Few coaches have endured more criticism this season than Michigan State's John L. Smith. It started after the Spartans blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 40--37 home loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 23. The scrutiny intensified after a loss to lowly Illinois on a last-second field goal (Smith famously slapped himself on the face at the postgame press conference) and blow-out defeats to Michigan and Ohio State. His prospects—not to mention his team's—changed in the blink of an eye last Saturday when Michigan State mounted the biggest comeback in Division I-A history, rallying from a 38--3 third-quarter deficit to beat Northwestern 41--38. Rather than gloat, Smith (above) made only a brief statement to reporters, saying his players deserved the credit. Reached the next day, Smith stuck to his message. "The heck with the coaches," he said. "It's about those kids. It's nice to be able to put your arm around them after a positive for a change." If the Spartans (4--4) win two of their last four—against Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State—they could earn their first bowl berth since 2003 and save their coach's job.
UNDER THE RADAR
While recruiting wideout Jarett Dillard in 2003, Rice was running the wishbone under coach Ken Hatfield. "There was no question in my mind: I wasn't going to Rice," Dillard recalls. However, when no other I-A school offered him a scholarship, Dillard reluctantly changed his tune—and it has worked to his advantage. Last winter Tulsa assistant Todd Graham replaced Hatfield and installed a spread offense, and now the 5'11", 180-pound Dillard (right), a redshirt sophomore, is one of the nation's top receivers. He has caught at least one touchdown pass in 10 consecutive games and has run up big yardage against the likes of UCLA (102), Texas (91) and Florida State (113). "He's as good a receiver as I've ever been around," says Graham. "We're just now beginning to see what he can do."
THREE AND OUT
1 Boston College's 24--19 victory at Florida State last Saturday was a landmark win for the program. The No. 18 Eagles (6--1), a controversial choice to join the ACC two years ago, have proved they belong by beating the league's past two champions, Florida State and Virginia Tech, as well as No. 10 Clemson.
2 The Big East champion won't necessarily be determined in the West Virginia--Louisville showdown on Nov. 2. Both teams still have to face 7--0 Rutgers, whose second-ranked defense looks like the real deal after shutting down Navy (34--0) and Pittsburgh (20--10) on the road.
3 Steve Spurrier's latest quarterback shuffle is paying off big-time. Since replacing incumbent Blake Mitchell with former receiver Syvelle Newton following an 18--0 loss to Georgia on Sept. 9, South Carolina (5--2) has won four of five and nearly knocked off then second-ranked Auburn.