The regular season is over, save for the Army-Navy game--which,
as any Cadet or Middie will tell you, is a season unto itself.
How strange was 1997? Colorado and Alabama won nine games
between them, one fewer than Washington State. The Buffaloes,
the Tide and three other teams in the SI preseason Top 20
finished below .500--rank, if not ranked. When the traditional
powers fail, the teams that take their places bring new
excitement. New Mexico, Missouri and Oklahoma State had their
best seasons in years.
Syracuse and UCLA started slow and closed fast. Kansas State is
in bowl demand because of its fan base--something that was all
but nonexistent 10 years ago. Peyton Manning's drive for the
Heisman Trophy is in danger of a corner blitz by Michigan's
Charles Woodson. Come to think of it, the Wolverines as a whole
came out of the blue.
Here's a look at the best--and a little of the rest--of the 1997
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BOTH
December 8, 1997
These were the season's biggest surprises.
1. Washington State. It's been 67 years since the Cougars' last
Rose Bowl appearance--so long ago that they played Alabama in
that 1931 game. (The Big Ten and Pac-10 wouldn't tie up the Rose
Bowl berths until 16 years later.) Behind Ryan Leaf's arm and
the running of Michael Black, Washington State went 10-1 and
clinched the trip to Pasadena by winning at Washington. You
can't beat that.
2. Colorado. A consensus preseason top-10 pick, the Buffaloes
finished 5-6, their first losing record in 13 years. The running
game never materialized, and quarterback John Hessler's
confidence flickered like a lightbulb during a thunderstorm. The
Hessler who led Colorado to two fourth-quarter touchdowns within
60 seconds against Nebraska last Friday is the Hessler coach
Rick Neuheisel thought he'd have all year.
3. Michigan State. Surprise I: a 5-0 start that propelled the
Spartans to No. 12 in the polls. Surprise II: a four-game losing
streak during which breakdowns by the special teams resulted in
disastrous losses to Northwestern and Purdue. Surprise III: a
49-14 pounding of Penn State last Saturday. That, combined with
an easy victory over Illinois on Nov. 22, left Spartans fans
with a bad case of the what-might-have-beens.
GAMES OF THE YEAR
Among the must-see matchups of '97, these stood out.
1. Nebraska 45, Missouri 38. The play that will live as long as
Huskers fans own VCRs. The Miracle in Missouri on Nov. 8 made a
folk hero of Nebraska freshman Matt Davison and an honest man of
teammate Shevin Wiggins, who several days after the game
admitted he had intentionally kicked the pass that Davison then
caught in the end zone with no time left. The extra point tied
the game, and the Huskers won in overtime.
2. Auburn 18, Alabama 17. Leading by two at Auburn in the final
minute on Nov. 22, the Tide fumbled. (Offensive coordinator
Bruce Arians, who called the pass play that resulted in the
turnover, would be fired the next week.) Auburn kicked the
go-ahead field goal with 15 seconds remaining. Still, the Tigers
allowed the Tide one last chance. Alabama missed a 57-yard field
goal as time expired.
3. Michigan 34, Penn State 8. The most hyped game of the season
quickly turned into one of the most one-sided games of the
season--and that's the point. Michigan's first-half dominance in
Happy Valley on Nov. 8, punctuated by Charles Woodson's 37-yard
touchdown catch to put the Wolverines ahead 17-0, proved how
good the nation's best team really is.
THE SOPH PARADE
By now most of the country is already familiar with Tennessee's
Jamal Lewis, the freshman who, with 1,237 yards on 201 carries,
has given the Volunteers a running attack to go with the Manning
air show. Here are five lesser-known 1997 freshmen you'll be
hearing a lot about in '98.
1. Ty Gregorak, LB, Colorado. The Buffaloes' defense had a
disappointing season, but Gregorak is a foundation to build on.
A smart, aggressive linebacker, Gregorak (37 tackles in 1997)
has NFL written all over him.
2. Reggie Wayne, WR, Miami. After a recent void, the Hurricanes'
tradition of outstanding wideouts resumes. With 48
receptions--breaking Michael Irvin's Miami freshman record--for
640 yards and two touchdowns, Wayne is the Hurricanes' best
reason for hope.
3. Ortege Jenkins, QB, Arizona. The Wildcats began the year with
one outstanding young quarterback in sophomore Keith Smith, but
when he injured his right shoulder on Sept. 27, they found
another in Jenkins, who had been recruited as a quarterback but
was playing wide receiver. He threw three of his 19 touchdown
passes in last Friday's 28-16 upset of Arizona State.
