up 495 yards against a Colorado defense that
had given up only 281.4 yards per game and had shut down Texas
A&M and Leeland McElroy two weeks earlier. Yet it is Hankwitz
who will be remembered as the coaching star of the afternoon. A
collector of vintage football helmets and a connoisseur of
college fight songs, Hankwitz left Boulder last winter in the
swirl that surrounded Neuheisel's controversial hiring. He
prepared his young defense--just two juniors and two seniors
start--Friday night at the team hotel by showing them a montage
of big plays from their first four games, set to the theme from
Rocky. On Saturday, Hankwitz used a 13-man defensive huddle,
pulling two men off the field when Colorado lined up. "He's an
unbelievable coach," said Kansas defensive tackle Brett McGraw.
"We know this game meant a lot to him."
As Hankwitz conducted a radio interview after the game,
Neuheisel passed him and said, "Awesome, Mike, just awesome."
But of course there is another issue. Colorado had already won
at Wisconsin and Oklahoma and had beaten Colorado State and
Texas A&M at home, a schedule that ranks with Ohio State's as
the toughest in the country. And they were playing Kansas.
Players are human. The strains of Rock Chalk, Jayhawk do not
send chills down a Colorado player's spine.
"There was no feeling we could skate through," said Colorado
senior cornerback T.J. Cunningham. "But I think there was a
feeling of getting it over with and coming out with a win. We
just weren't as intense as we've been. And I couldn't give a
Try this: Blue jerseys with little birds on them. Colorado
versus Kansas. Change is subtle, and players are as prone to
miss it as the rest of us are.
Florida State senior center Clay Shiver stood in front of his
dressing cubicle at Doak Campbell Stadium. It was nearly
midnight, and Shiver, who sat in the stands for Wide Right I
(the 1991 Florida State loss to Miami) and played in Wide Right
II (the '94 loss to the Hurricanes), spoke about the rout. "I
didn't want to just beat them, I wanted to beat them handily,"
He had watched the day's upsets on television, heard scores on
the radio and picked up the Colorado final over the stadium
public-address system as he stood in the huddle early in the
game. "I know it can happen anytime," Shiver said. "But we've
got a lot of experience around here at being Number 1. No letup
Pass the word, Clay. Lesson for the fall.