Just For Argument's Sake ...
From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.
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When the Pac-10 travels, its officials don't. And when the Pac-10 teams play nonconference games at home, Pac-10 officials call the game. It is a matter of pride.
"It's our feeling that it's kind of a point of integrity," said longtime Pac-10 associate commissioner Jim Muldoon on Monday. "We believe our officials are honest. We believe other officials are honest, so we don't believe in the time and expense of sending them all over the country."
On the other hand, Muldoon said those words as he assembled the statement and apology that commissioner Tom Hansen issued Monday. The Pac-10 meted out a one-game suspension to the crew and the replay official who worked the Oklahoma at Oregon game. Errors on two calls in the final 1:12 allowed the Ducks to come back and win 34-33.
AP Photo/Don Ryan
The OU-Oregon controversy has the Pac-10's policy of using its own officials being questioned.
Muldoon couldn't remember the last time, if ever, that the league issued an apology for officiating errors in a nonconference game. He said it has been years since the Pac-10 last considered adopting the same rule as other conferences and sending its officials on the road, and he doesn't expect the policy to change.
NCAA football rules boss John Adams estimated that more than half of I-A schools use their conference officials for nonconference home games. In higher-profile intersectional games, however, the visitors usually bring officials from their conference. Ohio State took Big Ten officials to Texas two weeks ago.
Athletic directors who schedule games with Pac-10 teams understand the drill. If you want to play on the West Coast, you play with their officials. And it is an improvement from the old days. Until the 1990s, many interconference games featured split crews, with half the officials coming from each league.
"I officiated a Big Eight game once when they said, 'The officials representing Oklahoma are '" said Adams, a longtime official in the West. He said schools often argued over which conference would be able to assign an umpire, the official who calls holding.
"When I first came here [as head coach in 1990], we used to have split crews," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "My first game here was against Cal, and we had a split crew."
Alvarez said that use of split crews ended because "the Pac-10 guys protected their teams." With a nod to the Oregon-Oklahoma debacle, he added, "It's still not uncommon, obviously."
Alvarez's Badgers played home-and-home series with Oregon and Arizona during his 16 seasons as head coach. He felt Wisconsin didn't get a crucial call late in a game at Oregon in 2001, when what Alvarez believed was a fumble by Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington was ruled an incomplete pass. Oregon maintained possession and won, 31-28.
Not that coaches have long memories. Of course not. Just ask Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Or ask University of Oklahoma president David Boren, who took leave of university business Monday long enough to ask that the result of the Oregon game be stricken from the record books.
"I also hope this situation," Boren added, "will lead the Pac-10 to change their policy of requiring that only officials of the Pac-10 officiate the home games of Pac-10 universities when they are hosting a nonconference opponent."
Muldoon said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, that the league athletic directors will review the policy when they meet on Oct. 12.
The longer the game goes, the longer Peterson goes. The Oklahoma junior tailback's numbers are startling.
In the first half this season, Peterson has rushed for 164 yards. In the second half, he has run for 351, or 68 percent of his total of 515 yards. It's a pattern that he has established over the course of his two-plus seasons with the Sooners. In the first half, he has rushed for 1,322 yards. In the second half, he has rushed for 2,226 yards, or 62.7 percent of his total of 3,548 yards.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Adrian Peterson has gained 68 percent of his yards this season after halftime.
It's especially remarkable given that Oklahoma has won six games in Peterson's career by at least 24 points, which means less time for him in the fourth quarter.
The reason, Oklahoma center Jon Cooper said, is simple.
"He's in better shape than everybody else," Cooper said. "When other guys are tired, he's still going 110 percent."
Peterson is 6-foot-2, 218 pounds and runs a sub-4.4 40. His motor can go a long time between oil changes. It's funny, isn't it, how the most talented guys are also the hardest workers. Cooper said that when he gets in his stance and looks across the line, he sees the results of Peterson's labors.
"The defensive linemen and the linebackers look at him standing straight up," Cooper said. "Those guys are breathing hard and sweaty. They don't look like they want any part of him. He's going hard all the time. He's the same way in practice. It can be the last play in practice. He's finishing in the end zone."
The offensive linemen and receivers see Peterson work hard and they work hard. It may be subliminal. It may be contagious. It may simply be learning by repetition, over and over.
"Watching him break tackles and do stuff nobody else can do, you think, 'If I block my guy a little more, he [Peterson] is going to take a regular zone play the distance,'" Cooper said. "Coach [Kevin] Wilson [the Sooners' offensive coordinator] said it's like breaking rock with a hammer. You're not going to break it with the first strike. Anybody can tackle him once. By the last time, there's no way. He's going to break them down."
When the Atlantic Coast Conference released its 2006 football schedule last winter, you didn't have to be a nutritionist to detect the lack of iron in the league's diet. Yet without the I-AA junk food, the league barely has a winning record. The ACC is 9-8 against other Division I-A schools, and only 2-5 against leagues that also get an automatic bid to the BCS. Those two victories belong to Wake Forest, over Syracuse (20-10) and UConn (24-13).
