A MESSY RECIPE
This is an article from the Aug. 31, 1998 issue
Another season, another flawed formula for deciding the national
champion. The Bowl Championship Series, the latest evasion of a
fan-pleasing playoff tournament, figures to match the nation's
top two teams in each of the next four years in either the
Fiesta, Sugar, Orange or Rose bowl. Because the Big Ten and
Pac-10 have finally agreed to be included in the formula, the
Bowl Championship Series will be able to produce season-ending
matchups that the old Alliance couldn't: Nebraska versus
Michigan (1997) and Florida State versus Arizona State (1996).
Trouble is, the top two teams will be determined using one part
poll (combined ranking in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls), one
part computer rankings (combining the New York Times, Seattle
Times and Jeff Sagarin ratings), one part strength of schedule
and one part win-loss record. The reason for such a soulless,
corporate formula is that no one in the NCAA wants his
fingerprints on the decision of which teams will play for No. 1.
A committee consisting of one representative from each
conference and Notre Dame should lock themselves in a room at
the end of each season, deliberate and announce a tournament
field. The precedent for that is most NCAA championships, even
(especially!) March Madness.
But the last thing that the heads of the six power conferences
and Notre Dame want is a tournament playoff. As long as there is
a bowl system, their schools stand to keep almost all the money,
which for this year's title game in the Fiesta Bowl will be
approximately $12 million per team.
GREATS OF '98
SI's Preseason All-Americas
Wide Receivers--David Boston, Ohio State; Peter Warrick, Florida
Guards--Rob Murphy, Ohio State; Tony Coats, Washington
Center--Grey Ruegamer, Arizona State
Tackles--Matt Stinchcomb, Georgia; Kris Farris, UCLA
Tight End--Rufus French, Mississippi
Quarterback--Daunte Culpepper, Central Florida
Tailback--Jamal Lewis, Tennessee
Fullback--Joel Makovicka (above), Nebraska
Kicker--Martin Gramatica, K-State defense
Ends--Robaire Smith, Michigan State; Mike Rucker, Nebraska
Tackles--Jared DeVries (above), Iowa; Ed Chester, Florida
Outside Linebackers--Jevon Kearse, Florida; Gary Stills, West
Inside Linebacker--Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State
Strong Safety--Larry Atkins, UCLA
Free Safety--Anthony Poindexter, Virginia
Cornerbacks--Dre' Bly, North Carolina; Chris McAlister, Arizona
Punter--Shane Lechler, Texas A&M
Kick Returner--Quinton Spotwood, Syracuse
MEDICAL CHART: GOOD AS NEW?
These four key players, who spent last season injured, will now
try to resume outstanding careers.
D'Wayne Bates, Northwestern, WR, Senior
1996--75 rec., 1,196 yards, 12 TDs
1997--Broke leg in first game
1998--Expected to play in opener
Madre Hill, Arkansas, TB, Senior
1995--1,387 yards, 16 TDs
1996-97--Missed with torn ACLs in each knee
1998--Battling for starting job
Wasean Tait, Toledo, TB, Senior
1995--Second in the nation in rushing, with 1,905 yards, 20 TDs
1996-97--Four operations on left knee to repair ACL and kneecap
1998--Second team in fall practice
DeAngelo Evans, Nebraska, I-Back, Soph.
1996--776 yards, 14 TDs
1997--Surgeries to repair muscle damage in his pelvis
1998--Will miss at least two to three games
HANDICAPPING THE HEISMAN
Anyone who tries to select the Heisman winner in August should
flee to the security of Powerball. It's easy to pick preseason
candidates, but once they play, the logic of summer is
clotheslined by the reality of fall. Still, there are rules for
predicting a trophy winner.
--His team has to be good. The last winner whose team lost as many
as two regular-season games was Ty Detmer of BYU in '90. So say
goodbye to tailbacks Ron Dayne of Wisconsin and Ricky Williams of
Texas and quarterbacks Tim Couch of Kentucky and Daunte Culpepper
of Central Florida.
--He has to score TDs. Of the last 10 winners, only two led the
nation in rushing, passing or receiving. Six led at their
position in throwing for or scoring touchdowns. That eliminates
running backs Travis Minor of Florida State, Kevin Faulk of LSU
and J.R. Redmond of Arizona State, who won't get enough carries.
--Defensive players can't win twice in a row, so forget Ohio State
linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer.
That leaves five players, in ascending order, with a shot:
Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop, Syracuse quarterback
Donovan McNabb, West Virginia tailback Amos Zereoue, UCLA
quarterback Cade McNown and Tennessee tailback Jamal Lewis
If Bishop throws the way he did in the Fiesta Bowl (four TDs) and
not like he did during the '97 regular season (.432 completion
percentage), he's got a chance. Beating Nebraska is a must.
If Syracuse can top Tennessee and Michigan in the first two
weeks, then McNabb will be the man to beat. On Nov. 7 McNabb
takes Syracuse into West Virginia, where Zereoue is poised to
have a tremendous year.
McNown has the best offensive line in the Pac-10. The defense
may hold UCLA back.
A sophomore has never won the Heisman, but in an era when the
best players aren't redshirted, that taboo will disappear. As a
freshman, Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards. In the year after Peyton
Manning had the Heisman snatched out of his hands, it would be
ironic if a Vol won it.
