Ohio State fell to Michigan to conclude its worst season of the
This is an article from the Nov. 29, 1999 issue
The questions in the Ohio State interview room last Saturday had
less to do with how the Buckeyes lost 24-17 at Michigan than
with where they had been hiding. Ohio State ran the ball for a
season-high 263 yards and limited the Wolverines to 252 yards of
offense, 146 yards lower than their season's average. Most
important, the Buckeyes showed heart. "We played harder than we
had all season," tailback Michael Wiley said. If they'd played
this way from the beginning of the year, he added, "who knows
what could have happened?"
For one thing, Ohio State would have earned an invitation to a
bowl game. Because at 6-6 it doesn't have a winning record, its
10-year postseason streak is over. For another, sophomore
quarterback Steve Bellisari might not have finished the year
with a completion rate of 45.1% (101 of 224). That's the worst
for a Buckeyes quarterback since another sophomore, Cornelius
Greene, went 20 for 46 in 1973 for coach Woody Hayes, whose
loathing of the forward pass is well documented. Unfortunately
for Bellisari, these days passing is an integral part of the
Ohio State attack.
After he completed 5 of 8 passes, two of them for touchdowns, in
the first half against Michigan, Bellisari's inexperience
reappeared. In the second half he threw two interceptions that
the Wolverines converted into 10 points. With the Buckeyes
leading 17-10 in the third quarter, Bellisari mishandled a field
goal snap, thereby laying waste to Jonathan Wells's 76-yard run
to the Michigan six. Then on fourth-and-nine with 2:10 to play
and Ohio State trying to tie the game, Bellisari missed a
wide-open Reggie Germany near midfield.
Bellisari won the Buckeyes' starting job from fellow sophomore
Austin Moherman after two games, but he hasn't proved he can
consistently read defenses or make accurate throws. "It was
definitely a good year," Bellisari said after the loss, proving
that he really does need to learn more about the game. "I
learned a lot. I'm still going to learn. For us to be better, I
have to keep learning."
Bellisari wasn't solely responsible for Ohio State's descent
into mediocrity. Eight Buckeyes were drafted by the NFL last
spring. Four upperclassmen, including All-Big Ten guard Rob
Murphy, either flunked out or became academically ineligible.
The leadership void left behind was never filled. Ohio State's
loss to Miami in this year's Kickoff Classic stunned the
Buckeyes, who had won 43 games in four seasons and took
contending for the Big Ten title for granted. "We're not
handling adversity well," coach John Cooper said before last
week's game. "We'll fumble or give up a big play, and the roof
caves in on us."
With a 17-6 lead over Wisconsin on Oct. 2, Cooper watched Wiley
fumble the second-half kickoff. The Badgers recovered and went
on to win 42-17. On Nov. 6 at Michigan State, Buckeyes flanker
Ken-Yon Rambo twice dropped crucial passes that Bellisari had
laid right into his hands. The Spartans cruised to a 23-7 win.
Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said on Saturday that
the Buckeyes have been offered the opportunity to host the 2001
Pigskin Classic. Even if Ohio Stadium's renovation is completed
on schedule for that season, Geiger isn't sure he'll take the
game. But then, mediocre teams are more careful of whom they
play, aren't they?
TCU Back Sets Record
Look, Ma, 406 Yards!
Texas Christian junior running back LaDainian Tomlinson has an
image of his mother, Loreane Chappell, tattooed on his left
biceps and is accustomed to seeing her at Horned Frogs home
games. But on Saturday, as he set a major college rushing record
of 406 yards on 43 carries in TCU's 52-24 victory over Texas-El
Paso, Chappell was watching Tomlinson's younger brother, LaVar,
play in a Texas high school playoff game.
"I looked up in the stands and wished my mom was there, but she
knew what was going on," says Tomlinson, who ran for six
touchdowns. "She was listening to the game on the radio and
jumping around in the stands at my brother's game. People
thought she was crazy. When I talked to her on the phone
afterward, she knew all about the record."
The 5'11", 217-pound Tomlinson, who overcame a tender left ankle
he sprained Oct. 30, is now the nation's leading rusher,
averaging 172.5 yards per game. --B.J. Schecter
Backup, Starter, Backup, Starter
When Alabama starting quarterback Andrew Zow sprained an ankle
in a loss to Tennessee last month, his backup, Tyler Watts,
filled in for him in that game and started the next two, leading
the Crimson Tide to victories over Southern Mississippi and LSU.
But following Alabama's 19-7 victory over Mississippi State on
Nov. 13 in which Zow took every snap, a frustated Watts told
reporters that he would evaluate his options after the season.
In other words, he would consider transferring.
