The once 0-2 Wolverines return from the dead
Stunned by Notre Dame and embarrassed by Syracuse, Michigan
began the year as if it couldn't wait to resume its streak of
underachieving that was interrupted by last season's co-national
championship. After the 38-28 loss to the Orangemen on Sept.
12--a game in which Michigan trailed 38-7 in its own stadium
after three quarters--all appeared lost. "I was sitting at my
locker with tears in my eyes," linebacker Sam Sword says,
"thinking we had too much talent to be 0-2 and have our season
Well, now. Playing in the anonymity afforded the unranked, the
Wolverines have won five straight. They beat Indiana 21-10 last
Saturday in the same fashion in which they'd won their three
previous Big Ten games, with the defense dominating the line of
scrimmage and the offense scoring three touchdowns despite an
array of drive-killing penalties and four turnovers. Coach Lloyd
Carr continues to complain that Michigan is "a long way from
being the kind of team that we want to be and we can be." But
this far into the season you are what you are, which for the
Wolverines is fourth in the Big Ten in total defense and last in
turnover margin. Michigan nevertheless reentered the rankings
this week, at No. 22, and is tied with Ohio State (7-0, 4-0) in
the conference, half a game behind Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0).
After playing for the Little Brown Jug at Minnesota this week,
the Wolverines host Penn State and Wisconsin before heading to
Ohio State on Nov. 21. They aren't likely to run the table.
Michigan is too good for the Golden Gophers and has the home
field advantage over the Nittany Lions and the defensive speed
to stop the one-dimensional Badgers, but whatever voodoo it has
cast over the Buckeyes won't overcome the Wolverines' offensive
shortcomings. Only wide receiver Tai Streets, who caught two
touchdown passes against the Hoosiers, has proved he can break a
game open. Too often, Michigan stops itself, as in the case of
Anthony Thomas's 34-yard touchdown run against Indiana that was
called back for holding.
Still, it's hard to believe this is the same team that made a
mess of early September and then, in the week after the Syracuse
debacle, lost senior free safety and co-captain Marcus Ray, who
was suspended for six games for accepting concert tickets and
dinner from an agent last summer in Cincinnati. At the first
practice after the loss to the Orangemen, Carr told the
Wolverines to forget the two losses and that the season started
again that week. So it did. The defense that allowed Syracuse's
Donovan McNabb (293 yards of total offense, three touchdown
passes and one TD rushing against Michigan) to "run the option
like he invented it," as Sword says, stuffed the Hoosiers'
option-based attack. Antwaan Randle El, Indiana's dazzling
freshman quarterback, rushed for 110 yards but completed only
seven of 22 passes for 65 yards and threw two interceptions. The
biggest reason for Michigan's improvement against the option:
Last week speedy freshman defensive back. Julius Curry ran the
scout team's offense--with Ray, an erstwhile high school running
back, at tailback. "Marcus has a great attitude," says safety
Tommy Hendricks. "A lot of guys might have had too much pride
and said, 'I'm not going to the demo team.'"
Ray returns to the defense on Nov. 7--not that his absence has
hurt much. Michigan has given up an average of 8.3 points and
206 yards in its last three wins, against Iowa, Northwestern and
the Hoosiers. After starting 0-2, the Wolverines looked as if
they would be fortunate to repeat the four-loss seasons endured
from 1993 to '96. Now four defeats would be a disappointment.
Drama at Auburn
THE BOWDEN BUBBLE BURSTS
For the last six years the Bowden family lived in a coaching
bubble, not subject to the Newtonian principle that for every
winner there's a loser. Father Bobby at Florida State and sons
Terry at Auburn and Tommy at Tulane rarely lost and didn't worry
about job security. Says Tommy, "People thought we were
If that sounds like a fairy tale, it was--and last week the
fairy tale ended. Auburn's most powerful alumnus got word to
Terry on Oct. 21 that he would be fired at the end of the
season; it didn't matter that Bowden had gone 47-17-1 with the
Tigers, or that after Auburn won the SEC West last season, his
contract had been extended through 2004. Bowden was done, and he
knew it, so last Friday he walked away.
The man behind Bowden's ouster is Bobby Lowder, a wealthy
Montgomery banker and member of the Auburn board of trustees.
