Looking for trends in all the wrong places

Originally Published: October 13, 2003
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

As trendspotting goes, the predictions that 2003 would be the year of the two-way player have been right up there with the ones about the recovering economy. It hasn't happened yet. In spite of the hype, coaches have shown a resistance to wearing out their top corners by giving them another 30 or 40 snaps on offense.

Look no further than Ohio State, which treats the far end of the first-down chain as if it's an invisible fence. The Buckeyes are in desperate need of offensive help, as their 185 yards of total offense against Iowa proved. Yet Chris Gamble, who last season split time between flanker and cornerback, catching 35 passes (31 receptions and four interceptions), has barely played offense. He has yet to catch a pass, and returned only five kickoffs for 93 yards.

The only player who has continued to shine on both sides of the ball is DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech, who has caught a touchdown pass, run for a touchdown, returned three punts for score, all while taking a steady number of snaps in the Hokies' cornerback rotation.

It's possible that more players will play both ways as the weather gets cooler. Last season, more players did so late in the year than early. They appeared as if they would be the start of a trend.

Did you hear about the one about the recovering economy?

On The BCS Front
The BCS commissioners are looking at eight different plans to modify the Bowl Championship Series beginning in 2006. Among the changes being considered are a lowering of the qualifying standard for the non-BCS champions, a play-in game for the highest-ranked champions of the non-BCS conferences, an expansion to a fifth bowl, a post-BCS championship game, or some combination therein.

The most appealing to both sides is the lowering of the qualifying standard. Whether the BCS adds a fifth bowl or not, giving a team that finishes in the top 20 in the BCS standings an automatic bid makes competitive sense and puts the antitrust question to rest. It also removes the "BCS" and "non-BCS" brand from the respective leagues. That would begin to solve the growing inequity in I-A athletics.

A committee of BCS university presidents will meet with the non-BCS presidential group led by Scott Cowen of Tulane on Nov. 16 in New Orleans.

Spin City
Long before James Carville made "spin" a rhetorical device instead of what makes a curve break, Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill had mastered the trait. More than once, Sherrill has taken a question and run far and wide with his answer -- as far and wide away from the question as he could take it.

Jackie Sherrill is retiring after 13 years at Mississippi State.
Reading the letter Sherrill had posted on the Mississippi State athletics Web site Friday, announcing his retirement after 26 seasons, 13 in Starkville, and 180 victories, Sherrill apologized for the "downhill slide" that has given the Bulldogs a 10-22 record, 3-16 in the Southeastern Conference, since the beginning of 2001. That includes the 45-13 loss at Auburn on Saturday, where Tiger tailback Carnell Williams ran for six touchdowns. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who spent four years across state from Sherrill, enjoys beating few coaches more. The victory Saturday gave Tuberville a 5-4 career record against Sherrill.

"Two years ago, we started a downhill slide and I have deep regret about that," Sherrill said in his letter. "However, I have made sure we now have the players in place to regain the respect and bring back the excitement to Scott Field. We are on the road back and this young team will win a lot of football games in the upcoming years."

While it's true that Mississippi State is starting four freshmen and four sophomores, there are also 11 seniors. But that's Sherrill for you.

You could never argue with his results. Sherrill took Pittsburgh to No. 2 in 1980, and three top-10 finishes in five seasons. Sherrill went to Texas A&M in 1982 and led the Aggies to two top-10 finishes in seven seasons. He left just before the NCAA posse caught him, and after sitting out two seasons, he went to Starkville. He broke the Bulldogs' long-term lease on the SEC cellar (nine conference wins in the nine seasons before he arrived in 1991), and built them into West Division champions in 1998.

He is leaving, again with the NCAA sniffing around his program. Knowing Sherrill, he'll spin it and make it sound as the NCAA is planning a retirement ceremony for him.

Split Personality
The same Syracuse team that lost at Virginia Tech, 51-7, on Oct. 11, came home Saturday and dominated Boston College, 39-14. Well, no, that's not exactly true. The Orangemen that played on Saturday were nowhere near the same Orangemen that lost to the Hokies.

That Syracuse team never recovered from the first 11 minutes of the game. In that time, Virginia Tech ran off only eight offensive plays, which included a sack of quarterback Bryan Randall and an interception of him. Yet the Hokies led, 21-0, thanks to a 75-yard touchdown run by Randall, and two punt returns for touchdowns, 58 and 60 yards, by DeAngelo Hall.

