The Longhorns burned a likely Rose Bowl bid and reignited a
Texas coach Mack Brown delivered the good news to his troops
before the Big 12 title game last Saturday night: No. 2 Florida
had lost. A spot in the national championship game had opened,
and the No. 3 Longhorns could grab it if they defeated Colorado.
A fired-up Texas team jumped to a 7-0 lead at Texas Stadium.
Everything was breaking the Longhorns' way, in fact, until
Buffaloes linebacker Aaron Killion broke on Texas quarterback
Chris Simms's sixth pass of the game. In addition to setting up
Colorado's first touchdown, Killion's 73-yard interception
return established the game's story line: Simms's four
giveaways--three interceptions and a fumble--led to 26
first-half points for the Buffaloes, who withstood a valiant
comeback by Texas to win their first Big 12 title, 39-37.
The Longhorns rallied behind senior backup quarterback Major
Applewhite, who entered the game late in the first half, shortly
after Simms's final interception was returned 64 yards for a TD.
The thief was safety Medford Moorer, whose score put Colorado
ahead 29-10 and triggered the chant "Major! Major!" among some
Simms, a lefthanded junior who had thrown for 16 touchdowns and
only two interceptions in his previous six starts (all
victories), was booed as he prepared to take the field for the
next series. Applewhite, to his credit, signaled for the
boo-birds to be quiet. Simms took one snap, dislocated the ring
finger on his throwing hand and was done for the night. On
Applewhite's second play he hooked up with wide receiver B.J.
Johnson for a 79-yard touchdown that put the Longhorns back in
the game. He went on to complete 15 of 25 passes for 240 yards
and another TD before time ran out.
This game, however, in addition to helping scramble the BCS
rankings, confirmed that the Buffaloes, 41-7 losers to Texas on
Oct. 20, are the nation's most improved team and have one of its
best running attacks. Eight days after his six-touchdown,
198-yard rushing performance against Nebraska, Colorado tailback
Chris Brown racked up 182 yards and three more touchdowns. Said
Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett, "It was a Chris Brown kind of
As opposed to a Chris Simms kind of night. Give credit to
Barnett and his staff for designing a game plan that gave Simms
fits. "We gave him a different look on every third down," said
linebacker Joey Johnson. "We'd blitz, then we'd show blitz and
drop back into coverage. We did some zone blitzing; we did a
little of everything."
The most devilish wrinkle was a scheme called Special, in which
Colorado played man-to-man on one side of the field and zone on
the other. Special was the defense when Johnson picked off
Simms's second pass of the second quarter, an interception that
led to the Buffaloes' second touchdown. "I blew a big
opportunity for us," said Simms. "I'm stunned with how it turned
out. We had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl, and I let a lot of
His meltdown was all the more stunning considering how well he'd
played this season. He'd thrown for 2,473 yards and a
school-record 22 touchdowns. His deer-in-the-headlights moments,
the lapses that were responsible for three interceptions that
were returned for touchdowns last season, were a distant
Thus is revived, for one final month, one of college football's
longest-running soap operas: Applewhite versus Simms. "These
kids have won 10 games, they're going to go to a nice bowl
game," said Mack Brown, casting about for a silver lining in
defeat. Between now and that game--probably the Culligan Holiday
Bowl, against Washington, in San Diego on Dec. 28--he'll answer
countless questions about whom he intends to start at quarterback.
The Buffaloes, bound for the Fiesta Bowl, were instructed by
Barnett before Saturday's game to close their eyes and visualize
"how they wanted the newspaper to read" the day after the game.
"Now," he said, "they'll be able to do that."