4. LaMont Jordan, RB, Maryland. Coach Ron Vanderlinden played a
lot of freshmen as the Terrapins' 2-9 season unfolded. He found
a keeper in Jordan, who emerged as the featured back at
midseason and finished with 689 yards and three touchdowns.
5. Anthony Thomas, RB, Michigan. If Wisconsin's Ron Dayne and
Penn State's Curtis Enis wait another year before going to the
NFL, they'll get stiff competition for the Big Ten rushing title
from this guy. With Wolverines senior tailback Chris Howard
departing, the 220-pound Thomas (130 carries, 529 yards, five
touchdowns) will inherit the featured role in the Michigan
MASTERS OF THEIR DOMAIN
Of all the good coaching jobs this season, the best was turned
in not by a head man but by an assistant. Here are the three
best sideline performances.
1. Jim Herrmann. During summer workouts Herrmann, who had been
promoted to defensive coordinator at Michigan after Greg
Mattison left seven months earlier for the same position at
Notre Dame, took the measure of cornerbacks Woodson and Andre
Weathers and shifted to an aggressive scheme. That's why the
Wolverines have the best defense in the nation, which is why
they're the best team in the nation.
2. Bob Toledo. By combining motivational hokum with a tougher
conditioning program, UCLA's second-year coach made the Bruins,
with apologies to Washington State, the best team in the Pac-10.
UCLA's bowl opponent--Syracuse in the Fiesta? Florida State in
the Sugar? Texas A&M in the Cotton?--will find out for itself.
3. Joe Tiller. So Purdue's 8-3 record is inflated because it
didn't have to play Michigan or Ohio State. So it went only 3-3
against teams with winning records. So it beat Michigan State
22-21 on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a
missed Spartans field goal to end the game. Tiller, the
Boilermakers' coach, did what no one thought could be done: He
made Purdue exciting and a winner.
DIDN'T YOU USED TO BE...?
Among the turnarounds this season were these major resurrections.
1. Pittsburgh. The Panthers won twice in overtime, including
41-38 last Saturday at West Virginia when quarterback Pete
Gonzalez converted a fourth-and-17 in the third overtime to set
up Pittsburgh's winning touchdown. A year after the Panthers
lost four games by 45 points or more, coach Walt Harris led them
to a 6-5 record and a possible Liberty Bowl berth, which would
be the Panthers' first postseason appearance since 1989.
2. Tulane. Bowdenologists long have claimed that of Bobby's four
sons, Tommy is most like the patriarch. Now we know why. In his
first season as coach, Tommy guided the young Green Wave to a
7-4 record, five wins better than a year ago.
3. Mike Bobo. Booed and briefly benched as a junior, the Georgia
quarterback rebounded as a senior to lead the Bulldogs to a 9-2
season. Last Saturday, with less than a minute remaining, he
took Georgia on a four-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to beat
Georgia Tech 27-24.
These were the biggest shockers of 1997.
1. Oklahoma 36, Syracuse 34. A week after losing in overtime to
North Carolina State, the Orangemen wilted in the late summer
heat of Norman on Sept 6. They stayed limp the following week,
losing 31-3 to Virginia Tech and falling to 1-3, before reviving
to win the rest of their games.
2. TCU 21, SMU 18. The Horned Frogs' Nov. 20 victory prevented
them from going winless and knocked the Mustangs out of the bowl
3. E. Manning 5, P. Manning 2. In a friendly game of six-on-six
touch in Knoxville, Tenn., last summer, Peyton's side lost, five
touchdowns to two, to a team led by his brother Eli, a junior at
Isidore Newman in New Orleans. The early line on Eli is that
he'll mend fences for father Archie and sign with Ole Miss in
While rosters turn over every five years, the sport's icons
provide reassuring permanence. Yet they, too, eventually pass
on. The most noted departure in '97 was Eddie Robinson's
retirement after 57 seasons and 408 wins at Grambling. The most
symbolic was the death of John Bishop, founder of Tuscaloosa's
Dreamland Barbeque, a pilgrimage site for Alabama fans. Bishop
died on Oct. 17; the Tide then lost three straight at
Bryant-Denny Stadium, where it was 0-4 for the year.
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1. BOB DAVIE Enjoy it while you can, Bob. This is the last time
anyone associated with Notre Dame will be happy with a one-point
win over Hawaii.
2. SYRACUSE The Orangemen snap a string of six consecutive
losses to Miami, win their first outright Big East title and
line up a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, worth $8.6 million. Not bad
for a team that began the season 1-3.