"They were really ready to play," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said of the Hokies. "We got down 21-0 and nothing went right the rest of the day. It looked like we're not a good team. We feel as though we have a good team."

If anybody in the Orangemen locker room didn't feel that, they learned differently early last week.

"Coach P called us out," senior defensive tackle Louis Gachelin said of his unit. "We have three seniors on the defensive line. The leading rusher in the country is coming to the Carrier Dome. We came out with the intention to dominate up front and we dominated."

Syracuse came into the game with three sacks all season and got Eagle quarterback Quinton Porter five times. Boston College tailback Derrick Knight, the aforementioned leading rusher, carried 19 times for 51 yards, 97 fewer than his average. The Eagles returned the same courtesies to Syracuse tailback Walter Reyes, who carried the ball 23 times for 55 yards, 89 yards fewer than his average.

The difference between the two teams is that Syracuse senior R.J. Anderson had one of the best games of his long career, completing 20-of-27 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for a career-high 73 yards and a score. He has thrown 167 passes without an interception, a school-record streak that dates to the last game of last season. Syracuse is the only team in the nation that hasn't thrown a pick.

"Anderson is a lot better than people think he is," Pasqualoni said. "People forget that two years ago, he led us to 10 wins. That's hard to do in I-A football."

In each of his previous three seasons at Syracuse, Anderson has won the starting job and lost it, because of ineffectiveness or injury. He had played in 31 games but started only 19. His numbers were mediocre -- a .466 completion percentage, 2,534 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

In the first half of this season, Anderson's numbers are way past mediocre -- a .622 completion percentage, 1,103 yards, seven touchdowns and no picks. Anderson converted one third down after another by zinging passes through barely cracked windows in the Eagle secondary. An offense that had converted only 22-of-69 third downs in five games went 14-for-19 against Boston College.

"He's playing with that level of confidence, that level of presence," Pasqualoni said. "He managed the game very well."

Offense and defense dominated against Boston College. The question is whether the Orangemen, 4-2, can sustain that level of play on the road Saturday at Pittsburgh. Gachelin dismissed the notion that Boston College's coming departure for the Atlantic Coast Conference spurred Syracuse.

"I think this game is motivation, especially after that terrible loss in Blacksburg," he said. "We bounced back fairly quickly. For the young guys, it's a confidence builder."

Remember Me?
Former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, who retired in 2000 with 257 victories, sixth on the all-time I-A list, said Saturday he doesn't miss coaching as much as you might think.

"I miss the games. I miss recruiting some," said Edwards, who took in the Syracuse-Boston College game at the invitation of his friend, former Orangemen coach Dick McPherson. "I don't miss dealing with all the problems."

Edwards, 73, will finish an 18-month LDS assignment in New York next month and return to Utah. Before he heads west, he will testify in Washington, D.C., before the Senate Judiciary Committee at its Oct. 29 hearing on the BCS. Edwards received the invitation from committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch of, yes, Utah.

Just F.Y.I.
Now that Duke fired Carl Franks on Sunday, his replacement will be the seventh head football coach since 1981 (eight, if you include interim head coach Ted Roof). That's the year that the university hired Mike Krzyzewski to coach the basketball team. The football Blue Devils have had five winning seasons in that time. The basketball team has won three national championships. ... No. 14 Northern Illinois (7-0 and No. 12 in the AP poll) and Bowling Green (No. 23 AP) are the first ranked Mid-American Conference teams to play each other since 1973, when No. 17 Miami played No. 19 Kent State. ... B.J. Symons is going to put up monster numbers this season, but if he wants to win the Heisman, he has to beat not only Jason White, Kevin Jones and the other top candidates, but history. The Red Raiders are 5-2 with five to play, and only four Heisman winners since 1970 have been on teams that have lost as many as three regular-season games: George Rogers of South Carlolina in 1980, Bo Jackson of Auburn in 1985, Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987, and Ricky Williams of Texas in 1998. Williams set the NCAA all-time career rushing record that season, which overcame the Longhorn losses. Symons is on track to break the NCAA single-season total offense and passing records, which may help. But Texas Tech closes its regular season against Oklahoma and White. It's difficult to imagine that Symons win the Heisman without leading the Red Raiders to an upset of the Sooners.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com