Pick a team with a first-year starter at quarterback to win the
national championship? You might as well suggest that a
21-year-old is the best golfer in the world.
Yes, what appears outlandish at first glance sometimes isn't.
There is precedent for Penn State to fulfill the prophecy put
forth in this issue. First-year starter Craig Erickson led Miami
to the national title in 1989. Not coincidentally, Erickson was
a junior. The real rarity is not a first-year quarterback
leading his team to the national championship, but a young
quarterback doing so. Only two teams in 20 years have won the
national championship with a freshman at the helm, Miami with
Bernie Kosar in 1983 and Oklahoma, behind Jamelle Holieway in
That should be reassuring news for the Nittany Lions, for their
new starter is Mike McQueary, a fifth-year senior. Not that Penn
State coach Joe Paterno has been terribly worried about having a
rookie at the helm. He says McQueary merely "needs to get into a
game and have success."
Washington State coach Mike Price contends that the importance
of quarterbacks in the national title hunt is overstated. "I
never thought you had to have an experienced or great
quarterback to win a national championship," says Price. Of
course, Price has yet to win one, and he has coached such
prolific passers as Jack (the Throwin' Samoan) Thompson, Drew
Bledsoe and current starter Ryan Leaf, who threw for 2,811 yards
last season as a sophomore. Says Price, "What you've got to have
is a great defense."
THE FALL CAMPAIGN
By the traditional measures of success--attendance and
revenue--college football would seem to be very healthy. More
than 26 million people attended Division I-A games last season,
and ABC just agreed to throw $190 million at the ACC for
television and Internet rights. Yet in the midst of all this
radiant good health, those who rule the sport are worried. The
prevailing feeling among conference officials from the Ivy
League to the Big 12 to the SEC is that student attendance is
falling, and that future students, i.e. younger teenagers, not
only aren't going to games but also aren't watching them.
At Nebraska, according to athletic director Bill Byrne, the
average age of the season-ticket holder on the more desirable
west side of Memorial Stadium is 73, and the size of the student
section has gone from 19,000 seats in 1972 to 8,500 as demand
for tickets has shrunk. At Alabama, students celebrated a 10-3
season in 1996 by passing up some 4,000 student tickets per
game. Big 12 commissioner Steve Hatchell blanched when he saw
one of his son's pals wearing a T-shirt that read FRIENDS DON'T
LET FRIENDS PLAY FOOTBALL.
"As much as we love college football and as much as it is a
religion to so many, we're seeing the effects of so many more
opportunities for young people," says Auburn athletic director
David Housel. "Football may not be as important as it was to
those of us in school 20 and 30 years ago. Back then, the only
thing to do was go to the game, and you wouldn't be caught dead
So is college football in danger of becoming, like baseball, a
sport with a dwindling following? Administrators don't plan on
waiting to find out. Beginning Aug. 23, college football is
implementing a marketing and advertising plan aimed at grabbing
the attention of 16- to 24-year-olds. The last line of the TV
commercials, which debut during telecasts of the Pigskin and
Kickoff classics, is "NCAA Football: Pile on." A TV show called
The Slant is in the works and will chase the same young viewers
who now watch the NBA's Inside Stuff.
Host Communications handles marketing for the NCAA, and it has
committed $3 million to begin the Pile On campaign, which was
developed by DDB Needham in Dallas. Creative director Jim
Ferguson has a history of success--he headed the Michael
Jordan-Larry Bird campaign for McDonald's in 1993--and a love
for college football. A native of Hico, Texas, the 42-year-old
Ferguson can recall "working in the field with my dad listening
to Kern Tips do the SWC game on the radio. You'd hear him talk
about downtown College Station and think, God, that must be
If you've never seen downtown College Station, trust us, that's
funny. So, too, is Ferguson's college football campaign. The
centerpiece is Joe Football, a character who is supposed to be
the ultimate college football fan and who is played in the TV
spots by Chicago actor Eric Stonestreet. Joe's jiggling
240-pound body is painted from head to toe in Nebraska red and
Cal blue. He extols the excitement of the sport--and its
trappings--to uninterested parties. When one student says,
"College football is lame," Joe responds by grabbing an
oversized soda cup from another student, flinging its contents
onto the sidewalk and stuffing an entire Northwestern
cheerleader's uniform into the cup. "How lame is that?" Joe says.
The commercials will replace some of the typically soporific
public-service announcements that trumpet, as Ferguson puts it,
"how many copies of Dickens there are in the Notre Dame
library." Ferguson's concept has been difficult for the
hidebound to digest. For example, when a representative from
Host outlined the campaign for American Football Coaches
Association executive director Grant Teaff, the coach at Baylor
from 1972 to '92, Teaff asked when in the TV show the "Coach's
Corner" segment would appear.