Watts should have remained patient. When Zow could do no better
than lead Alabama to two field goals during the first half at
Auburn on Saturday night and the Tide trailed 14-6, Watts
started the second half. He completed 5 of 6 passes, three of
them on third down, and led Alabama to three fourth-quarter
touchdowns and a 28-17 victory. Though the Tide's offense came
alive in the second half principally because of senior tailback
Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 101 of his 182 yards in the
fourth quarter, Watts played better than Zow had. Alabama coach
Mike DuBose said he will continue to evaluate both players as
the Tide prepares to face Florida on Dec. 4 in the SEC
"It's been a tough year," Watts said afterward. "It's been tough
to keep a positive attitude and the desire to practice. I just
hoped that my day would come."
Like Landlord, Like Tenant
For the last two summers Stanford quarterback Todd Husak has
rented the guest house of an alumnus of Stanford who lives near
campus. After the Cardinal's 31-13 defeat of Cal in Saturday's
Big Game, Husak has shared more than an address with former
Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett. They've both guided a team to
the Rose Bowl.
Husak said on Sunday night that he absorbed a lot from being
around Plunkett, an All-America in 1970. "We never sat down and
really talked about football," Husak said. "Just being around a
guy who has been through so much, seeing how his teammates still
act around him, gave me some perspective on how to lead a team.
Having a Heisman Trophy around wasn't so bad, either."
Husak hasn't put up numbers strong enough to earn a Heisman of
his own. He completed only 11 of 26 passes for 216 yards against
Cal, and over the season he threw 10 interceptions to go with
his 16 touchdown passes. Still, he has done enough to impress
Plunkett. "The way he carries himself, he's a very confident
fellow," says Plunkett. "Physically, he's the least talented
guy, but he's been able to withstand the challenges and also
withstand the criticism he's taken."
Like Plunkett's Stanford team, this year's Cardinal squad wasn't
expected to make it to Pasadena. Husak hopes the two teams share
something else: a Rose Bowl upset. Wisconsin will be a big
favorite over the Cardinal on Jan. 1. "For that  team to
come together and upset Ohio State was special," Husak said.
"They were an underdog, just like we'll be."
Nevada's Surefire Wideout
Too Small, Too Slow, Too Good
When Nevada senior wideout Trevor Insley isn't torching opposing
defenses, he can be found racing dirt bikes, snowboarding or
participating in any of several other extreme sports he loves.
"I'd really like to try hang gliding and skydiving, but my
coaches would kill me if they found out," says the 6'1",
195-pound Insley, who on Nov. 6 against Idaho became the alltime
leading major-college receiver (he finished his career with
5,005 yards) and on Saturday against Utah State moved into first
place in career receptions (298) and single-season yards (2,060).
After Insley starred for San Clemente (Calif.) High, Nevada was
the only college to offer him a scholarship. Most schools shied
away because of his relatively small size and not-so-blazing 4.6
speed, but he has become an NFL prospect by running precise
routes and exhibiting fearlessness while going over the middle.
"He can catch the football anywhere, anytime," said UNLV
defensive coordinator Jeff McInerney after Insley made 11
catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-12 Nevada win
over the Rebels on Oct. 2. "He doesn't have great speed, but he
runs meticulous routes and he's got great hands."
Insley grew up idolizing Steve Largent, who played 14 years in
the NFL, all with the Seattle Seahawks. After watching Largent
repeatedly beat bigger and faster defensive backs, Insley
realized that if he became the aggressor, his speed and size
wouldn't matter as much. "My attitude is that once the ball
leaves the quarterback's hands, it's mine," he says.
If that mentality doesn't land him a job in the NFL, Insley, a
physical-education major, says he'll become a fireman, a job he
has coveted since he was a child. "I've always liked living on
the edge, and being a fireman would suit my personality," he
says. "Even at 21, every time I see I an engine go by, I get all
fired up." --B.J.S.
Texas Tech Coachless
Dykes Rides Into the Sunset
One of the last characters in coaching announced on Saturday
that he'd had enough. With his West Texas twang and trademark
self-deprecatory humor, Texas Tech's Spike Dykes always
pretended he didn't know how to coach. Given that he hadn't had
a losing record since 1992 and had won a share of the 1994
Southwest Conference title in his 13 years with the Red Raiders,
everyone else knew better.
Texas Tech sent Dykes out with a victory by coming from behind
to beat Oklahoma 38-28. He'd wanted to keep his decision quiet
until after the game, when he could tell his players himself,
but word of his decision spread last week. It never occurred to
him to motivate the Red Raiders to win on his behalf. "The game
is about them," he said last Friday. "I don't believe in Win one
for the Gipper."