How powerful is he? When Governor Fob James declined to
reappoint him to the board in 1995, Lowder refused to leave. He
marshaled support in the state legislature and took James to
court, challenging in a lawsuit the governor's attempt to remove
him. Lowder prevailed when the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in
his favor last year. In December '92 he engineered the hiring of
Bowden from I-AA Samford University in Birmingham; Lowder's
daughter, Catherine, had worked in Bowden's office there. (She
came to Auburn with Bowden but left her job a few years ago.)
On Oct. 19, two days after the Tigers fell to 1-5 with a 24-3
loss at Florida, The Huntsville Times quoted a source as saying
that if Bowden didn't win four of his last five games, he'd be
gone. Two days later the coach met with athletic director David
Housel, who said that Lowder had been the source of the story.
"He told me that there's nothing you can do to save your job,"
Terry said Sunday. "He said, 'You can fight this and hope
[Lowder] doesn't have enough votes [on the board].'" Both Housel
and university president William Muse insist the door was never
closed on Bowden.
Bowden knew Lowder had the power to make any ultimatum stick.
After all, Lowder had hired Bowden without waiting for the
approval of Auburn's other trustees, its president or its then
athletic director, Mike Lude.
Bowden shepherded the Tigers through probation and won his first
20 games at Auburn, but that seems like long ago. On the field,
the trouble for the Tigers, who went 10-3 in 1997, began last
spring, when star receiver Robert Baker was sentenced to 15 years
in prison for cocaine trafficking. Two returning starters on the
offensive line quit over the summer. Against Florida, Auburn
played its sixth-string center and a freshman quarterback.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time it's wins and losses," Tommy
Bowden says. "This wasn't wins and losses. That's what makes it
hard. It's not like Terry was a drug addict or carrying a gun
through the airport or cheating. They brought him in to clean the
program up, which he did. I just hope I live long enough to see
Florida State play Auburn in Tallahassee."
That game is scheduled for Sept. 2, 1999.
A SON OF THE BEAR
Bill Oliver, who replaced Terry Bowden as coach at Auburn on an
interim basis, played and coached for Bear Bryant at Alabama.
Oliver made his reputation when he returned to the Crimson Tide
in 1990 under Gene Stallings and helped forge the defensive unit
that led 'Bama to the 1992 national championship. Athletic
director Hootie Ingram had promised Oliver he would succeed
Stallings, but Ingram lost his job in 1995 because of 'Bama's
NCAA violations. Oliver went cross-state after the '95 season to
run Bowden's defense.
During the Tigers' 32-17 win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday,
Oliver--known to one and all as Brother--coached from his
customary seat in the press box. That left the two Alabama state
troopers assigned to guard him on the sideline with nothing to
do. When the game ended and photographers rushed to midfield to
record the customary handshake between coaches, Oliver wasn't
Losses Mount in Tempe
HELLISH TIMES FOR THE SUN DEVILS
Like Michigan, Arizona State started the season in the Top 10
but lost its first two games. Unlike the Wolverines, the Sun
Devils continue to search for answers. It has come to this:
Arizona State (3-4) took solace in a come-from-behind, 44-38
overtime win over lowly Stanford last Thursday. Sophomore
quarterback Ryan Kealy, who had been benched in favor of
freshman Chad Elliott, came in on the last play of the third
quarter, twice rallied the Sun Devils from a seven-point deficit
and threw for two touchdowns.
"I'm wondering why in the hell it has taken so long," Arizona
State coach Bruce Snyder said last Friday. He's still searching
for a leader in what appears to be an excellent group of
followers. "Take the high expectations. You get in a trap as a
coach. You can't tell the players, 'You're not that good.' If
they think they're good, they might be. In 1996 and '97, we were
dominated by strong players: Pat Tillman, Jake Plummer, Damien
Richardson. Maybe because that group was so dominant, the guys
now stepping up don't have the same strength. But they expect
Before the season, talk in Tempe was of Arizona State's playing
for the national championship in its own stadium, the site of
the Fiesta Bowl. Now the Sun Devils are hoping for a berth in
any bowl. To qualify, they must win three of their remaining
four, against Washington State, Cal, Oregon and Arizona. Says
Snyder, reflecting on the comeback against Stanford, "I'm
hopeful as hell that we started to grow up in the fourth quarter."