Before you say, "At least the ACC is still better than the Big East," look again. The ACC is 2-4 against the league it raided.
The ACC is 1-2 against the Mid-American Conference. The ACC's other six nonconference I-A victories have come against Troy (twice), Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee State, Central Michigan and, in overtime, Wyoming and BYU.
Those last two victories could mean that the ACC is roughly equal to the Mountain West Conference. But then no one in the ACC has played TCU, either. The ACC has established, by dint of a 4-0 record, that it is better than the Sun Belt Conference.
ACC teams have lost by at least 20 points to No. 4 West Virginia, No. 8 Louisville, Pittsburgh and Southern Mississippi -- a good lineup, but not exactly the 1927 Yankees. More like the 2006 White Sox.
N.C. State and North Carolina have resorted to that coaching standby, the quarterback switch. Miami has denied that it will resort to that athletic department standby, the coaching switch.
Can a case be made for the defense? Football is cyclical. Both Maryland (2-1) and Florida State (2-1) have young teams.
"This team here looks like a team with potential that you can tell isn't there yet," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said. "If we can just continue to manage to win until we finally grow up and get it together that's kind of the way it is. It's not like we can just walk out there and beat people."
It used to be that way for Florida State and for Miami. They are the foundation on which the expansion of the ACC was built. When the league raided the Big East to take Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, no one questioned whether the league belonged among the top I-A conferences.
This season, the league motto is: "Hey, Sun Belt! Want a Piece of Me?"
In the age of the Internet, when, to paraphrase the old saying, video travels around the world in the time it takes truth to get out of bed, the conferences need to respond more quickly to controversial calls.
It took the Pacific-10 and the Southeastern Conference 48 hours to put out statements regarding the controversies at the Oklahoma-Oregon and LSU-Auburn games, respectively. By taking two days to respond, the leagues allowed the frustration and conspiracy theories of the Sooners' and LSU Tigers' fans to race around the Internet unabated.
Once both leagues made their statements, and in the case of Oklahoma, school and conference officials responded, the controversies began to die down.
Sure, officials travel on Sunday, and tapes must be reviewed. But the quicker the leagues respond, the quicker they will defuse the issues. It took the SEC two days merely to get the word out that field judge Dan Moore and back judge Mike New had made the correct call and to explain the rule in question.
Very few civilians, myself included, know the rulebook well enough to understand every call. I got the call right in my game story, yet flailed in my interpretation of the call in my Sunday column, because I made a couple of deductions that I didn't need to make.
Even LSU coach Les Miles incorrectly stated after the game that he thought a ball had to be tipped at the line of scrimmage for it to negate a pass interference call. That's not the case, but his statement added to the we-wuz-robbed sense among LSU fans.
Putting a microphone on the referee has helped immensely, but it's not enough. Every conference office sends a representative to its teams' games. If there's a controversial call, have the conference rep get a statement from the officials. Or, appoint a pool reporter and have him or her get the statement.
Have the supervisor of officials review the video on Sunday and get the results out. It would be for the good of the game. The college football public is traveling at broadband speed. College football needs to catch up.
the SEC tailback. Could it have been only two seasons ago that two Auburn running backs were taken in the first round of the NFL draft? The SEC tailback is disappearing faster than the polar ice caps. Look at the numbers. Last season, Auburn tailback Kenny Irons led the conference with 1,293 rushing yards, or 107.8 yards per game. A good season, perhaps, except that he finished 21st in Division I-A.
Kenny Irons is the only SEC back averaging over 100 yards per game.
This season, Irons is averaging 107.3 yards per game and has zoomed to 18th in Division I-A. Once again, he leads the league. He's also the only SEC rusher averaging more than 100 yards per game, although Darren McFadden of Arkansas is close behind (99.0 yards per game).
But No. 9 Georgia has gone 13 games without a 100-yard rusher. Forget 100 yards. No. 10 LSU hasn't had a back rush for 50 yards in three games this season. Both the Bulldogs and the Tigers are employing the tailbacks-by-committee strategy. Alabama has no such excuse. Tide senior Ken Darby has rushed for 169 yards -- total -- in three games.
The bottom line: Arkansas, which is 25th this week in I-A rushing, is the only conference school ranked in the top 33. Last season, the SEC explained away its lack of offense as a result of its superior defenses. That proved to be the case Saturday at Auburn's 7-3 victory over LSU.
After one of Missouri defensive end Brian Smith's four sacks Saturday against New Mexico, linebacker Marcus Bacon asked him, "Is anybody even blocking you?"
The question penetrated Smith's game face.
"I cracked a smile," Smith said. "On one particular play to tell you the truth, he wasn't blocking me."
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Brian Smith leads the nation with six sacks.
In the first 10 seasons of the Big 12 Conference, Missouri players won a total of seven Defensive Player of the Week awards. Only two of those came in the last six years. In this, season 11, Bacon and Smith have won the last two Defensive Player of the Week awards.