Wasn't that Special? --Austin Murphy
No Chance to Smell Roses
Someone forgot to tell Oregon that grunge is dead. The Ducks
closed out their 10-1 regular season with an unartful 17-14
victory over archrival Oregon State that wasn't impressive
enough to give them the inside track to the Rose Bowl national
championship game. Although Oregon moved up on Sunday from
fourth in the AP Top 25 and fifth in the USA Today/ESPN poll to
third in each, Tennessee jumped over the Ducks to No. 2 in both
polls. That fueled the Volunteers' rise to second in the BCS
ranking, 3.6 points ahead of third-rated Nebraska and 5.6 ahead
of No. 5 Oregon. Even if the Volunteers lose the SEC
Championship game to LSU this Saturday, the Ducks can't overtake
Oregon has only itself to blame. It blew a 42-28 lead in the
fourth quarter at home against Stanford for its only loss of the
year. Four of the Ducks' wins, including Saturday's at a wet and
windy Autzen Stadium, were by three points or fewer. The Ducks
finished 110th in the nation against the pass (285.2 yards per
game) but a respectable 33rd in scoring defense (21.8 points per
game). "We don't have a true nickel package, so a real passing
team that spreads us out is difficult," says defensive
coordinator Nick Aliotti. "A real power running team can hurt us
too, because we're little." In other words, other than a good
passing team and a good running team, the Ducks can stop
anybody. The difference, Aliotti says, is that his players
believe they can stop anyone.
After last Saturday's game Keenan Howry, whose 70-yard punt
return for a touchdown gave Oregon a 10-6 lead in the opening
minute of the fourth quarter, said, "We'd love a chance to play
Miami. We want to prove we're the best. That's the only way to
Bob Davie's Firing
The End Came At the Start
On Dec. 5, 2000, in the wake of Notre Dame's 9-2 regular season,
athletic director Kevin White extended coach Bob Davie's $1
million-a-year contract through 2005. On Sunday, three days
short of the extension's first anniversary, White fired Davie.
White says his second thoughts began last Jan. 1, when the Irish
lost 41-9 to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl. In that defeat and
its three losses to start this season, Notre Dame scored a total
of 32 points. In a press conference following his firing, Davie
said that White had told him on Sept. 30, the day after the
Irish fell to 0-3 for the first time in their history, that he
had five games to improve Notre Dame or White would "sever our
relationship." The day after delivering his ultimatum, White
relented and gave Davie the entire season to turn around the
team. The Irish did improve, finishing 5-6 with a 24-18 victory
at Purdue last Saturday, but White had already made his
decision. "A year ago," he said on Sunday, "I thought we'd
turned the corner. I really thought we were ready to be a really
good program. That [the contract extension] is on me."
Notre Dame's decision to fire Davie was similar to the change
that Alabama made a year ago, when Mike DuBose was forced out
after having led the Crimson Tide to the SEC championship in
1999. Davie and DuBose were hired within weeks of each other in
late 1996, after successful stints as defensive coordinators at
their respective schools. Both men found that being a head coach
of a high-profile team is unyielding in the price exacted for
mistakes. In an age when athletic budgets are reaching well into
eight figures (Notre Dame's is in the neighborhood of $38
million), the pressure on football to produce the money
necessary to support the programs is immense.
"Sports is almost a part of the entertainment industry," says
commissioner Mike Tranghese of the Big East, of which Notre Dame
is a member in every sport except football. "Your people have to
feel confident and good about your team. The scrutiny has
intensified because of television and all the games that are on."
Although White didn't mention budget concerns when announcing
Davie's firing, he's preparing a master plan to improve the
football facilities at Notre Dame that will require substantial
fund-raising. It's easier to do that when the team is winning
and the alumni are happy.
To Davie's credit, his players continued to play hard for him,
and his career record of 35-25 reflected it. His .583 winning
percentage, respectable by most schools' standards, is the third
lowest in Irish history. White said on Sunday that he wanted to
hire someone with head-coaching experience. Neither White nor
Irish fans have the patience to allow the next man to learn on
Dual National Champions?
Tennessee Key To Orderly Finish
As if this season hasn't been tumultuous enough, a loss by
Tennessee in Saturday's SEC championship game could create a
strong possibility of dual national champions. As it stands, the
Vols are ranked second behind undefeated Miami in the AP (media)
and USA Today/ESPN (coaches) polls as well as in the BCS
standings. A Tennessee victory over LSU in the SEC title game
will set up a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the Rose Bowl to
decide the undisputed national champion.
