Confusing. Disorienting. Survey the landscape of this college
football season, and suddenly you're as lost as those three kids
in The Blair Witch Project. Ricky Williams is gone; Ricky
Williams is back. Keith Jackson, the voice of college football,
was history, but then--Whoa, Nellie!--he chose to return to the
airwaves, working exclusively games in the Pac-10.
Speaking of the Pac-10, the Cal quarterback is Samuel Clemons,
not to be confused with Samuel Clemens, who wrote Life on the
Mississippi, on the banks of which the national champion will be
crowned on Jan. 4 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Speaking of life on the Mississippi--and of reports of one's
demise being greatly exaggerated--Josh Booty will suit up for
LSU. Five years ago Booty was one of the country's most prized
high school quarterbacks, more sought after even than Peyton
Manning. But after committing to the Tigers, Booty signed to
play third base in the Florida Marlins' organization. Now 24 and
humbled by minor league pitching (career batting average: .198),
the 6'3", 235-pound Booty will have no trouble establishing a
rapport with LSU's top receiver, his younger brother Abram.
Speaking of booty, Rick Neuheisel left Colorado last January to
sign a seven-figure contract to coach Washington. The
fair-haired, guitar-strumming Neuheisel's hasty exodus struck a
sour note with folks in Boulder, including some in Buffs
uniforms who will play against their old coach when the Huskies
host Colorado on Sept. 25. Is Neuheisel Seattle's most
misunderstood guitarist since Kurt Cobain? Or is he a Music
Man-style mercenary not to be trusted?
Speaking of Lou Holtz, why is the former Notre Dame coach
wearing a USC cap? Because the 62-year-old Holtz, who's two
years removed from the game's most storied program, is the new
coach at South Carolina. The Gamecocks were 1-10 a year ago.
Speaking of coaches of retirement age, Penn State's Joe Paterno
is 72. Florida State's Bobby Bowden is 69. One, if not both,
could well be on the Superdome sidelines on Jan. 4. As near as
anyone can figure, Bobby will make history by coaching against
his son Tommy, the new head man at Clemson, when the Seminoles
visit Death Valley on Oct. 23.
Speaking of new coaches, 30 headset wearers--many of them
familiar names--will be guiding their teams for the first time.
John Robinson, always at home in a USC cap, will roll the dice
at UNLV, which has crapped out in 17 straight games. Dennis
Erickson, who won national championships at Miami in 1989 and
'91 before heading to the NFL, takes over at Oregon State. If
Erickson simply produces a winning season, something not seen in
Corvallis since '71, he'll win over the Beaver believers.
Speaking of faith, why are so many ardent disciples of
Catholicism suddenly embracing numerology? Notre Dame fans,
cognizant that the Fighting Irish won national championships in
1966, '77 and '88, are persuaded that '99 is their year. Plus,
this is Bob Davie's third year as Notre Dame's coach, and four
of his predecessors, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and
Holtz, finished No. 1 in their third seasons in South Bend. Then
again, none of them had to play the defending national champion
on its turf, as the Irish must on Nov. 6 in Knoxville.
Speaking of Tennessee, will the Vols have luck on their side in
1999 as they did in Week 6 of '98, when Arkansas fumbled the
ball away while running the clock out? Vols quarterback Tee
Martin is happy to trade Lady Luck for the reappearance of
running back Jamal Lewis. Now a junior, Lewis was averaging 6.8
yards per carry before tearing up his right knee against Auburn
midway through Tennessee's national title run.
Speaking of returning rushers, Ricky Williams is back. Not the
Heisman Trophy winner from Texas, but the Texas Tech dynamo who
averaged 143.8 yards per game a year ago. Last fall Williams the
Longhorn set NCAA career records for touchdowns (72) and rushing
yardage (6,279). Those standards are in danger of finding new
homes in Oxford, Ohio, where Miami's Travis Prentice needs 17
touchdowns to pass Williams, and in Madison, where Wisconsin's
Ron Dayne needs 1,717 yards to put his name atop the alltime
Speaking of new homes, Pittsburgh plays its final season at Pitt
Stadium and Southern Methodist its last in the Cotton Bowl.
Colorado has installed grass at Folsom Field, which should
please Ralphie the Buffalo. Hawaii will play more home games
(nine) than any other school, while Idaho, hoping to bolster its
bank account, will play zero in-state. The Vandals' home games
will be at Washington State's Martin Stadium in nearby Pullman,
where the seats are three times more numerous than those in the
Speaking of economy, inflation threatens the game. Division I-A
has added two schools--Buffalo and Middle Tennessee State--and
one bowl, the Mobile Alabama Bowl, which will be held in Mobile,
Ala., but whose title has no comma...which gives us pause. As
does this new rule (1-4-5-r): Visible bandannas on the field of
play or in the end zone are illegal. Does that mean that every
time a referee throws a flag he is committing a penalty?
Of course not. Expect the expected--Florida coach Steve Spurrier
will lift his visor and run a hand through his hair shortly
before demoting a quarterback; Virginia Tech will block a punt,
as it did eight times last year; and Purdue's brilliant
quarterback, Drew Brees, will create a stiff wind with his arm
(page 56). But rely on the unexpected, such as Arkansas's
aforementioned gaffe, for the thrills. Nothing in college
football, not even this guide, is perfect except for Memphis
kicker Ryan White's leg (he was 38 for 38 on field goals and
extra points in 1998) and ESPN announcer Chris Fowler's coif.