Breathe Easy, Buckeyes
Forget the talk of No. 1 Ohio State being knocked out of the
Fiesta Bowl even if the Buckeyes remain undefeated. The first
Bowl Championship Series ratings, which came out on Monday, had
UCLA first, at 3.04; Ohio State second, at 4.31; and Tennessee
third, at 6.50. Those tallies made it clear that Ohio State's
standing atop both the AP and the USA Today/ESPN polls would
offset the Buckeyes' being rated second or third in the three
computer ratings and relatively low in strength of schedule.
It's also evident that Kansas State (fourth at 8.79) must hope
two of the three teams ahead of it lose a game. The Wildcats
rank 49th in schedule strength. UCLA is first, Tennessee second
and Ohio State 16th in that category....
Virginia free safety Anthony Poindexter will most likely be out
of action for the rest of the season after tearing his left
anterior cruciate ligament in the Cavaliers' 23-13 defeat of
North Carolina State. Nevertheless, he deserves the Jim Thorpe
Award as the nation's best defensive back....
The Tulane alums on the Sugar Bowl Committee dream of an
undefeated Green Wave team's playing in the Superdome on Jan. 1.
But they're also businessmen. Unless Tulane rises much higher
than its current ranking of 19th, the Sugar Bowl will pick
another team out of the BCS pool.
Read more from Ivan Maisel and cast your vote in our Top 25 fans'
poll at www.cnnsi.com.
TOP 10 Media Guide Absurdities
BYU. The Cougars' guide devotes two pages to praising the
16-team WAC as the nation's largest and most far-flung
conference. BYU is one of eight teams bailing out of the
conference at the end of the season.
Colorado. In the bio section of the Buffaloes' guide, 170-pound
placekicker Jeremy Aldrich responds to the question, "What rules
would you like to see implemented in college football?" with,
"No fat guys." Who's going to block for you, Jeremy?
Florida. The Gators' 320-page tome contains 36 pictures of Steve
Miami. On page 7 of the Hurricanes' guide, before the bios of
the president, athletic director and coach, is a list of
distinguished alumni. The roll of honor includes former ESPN2
and current Fox Sports anchor Suzy Kolber.
North Carolina. The three things Tar Heels reserve quarterback
Kevin Carty says he would want with him on a desert isle: the
Bible, Jenny McCarthy and the Led Zeppelin box set.
Northwestern. Asked to name the most influential person in
American history, Wildcats junior linebacker Conrad Emmerich
nominates Dick Butkus.
Ohio State. Buckeyes sophomore defensive end Rodney Bailey lists
his hobbies as music, dancing and watching NFL defensive tackles.
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' guide devotes two pages to details
of the new Bowl Championship Series. Rutgers has gone to one
bowl in its history--the 1978 Garden State Bowl--and is 5-24
over the last three years.
South Florida. Page 1 of the Bulls' guide is titled "Tradition."
South Florida's football program is in its second season.
Texas. The Longhorns' 446-page volume weighs in at five pounds.
Texas printed 15,000 copies.
--Texas (5-2) at Nebraska (7-1)
In past years the Huskers have depended on the kindness of
spoilers. En route to the 1995 national title, for example, they
didn't take a firm grip on the No. 1 spot in the polls until
Virginia shocked Florida State in the first week of November.
Now Nebraska has a chance to be the spoiler. A growing number of
Heisman voters believe that Ricky Williams, the Longhorns'
senior tailback, is a lock for the award, having rushed for 24
touchdowns and 1,484 yards in seven games. But he left room for
doubt when he gained only 43 yards on 25 carries against Kansas
State on Sept. 19. He'll be tested by a Huskers defense that is
holding opponents to 106.5 yards per game on the ground and 2.9
yards per rush.
Williams doesn't have to match his average to keep his Heisman
hopes alive. Let's face it: The race has stirred as much
excitement as any of this year's elections, which is to say very
little. If Williams doesn't deserve the trophy, who does?
--Oregon (6-1) at Arizona (7-1)
--Georgia (6-1) vs. Florida (6-1)
All four teams are ranked and have one loss in their respective
conferences, so whichever two lose will see their league
aspirations end. If the games come down to defense, look for
Arizona and Florida to win. The Wildcats have another edge:
They're coming off routs of Oregon State and Northeast
Louisiana, while the Ducks had exhausting battles with UCLA and
In Jacksonville, what used to be known as the World's Largest
Cocktail Party has become as tidy as a luxury box, of which the
refurbished Gator Bowl has plenty. Florida, which lost to the
Dawgs 37-17 last season, is out for revenge. That, and a
superior D, ought to be enough.