What value does a shoe company put on success in college sports?
Under the terms of Colorado's six-year contract with Nike, the
Buffaloes will receive a $100,000 bonus if they win the national
championship in football in either major poll and a $200,000
bonus if they win the national title in men's basketball. The
football bonus shrinks to $20,000 for a No. 2 ranking in either
poll and drops by $5,000 for each spot Colorado falls to until
the Buffaloes hit No. 6, which will earn the school no bonus and
coach Rick Neuheisel a pair of shoelaces and an autographed
photo of Tiger Woods--if he's lucky.
If winning the national championship in football is worth
$100,000, how much is reaching the Big 12 championship game
worth? According to Nike, $10,000; the amount the Swoosh would
pay Colorado for earning a berth in an Alliance bowl. No matter
how the team performs, Nike will pay Colorado $2.74 million and
provide more than $3 million in equipment and apparel for the
university's 17 teams under an agreement that will run until 2001.
What does Nike get out of the deal? Besides its association with
the Buffaloes' athletic programs, the company gets 10 prime
tickets for every home football game (except the one game per
season for which it gets 50 tickets and a hospitality tent) and
20 tickets between the 20-yard lines for a bowl game. In
addition Neuheisel and basketball coach Ricardo Patton must make
promotional appearances for Nike, and the company receives
advertising in football and basketball game programs and on the
coaches' TV shows.
With only two experienced players returning to his defensive
line, Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum says he wouldn't hesitate to
start 6'4", 260-pound true freshman Ron Edwards at noseguard.
Slocum maintains that defensive linemen are capable of stepping
off the high school campus and playing immediately. "Tailbacks
have to get involved in pass protection," he says. "Defense, you
line 'em up and say, 'There's the ball. When you see it move, go
get the guy with it and get him on the ground.'"... PGA Tour
pro Chris Perry, an Ohio State grad, plans to play in the
opening round of the Greater Milwaukee Open on Thursday, Aug.
28, fly to Columbus for the Buckeyes' 8 p.m. opener against
Wyoming, then return to Milwaukee for Round 2 of the event....
If 6'8", 237-pound junior Steve Campbell wins the Arizona State
starting quarterback job as expected, he will be the fourth
Pac-10 starting quarterback this year who is 6'5" or taller. The
others are 6'5" Brock Huard of Washington, 6'5" Chad Hutchinson
of Stanford and 6'6" Ryan Leaf of Washington State. It should be
noted that the leader in passing efficiency among the league's
returning quarterbacks is 5'11" sophomore Keith Smith of
--OKLAHOMA AT NORTHWESTERN, AUG. 23
Don't expect the Pigskin Classic to live up to its billing. The
Sooners, 3-8 a year ago, agreed to play in this game to give
their success-starved players a "bowl experience." Opening games
often make coaches kick themselves for not having worked more on
their kicking game. The Wildcats' Brian Gowins (16 of 24 field
goals in '96) and Brian Musso (three career punt-return TDs)
give Northwestern a decisive edge over the Sooners, who had six
punts blocked last year.
--WISCONSIN VS. SYRACUSE, AUG. 24
The Kickoff Classic provides a national stage for Badgers
tailback Ron Dayne and Orangemen quarterback Donovan McNabb to
work their magic. Here's a stat from the history books: 1,066,
the rushing yards gained after contact last season by Dayne.
With only one returning starter on its offensive line, Wisconsin
is glad that Dayne can make his own holes.
--SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI AT FLORIDA, AUG. 30
The national champions don't open against their customary
Florida Field meat. The Golden Eagles, 8-3 last season, have
beaten SEC members Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU in the '90s.
There won't be an upset here--Florida is 41-2 at home in the
'90s--but defensive backs Patrick Surtain and Perry Phenix lead
a unit that will let Gators fans know right away that rookie
quarterback Doug Johnson is not Danny Wuerffel.
--HOUSTON AT ALABAMA, AUG. 30
After new Crimson Tide coach Mike DuBose hired one of his former
'Bama teammates, Houston offensive coordinator Neil Callaway, to
coach the Alabama offensive line, Cougars coach Kim Helton
wanted to back out of this game. When Helton sees his young
offense flail against the Crimson Tide defense, he'll wonder why
--MINNESOTA AT HAWAII, AUG. 30
The last time Glen Mason went to Honolulu, while coaching Kansas
in the 1995 Aloha Bowl, he announced that he was scrapping his
previous plan to leave the Jayhawks and coach Georgia. Now, as
Mason returns for his Minnesota debut, he may again be
questioning the wisdom of giving up the Kansas job. His efforts
to instill discipline have been frustrating; his doghouse is so
full that hotels are fighting for sponsorship rights. Mason
should nevertheless open with a win thanks to quarterback Cory
Sauter, who'll be the best player on the field.