THE MOST TAXING SCHEDULES
Auburn has the toughest schedule in the country this season. How
do we know? We did the math. After ranking the teams from No. 1
to No. 112 (page 134), we tabulated the rankings of all
opponents for each team. To account for home field advantage, we
multiplied each road opponent's ranking by 0.8 and each home
opponent's ranking by 1.2.
The point values for all opponents on a team's schedule were
totaled and then divided by 11, except for those of the 15 teams
that play 12 games. For those, we divided by 12 and granted a
one-point bonus deduction from the final average, since playing
12 games is tougher than playing 11. The final number--the lower
the stronger--reflects the difficulty of the schedule. We then
ordered all the schedule-strength numbers from one (toughest) to
112 (easiest) and listed them for each team.
The NCAA's strength-of-schedule formula, which will be used to
help set up the Bowl Championship Series at season's end, will be
based on the actual results of all games. Those, as the saying
goes, were unavailable at press time.
THE FIVE TOUGHEST SCHEDULES
1. Auburn Tigers play three Top 25 teams in the first six
2. Ohio State Buckeyes face five Top 25s, but only one on the
3. Alabama Tide went 0-4 against ranked opponents in 1997
4. Florida State Seminoles don't schedule patsies out of conference
5. California Improving on last year's 3-8 record seems unlikely
If you miss these four seniors this fall--and given where they
play, you probably will--expect to see them next year in the NFL
Jim Kleinsasser, 6'2", 273, TE, North Dakota
Four-year starter fills need for Division II Fighting Sioux as
receiver (14.4-yard career average) and blocker (29 pancakes in
Brian Shay, 5'9", 211, RB, Emporia (Kans.) State
Operating in a run-and-shoot offense, he ran for 1,912 yards and
led Division II in scoring last season (18.0 points per game).
Marcus Spriggs, 6'4", 290, DT, Troy (Ala.) State
He saw spot duty at Ohio State in 1995 before transferring to
Division I-AA Trojans, for whom he made 83 tackles last season.
Lamar King, 6'5", 285, DE, Saginaw Valley State in Univ. Center,
He was busy: 15 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, five fumble
recoveries and two blocked kicks last year for Division II
A SWEET START
College football brings us back to our youth, which may explain
why this year's schedule serves dessert before the main course.
On Sept. 5 the schedule makers provide one great game after
another, believing, no doubt, that once America sits down at the
table for this weekend's fare, it won't push away from the mush
of the ensuing weeks.
The first full Saturday schedule of the season will include the
traditional rivalry (Michigan at Notre Dame), the intersectional
rivalries (Tennessee goes north to Syracuse, while Ohio State
hopes it doesn't go south at West Virginia), the
good-ol'-fashioned State U versus ag school, neutral-site grudge
match (Colorado versus Colorado State at Mile High Stadium in
Denver) and the conference showdown (Washington at Arizona
State). Alas, the nonconference mismatch also is abundant. Among
the worst, Florida plays The Citadel, a game that embarrasses
even Gator coach Steve Spurrier.
After Sept. 5 the schedule has few games that leap off the page.
Intersectional matchups that in most years would rivet the
nation's attention are hindered by the fact that a lot of
marquee teams aren't very good. Florida State's games against
USC and Miami are perfect examples.
Likely milestones this season
1. Joe Paterno is two victories short of becoming the fourth
Division I-A coach to reach 300. Though older than Bear Bryant
and Pop Warner when they won number 300, Paterno, 71, will do so
in fewer games. After a tough but winnable opener against
Southern Mississippi, the Nittany Lions play Bowling Green and
former archrival Pittsburgh.
2. Ricky Williams should break Tony Dorsett's career rushing
record of 6,082 yards in--here's the catch--four seasons (1973
to '76). In an era when tailbacks sprint for NFL riches after
one or two 1,000-yard seasons, Williams stayed for his senior
year. He needs 1,928 yards, about 175 a game, and with a veteran
offensive line, he figures to get them. Along the way he'll pass
another big name to become the Longhorns' alltime leading
rusher: Williams needs 289 yards to surpass the mark of 4,443
yards set in '77 by Earl Campbell.
3. Keith Jackson, the man whose voice is synonymous with college
football, will say whoa to Nellie and everyone else after
working more than 400 games over 30 seasons.
NICKED IN THE CLOSE ONES
Florida State is 6-6-1 in the 1990s in games decided by six
points or less. Among the eight coaches with the highest winning
percentages, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden (right) ranks last in
close games, with a .500 record. Granted, four of the losses
have been to top five teams. Yet it's also true that in three of
the games the Seminoles led in the fourth quarter. In its most
recent crumbling, Florida State allowed a 63-yard pass that led
to a loss to Florida.
WINNING PCT. WINNING PCT.
COACH OVERALL CLOSE GAMES
Terry Bowden .694 .738
Joe Paterno .792 .667
Lavell Edwards .729 .667
Steve Spurrier .776 .633
Phil Fulmer .831 .577
Paul Pasqualoni .705 .575
R.C. Slocum .764 .565
Bobby Bowden .769 .500