Not So Special
Early-season kickoff and punt teams aren't all that they should be
This is an article from the Sept. 14, 1998 issue
Nothing scares a college football coach more than the first
kickoff of the season, unless it's the first punt. A dirty
secret of college football is that many coaches, fearing injury
to their players, don't practice their special teams at full
speed. That's why so many big plays in the kicking game decide
openers. Some teams aren't ready.
--Iowa's Kahlil Hill returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown
and a kickoff 88 yards for a TD in the Hawkeyes' 38-0 shutout of
--In a 42-0 rout, Air Force scored twice against Wake Forest's
special teams, falling on a fumbled punt in the end zone and
returning a blocked punt 17 yards.
--USC and Arizona each returned the first kickoffs they received
this season for touchdowns, against Purdue and Hawaii,
--Notre Dame took control of its game against Michigan in the
third quarter by forcing a fumble on a kickoff return and
blocking a field goal. Each play set up an Irish touchdown.
Special teams have amassed 16 touchdowns in openers this
season--15 on returns (of six blocked kicks, five kickoffs and
four punts) and a fumble recovery in the end zone. Nine
touchdowns were scored on kickoff and punt returns in last
year's season openers. During the final three weeks of November
last year, by contrast, teams returned only six kicks for TDs.
After Syracuse committed blocking penalties on its first three
punt returns last Saturday, Orangeman defensive back David Byrd
explained the lapses by saying, "Ain't nothing like game speed."
The difference between your scout team and the opponent's first
team is never as pronounced as in special teams situations. Even
if coaches were inclined to use starters against starters when
practicing kick returns, it would be difficult to do. Often the
same players start on both kicking and receiving teams. But most
coaches in the 85-scholarship era won't practice kick coverage
with full contact because of the danger of injury. "You get
people hurt, more than anything else," Florida State coach Bobby
Bowden says. "There's a way to stop that. Get a Janikowski."
In Florida State's 23-14 defeat of Texas A&M two weeks ago, the
Seminoles' Sebastian Janikowski put all six of his kickoffs into
the end zone. That gives a kickoff coverage team a false sense
of security. Two of Janikowski's kicks were run back, and on one
of those occasions Texas A&M's Dante Hall returned the ball 49
yards. "Instead of just running downfield in your lane, as in
practice, people are hitting you," Florida State junior tailback
Jeff Chaney says. "In a game, people are moving all over the
Hawaii found that out the hard way. "You have some guys who
haven't been in a live situation, but you ask them to go out
there anyway," Rainbow Warriors special teams coach Doug Semones
says. Arizona's Chris McAlister returned Hawaii's opening
kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the Wildcats' 27-6 victory.
"Our guys ran down and got blocked and didn't get off their
blocks," Semones says.
Coaches talk about special teams being as important as the
offense and defense units. Sometimes that's all it is--talk.
"You come into spring prepared to get guys ready to fill holes
on offense and defense," says USC special teams coach Shawn
Slocum, whose Chad Morton returned the first kickoff to the
Trojans this season 98 yards for a touchdown in a 27-17 victory
over Purdue on Aug. 30. "In the fall, on special teams you still
have question marks. Once you get two or three games in, you
find out who's dependable."
By then, it may be too late.
STANFORD GOES OUT ON A LIMB
Competing not only against a sublime fall climate that offers
lots of recreational options but also against each other, the
two Bay Area Pac-10 schools, California and Stanford, are
offering creative--and perhaps desperate--season-ticket packages
to their fans. Included in Cal's six-game, $152 package is a
free digital cellular phone valued at $149. But that's nothing
compared to the deal the Cardinal is offering: a money-back
guarantee to all first-year season-ticket holders ($150 for six
games). "We're trying to reach out and get some new people to
games," says Bob Carruesco, the marketing director at Stanford,
which averaged 56,935 fans for its six games at 85,500-seat
Stanford Stadium last year. "If at the end [of the season]
they're not satisfied with the product, we'll return their money."