3. KANSAS STATE AND... Losses by Arizona State and Penn State
over the holiday weekend left two open berths in the Alliance.
Kansas State appears headed for the Fiesta Bowl, and Florida
State has another Alliance berth. Who will get the last one?
UCLA? Ohio State?
1. NEBRASKA With a 27-10 lead and one eye on the polls, the
Huskers lost their focus and barely held off Colorado 27-24.
Hey, after that fourth quarter there's no more controversy about
who's No. 1.
2. THE PAC-10 Arizona's 28-16 upset of Arizona State denied the
Sun Devils a Fiesta Bowl bid, thus costing each school in the
conference about $740,000. It's a price the Wildcats are happy
3. FRANK BROYLES Lou Holtz is fired. Ken Hatfield resigns. Now
Danny Ford, two years removed from an SEC title-game berth, is
sent packing. Can any coach get along with the Arkansas athletic
--SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: AUBURN (9-2) VS.TENNESSEE (10-1)
Florida fans might point to the fact that the Volunteers needed
help to win the SEC East, but Tennessee is laughing all the way
to Atlanta. A berth in a potential national championship game
and a Heisman for Peyton Manning are in the offing. Auburn, with
its sickly running game, won't play the spoiler.
--BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP: NEBRASKA (11-0) VS. TEXAS A&M (9-2)
Nothing the Cornhuskers can do against the Aggies will move them
from No. 2 back to No. 1, and it's equally hard to imagine
unbeaten Nebraska losing a second straight conference
championship game. Despite the elevation of Branndon Stewart to
full-time quarterback, A&M's passing attack isn't good enough to
take advantage of the weakest part of the Nebraska defense: the
--WAC CHAMPIONSHIP: COLORADO STATE (9-2) VS. NEW MEXICO (9-2)
The Rams have won seven straight, by an average of 32.3 points.
Credit goes to a defense that has produced 34 turnovers and to
quarterback Moses Moreno, second in the nation in passing
efficiency. Lobos junior quarterback Graham Leigh has 24
touchdown passes in 249 attempts. That ratio will drop on
Saturday, as will New Mexico.
--ARMY (4-6) VS. NAVY (6-4)
The Cadets have won the last five in this unrivaled rivalry, by
a total of 10 points. Those losses hurt the Middies, but a
defeat this year would be worse. For the first time in years
Navy is clearly the better team, fielding seniors where it
counts most. By winning in Giants Stadium, this class will avoid
being the third straight group of seniors never to have beaten
--MAC CHAMPIONSHIP: TOLEDO (9-2) AT MARSHALL (9-2)
There's more to Marshall than All-America wideout Randy Moss.
The Herd's defense allowed only six touchdowns through the air
this season. It should shut down Toledo's Chris Wallace, who has
thrown 25 TDs, and earn Marshall the MAC's berth in the Motor
City Bowl. --I.M.
Every time I came to the sideline, I had five guys coming up to
--Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig, referring to his offensive
linemen after Florida had sacked him nine times in a 24-10
Gators victory on Oct. 18.
He said he went brain dead.
--Big East supervisor of officials Dan Wooldridge, on the reason
given by linesman Gordon Geyer for incorrectly telling Boston
College coach Tom O'Brien that the Eagles had to go for two
points at the end of the second overtime against Miami on Oct.
18. O'Brien says he knew Geyer was wrong but went for two
anyway. B.C. failed and lost 45-44. Geyer served a one-game
If that kid scored, I would have had to transfer.
--Notre Dame defensive back Deke Cooper, after his man, Navy
slotback Pat McGrew, caught a last-second Hail Mary pass and
reached the Irish one-yard line before being pushed out of
bounds by Allen Rossum. The tackle preserved Notre Dame's 21-17
victory on Nov. 1.
I feel just like George Foreman. He's too old, but he's still
knocking them out.
--Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, when he turned 68 on Nov. 8.
Bowden would soon have more in common with the 48-year-old
boxer: Both would lose on Nov. 22, the Seminoles to archrival
Florida 32-29 and Foreman to unheralded Shannon Briggs.
This LSU game is a tough ticket. You can't give it away.
--Unnamed Alabama season-ticket holder in the days leading up to
the Tide's 27-0 home loss to the Tigers on Nov. 8.
We used to have charity drives where we would ask fans to bring
cans of food or stuffed animals to the game. People would drop
their stuff off, then leave.
--New Mexico sports information director Greg Remington, on the
bad old days in Albuquerque. This year fans stuck around. The
9-2 Lobos set a school attendance record of 37,156 against Rice
on Oct. 18.