Dykes, 61, says he first thought about quitting in 1996, but
Texas Tech asked him to shepherd the Red Raiders through the
four-year NCAA probation it received in August '98 because of
various violations, including a large number of ineligible
student-athletes, that weren't Dykes's fault. By midseason this
fall Dykes was complaining of exhaustion. "I knew it was about
time," he said. "I've had more fun than I can say grace over.
I've coached all my life. It's the only thing I know how to do.
I'm ready to spend a lot of time with [my wife] Sharon. I've
never been with her on our anniversary. We'd been married 42
years as of Aug. 16. Our anniversary is always during two-a-days."
Texas Tech wants to replace Dykes with a coach who will open up
the offense. It has contacted Clemson's Rich Rodriguez and
Oklahoma's Mike Leach, both of whom are offensive coordinators
who oversee strong passing games.
Ivy League Co-champs
Yale Comes Full Circle
Two years after going 1-9, Yale finished 9-1 and tied Brown for
the Ivy League title by beating Harvard 24-21. With the victory
the Bulldogs need one more win to become the first collegiate
team to win 800 games, going back to 1872. Yale would have been
unbeaten this season if it hadn't lost its opener to Brown 25-24.
Yale led 24-23 with 14 seconds to play and blocked a conversion
kick that would have tied the game, but Brown's Rob Scholl picked
up the ball and ran in for a two-point conversion.
Kentucky's Standout End
Dream Year for A Walk-on
Kentucky tight end James Whalen Jr. caught only 30 passes in his
first two seasons with the Wildcats, but this fall he has been
the team's brightest star. Whalen, a 6'4", 231-pound senior, set
an NCAA single-season record for receptions by a tight end with
90, and his 1,019 yards were more than those amassed by
Kentucky's second, third- and fourth-leading receivers combined.
"The great thing about James is he's a little too quick and
agile for a linebacker and has the size to beat a corner," says
Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, who watched Whalen catch nine passes
for 114 yards and one touchdown in last week's 56-21 loss to
Tennessee. "He's become so reliable that we try to keep him on
the field [on offense] at all times. When I first saw tape of
James, I thought he could be good, but I never expected this."
Kentucky was in need of a go-to guy after Craig Yeast, the
Wildcats' leading receiver in 1998, was drafted by the
Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round in June. Whalen, who put
on 25 pounds this past off-season, was ready to step up. "My
first year here I just tried to work hard enough to play special
teams, and I did that," says Whalen, who walked on in 1997 after
transferring from Shasta College, a junior college in Redding,
Calif., where he caught 19 passes as a freshman. "Last year my
goal was to work my way into the offense, and I did that. This
year I wanted to shine."
Though he got a scholarship before this season, Whalen still
performs with a walk-on's mentality. He remembers how he once
had to fight for every minute of playing time, every bit of
respect, and he refuses to change his approach now that he has
tasted success. --B.J.S.
Boston College (4-2, 8-2) at Virginia Tech (6-0, 10-0)
The Eagles have been a pleasant surprise in the Big East, but
let's not get carried away. They've won five games by four
points or fewer and defeated only one team with a winning
record: Syracuse (6-4). One flaw the Hokies will expose: BC is
105th in the country in net punting. Can you spell b-l-o-c-k?
Virginia Tech can taste the Sugar Bowl. After this game the
Hokies will be playing in it.
Arizona (3-4, 6-5) at Arizona State (4-3, 5-5)
They share more than a state and a fierce dislike of each other.
Both defenses gave up 50 points to Pac-10 champion Stanford.
More important, both teams started as league favorites in recent
years (the Sun Devils in 1998, the Wildcats in '99) and crumbled
beneath the weighty expectations. The winner goes to Hawaii for
the Christmas Day bowl doubleheader. The loser stays home. We'll
go with history. Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder is 0-3 at home
against Arizona. Go ahead and make it 0-4.
Georgia (7-3) at Georgia Tech (7-3)
One good thing about wins in traditional rivalries is that they
salvage a season. Two disappointed teams line up at Bobby Dodd
Stadium: the Bulldogs, third place in the SEC East again, and
the Yellow Jackets, who fell out of contention for a BCS bowl
with their loss to Wake Forest and took quarterback Joe
Hamilton's Heisman chances with them. Hamilton performed his
magic on Georgia last season, bringing Tech back from a 12-point
deficit with 14 fourth-quarter points, but it has become
apparent that the one defense Hamilton can't beat is his own.
The Yellow Jackets can't stop anyone, much less anyone as
talented as Dawgs sophomore quarterback Quincy Carter.
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Ivan Maisel,
go to cnnsi.com/football/college.