At the moment that looks like a risky ploy. The Cardinal's
highest-ranked guest, North Carolina, lost to Miami of Ohio last
Saturday, while Stanford's most attractive matchups, against
Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA, are all on the road. Worse,
the Cardinal lost its home opener 35-23 to lowly San Jose State
last Saturday before a sparse crowd of 36,396.
Cal, meanwhile, won its home opener against Houston 14-10 and
hosts defending co-national champion Nebraska this weekend in a
game that figures to draw 65,000 fans to 75,028-seat Memorial
Stadium. The Bears, who attracted 43,000 customers a game in
1997, also host the Cardinal for this year's Big Game on Nov. 21.
The phone number for Stanford's athletic ticket office is
1-800-BEATCAL. Or is that 1-800-BE AT CAL? --John Walters
All in a Day's Work
THIS WILLIAMS GETS NO RESPECT
It's bad enough that tailback Ricky Williams of Texas Tech, who
rushed for 251 yards and two touchdowns against UTEP, couldn't
emerge from the shadow cast westward from Austin, where Texas's
Ricky Williams rushed for 215 yards and six TDs against New
Mexico State. But the Red Raiders' Williams couldn't even grab
his own coach's attention. When Williams took himself out of the
game for a breather in the second half, Texas Tech coach Spike
Dykes got all over him. "I told him, 'You're going to have to
learn to play all the time,'" Dykes said on Monday. "Lo and
behold, I found out he had 41 carries. I felt like an idiot."
Williams's reply to Dykes? "Yes, sir. I'll do some running this
A Testy Situation
A CENTER WITH REAL BITE
The first warning was the concern in the voices of his
teammates. You have scheduled an interview with Grey Ruegamer,
Arizona State's eccentric center, and his fellow Sun Devils are
acting as if you've made a dinner date with Hannibal Lecter.
"Good luck," says tight end Kendrick Bates.
Yes, Ruegamer comes with a reputation. On the field the 6'5",
304-pound senior is a punishing run blocker who also provides
outstanding pass protection. Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder
has likened Ruegamer, a consensus preseason All-America, to
former Pro Bowl lineman Conrad Dobler, who was notorious for his
intense style of play.
But Ruegamer's on-field behavior is genteel compared to his life
away from football. This summer a family friend asked Ruegamer,
who grew up on a ranch in Montana, to help castrate his large
herd of sheep. Ruegamer agreed, not knowing that the castrations
were to be done in the Basque tradition in which ranchers use
their teeth in lieu of a knife because it is supposed to be less
painful for the sheep. "I was a little leery of indulging in the
testicle festival, but then I said, 'Hey, what the f---,'" says
Over a weekend Ruegamer and two others performed oral surgery on
some 1,400 rams, and he has the stomach-churning pictures to
prove it. "It felt like trying to fish peeled grapes out of a
bowl of Jell-O with nothing but your teeth," Ruegamer says.
"Only it tasted a little saltier." --Alan Shipnuck
MCNABB SOARS AS ORANGE FALLS
Syracuse's 34-33 loss to Tennessee may have dampened Orange
quarterback Donovan McNabb's Heisman hopes, but it shouldn't
have. He created one big play after another. "Half their
offense," Volunteers defensive coordinator John Chavis said
after the Vols' win, "came on plays where the average
quarterback would have been on the ground."...
Oregon State routed Nevada 48-6; the 42-point winning margin was
the Beavers' biggest in 22 years. What was more impressive was
that Oregon State won without its defensive star, end Inoke
Breckterfield, suspended after he was arrested for disorderly
Either there's a lot of indecision about who's good in the SEC,
or there's a bad case of grade inflation by writers partial to
the conference. In the latest AP poll, 11 of 12 SEC teams
No one enjoyed Grambling's 11-0 victory over Alcorn State more
than Doris Robinson. After watching the Tigers for more than 50
years, she finally got to sit through a game with her husband,
retired Grambling coaching legend Eddie. "It's a treat and a
privilege we've earned," she said.
Read more from Ivan Maisel and cast your vote in our Top 25 fans
poll at www.cnnsi.com.