If Tennessee loses, however, the plot thickens. The BCS
standings then would likely have a top four of: 1. Miami, 2.
Nebraska, 3. Colorado and 4. Oregon, with the winner of a
mandated Miami-Nebraska Rose Bowl matchup assured by previous
agreement of being named national champion in the final coaches'
On the other hand, in the AP poll after a Tennessee loss, the
top four almost certainly would be: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3.
Colorado and 4. Nebraska, with No. 1 playing No. 4 in the Rose
Bowl and No. 2 playing No. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl. Because AP
voters are under no obligation to award a national title to the
winner of the Rose Bowl, a victory by Nebraska over top-ranked
Miami would open the door for the Oregon-Colorado winner to
vault into the top spot.
Unlikely? Stay tuned. Remember, over the last two weeks the No. 2
team in the nation--first Nebraska and then Florida--has gone
--YA GOTTA LOVE THIS GUY
North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato is a persuasive
recruiter, and last Friday he successfully pitched his program
to a bowl committee. The Wolfpack finished 7-4 (4-4 in the ACC)
but lost to Clemson, which finished 6-5 (4-4). When N.C. State
athletic department execs heard last week that their
counterparts at Clemson were making their case to the Tangerine
Bowl in an attempt to secure the conference's slot in that Dec.
20 game, they pulled Amato off the high school recruiting trail
in Florida and sent him to Orlando. Amato and two other N.C.
State reps arrived unannounced last Friday at the offices of the
Florida Citrus Sports Association, which runs the Tangerine
Bowl. They handed out Wolfpack T-shirts and caps and made sure
the game's organizers knew how much the Wolfpack wanted a
Tangerine Bowl berth. It also helped that N.C. State had won
four of its last five games, with the loss coming in the waning
seconds to No. 7 Maryland. Because of all that, the Wolfpack got
the bid to play Pittsburgh in Orlando, and Clemson was left
hoping for a spot in the Humanitarian Bowl, against Louisiana
Tech, in Boise on New Year's Eve.
An NFL scout assesses Oklahoma junior strong safety Roy Williams
(6'1", 221 pounds), who finished the season with five
interceptions and 99 tackles, 11 for a loss.
"He's built like a linebacker. Because he can't play in the
Senior Bowl, people will want to work him out, watch him move
around and see how he judges the ball downfield. He didn't play
the back end of the field very much this season, because he
played the run so much. He'll go in the first round, but a
safety won't go until late in the round, unless he's a Kenny
--WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
When Auburn concludes pregame warmups, its players congregate
near midfield. Last Saturday night, before the start of their
game at Louisiana State, they began chanting and stomping on the
Tiger logo at midfield. To prevent fights that might be
precipitated by such incidents, pregame taunting like stomping
on the host's logo isn't allowed. The game officials penalized
Auburn 15 yards and marched off the yardage before the opening
kickoff. Because it was booting from midfield instead of its 35,
LSU tried an onside kick and recovered it, drove for a touchdown
and never trailed in a 27-14 win that sent Louisiana State into
its first SEC title game.
--HEAD TO HEAD
LSU linebacker Trev Faulk versus Tennessee tailback Travis
Last year Faulk had 113 tackles, the most by a Tiger in more
than a decade; this season the 6'3", 230-pound junior made 115.
Faulk has a motor that never stops, and he'll need it against
Stephens. The 5'9", 190-pound senior, who ran for 226 yards
against a Florida defense that had given up only 859 rushing
yards in its previous 10 games, is particularly effective in the
fourth quarter. That's when Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer, who
prefers a balanced offense, relies on the ground game to work
the clock. If the Tigers are to avenge their 26-18 loss to
Tennessee on Sept. 29, Faulk will have to handle Stephens late
in the game.