--Central Michigan's 38-0 loss to Iowa was its ninth in a row
and ended the Chippewas' 167-game scoring streak, fourth longest
in the nation. The longest scoring streaks: BYU (287), Texas
(202) and Washington (193).
--Boston College linebacker Brian Maye's interception ended
Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton's streak of 161 passes
without an interception. The NCAA record is 271, set by Trent
Dilfer of Fresno State during the 1993 season.
Performances by quarterbacks who made their first career starts.
NAME, CLASS, SCHOOL COMING OUT PARTY
Steve Birnbaum Threw for 201 yards and a touchdown as the
Jr., Washington State successor to Ryan Leaf in a 20-13 victory
Quincy Carter Completed 12 of 16 passes for 235 yards in
Fr., Georgia a 56-3 victory over Kent State
Eric Crouch Rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns, and
Fr., Nebraska threw for 127 yards and a score in a 38-7
rout of Alabama-Birmingham
Jarious Jackson Sparked a 36-20 comeback win over Michigan
Sr., Notre Dame with a pair of TD passes and gained 62 yards
on the ground
Tee Martin Threw for two touchdowns, ran for another
Jr., Tennessee and accounted for 223 yards rushing and
passing in the Volunteers' 34-33 defeat of
Romaro Miller Completed 26 of 40 passes for 332 yards and
Soph., Ole Miss two TDs in a 30-10 romp over Memphis
Mike Moschetti, Threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in
Jr., Colorado a 42-14 win against Colorado State
Brock Nutter, As the first freshman since 1972 to start at
Fr., Troy State the position for the Trojans, he threw for
203 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-0 defeat
of Alabama State
Andre Vige, Passed for 322 yards, including touchdown
Fr., Northeast strikes of 90 and 76 yards, in a 44-10
Louisiana rout of Nicholls State
Chris Weinke, Completed 21 of 36 passes for 207 yards and
Soph., Florida State a touchdown in a 23-14 defeat of Texas A&M
--Texas (1-0) at UCLA (1-0)
Having two top Heisman candidates like the Longhorns' Ricky
Williams and the Bruins' Cade McNown on the same field, as will
be the case at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, is an occasion worth
savoring. It doesn't happen often. Here are three memorable such
1996--Florida's Danny Wuerffel versus Tennessee's Peyton
Manning. There is a way to lose the Heisman in September.
Manning threw four first-half interceptions and lost his
composure against the Gators' relentless pressure. Wuerffel
threw for four touchdowns in the 35-29 victory. Edge: Wuerffel.
1991--Florida State's Casey Weldon versus Michigan's Desmond
Howard. Weldon threw for 268 yards and three TDs, leading the
Seminoles to a 51-31 win. Howard caught two scoring passes, one
a sensational 42-yarder inside the back line of the end zone,
and finished with 189 all-purpose yards. Edge: Weldon. Heisman:
1967--UCLA's Gary Beban versus USC's O.J. Simpson. This was the
best Heisman showdown. In a 21-20 UCLA loss, Beban threw for 301
yards and two touchdowns. Simpson rushed for 177 yards and two
touchdowns, the last a 64-yard game-winning run that remains one
of the most storied in Trojans history. Edge: none. Heisman:
As for Saturday, it will be an upset if McNown doesn't get the
better of Williams. Texas won't lie down against UCLA the way it
did a year ago, when the Bruins won 66-3. But the Longhorns'
debut under coach Mack Brown last week highlighted how much
rebuilding lies ahead in Austin. Texas beat New Mexico State
66-36 but allowed the Aggies 233 rushing yards and 250 passing
yards. Too bad that Williams, who rushed for 215 yards and six
touchdowns on 36 carries, doesn't get college football's
equivalent of landing on free parking--a chance to play against
the Texas defense.
--Arizona State at BYU
--Syracuse at Michigan
You would have to go to Wall Street to find better gatherings of
losers. Look for the Cougars and the Wolverines to continue to
fall. By the way, the last defending national champion to start
0-2 was Penn State, which lost its first three in 1983.
Rice at Purdue.
The Owls' option offense has confounded greater defenses than
the Boilermakers'. Purdue has had two weeks to get ready. That
may not be enough.