Bacon made 12 tackles and accounted for two turnovers in Missouri's 31-14 defeat of Ole Miss on Sept. 9. Smith, with the four sacks in the Tigers' 27-10 victory at Albuquerque, took over the lead in Division I-A with six sacks for the season, only three short of his career best.
More important, the entire Tigers defense is looking tough for the first time since the Big 12 came together. Missouri is 10th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and second in the conference. A year ago, the Tigers finished ninth in the conference.
The difference is, Smith said, "We have seven seniors on defense. When you got seven out of 11 you've been playing with since you were freshmen, that bond is pretty tight. The huddle is like living in a small room with all your brothers. We're all doing the things we know the most with the people [we] know the most."
Smith, at 6-foot-4, 230, is undersized for a defensive end. He may give up 30 pounds to a tight end and 80 pounds to an offensive tackle. But his speed and quickness make it difficult for blockers to reach him.
"The guy can go all day," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "In the fourth quarter, maybe some guys run 4.8. He runs 4.6 all day."
Eberflus, with Smith in mind, has fashioned a defense after what the Indianapolis Colts do with end Dwight Freeney. Smith said the defense watched a video of the Colts' sacks last Friday night.
"Needless to say, Dwight Freeney had most of them. His spin move is out of control," Smith said. "I've become one of his biggest fans. I try to copy his moves. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't."
Lately, they've worked. The speed of the front seven has allowed Eberflus to play simple pass coverages on, by his estimation, half the defensive snaps, a higher percentage than usual.
Bacon, who, at 6-2, 225 is also undersized, said, "The coaches preach 11 hats at the ball. Everybody wants the tackle. The speed we're playing at is the top speed I've seen from a Missouri defense."
As a result, the Tigers are 3-0 heading into their final nonconference game against Ohio. A win would make Missouri 4-0 for only the second time since 1981. The Tigers, in their first season without four-year starter Brad Smith at quarterback, are remaking an identity with defense, and with success.
Sometimes, when a star leaves, his teammates quit depending on him and go out and try to do the work themselves.
"I definitely believe when Brad was here, players expected Brad to come out and steal the show," said Brian Smith (no relation). "He's gone. Everybody is looking for who that next player will be. Everybody wants to be that player. Everybody is working extra hard. Everybody wants to be the big man on campus. It's pretty crazy."
Bad enough that Oklahoma president David Boren suggested that the result of the Sooners' 34-33 loss at Oregon be stricken from the record book. But the conspiracy theorists in Oklahoma are in high gear. The Tulsa World received an anonymous fax Tuesday revealing that Dave Cutaia, the referee who worked the game at Autzen Stadium, went to high school with Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti.
You have to admire their deviousness. Cutaia has been a Pac-10 official, the story said, since 1983. Bellotti has been a coach at Oregon since 1989 and the head coach since 1995. Yet they waited 18 seasons before they unleashed their plot.
Now showing at theaters throughout Norman: The Manchurian Back Judge.
If you want something to think about: Replay official Gordon Riese, who neglected to reverse the onside kick ruling that gave Oregon the ball, was the line judge on the Pac-10 crew for the 1982 Stanford-California game. You make one game-turning error in your career, it's a mistake. You make two, it's a trend.
Yeah, I went to Stanford, which just goes to prove a universal truth: When your team loses, your conspiracy theory is ludicrous. When my team loses, we need an investigation.
Editor's note: Every week, Ivan Maisel will explain how to perform a task integral to college football. It might happen on the field. It might happen on the sideline. It might have to do with tradition, or preparation, or the band, or the managers. But you'll go inside the sport as you never have before. Here goes:
The amount of food that the Florida State Seminoles consume staggers even Robert Bender, and he should be used to it. He's the guy who orders it. Bender, the Florida State food service manager, discussed two-a-days, when the NCAA allows the university to feed its players all three meals (during the season, as per NCAA rules, "training table" may operate for only one meal per day).
Since players are practicing twice a day, they eat twice as much. With players, coaches and staff, Bender estimated he prepared something fewer than 200 meals at a time during two-a-days. During two-a-days, he spends an estimated $10,000 per week to feed the Seminoles. And that's just the food. That doesn't include the cost of staff that arrives as early as 4:30 a.m. to begin preparing breakfast, and works as late as 9 p.m. cleaning up after dinner.
"Usually we have three choices of protein, always a fish, a chicken and a beef," Bender said. "I go through 400 pounds of chicken a day -- 200 for lunch, 200 for dinner. I also go through 200 pounds of fish and 200 pounds of beef."
That's just the main course.
"We go through cases and cases of fruit," Bender said. "It's hard to put numbers on that. For instance, we go through a 40-pound case of bananas a day during two-a-days. We'll go through one-and-a-half bags-in-a-box of Powerade a day. I don't know how much that is, but where we serve 150 normal people, one bag-in-a-box lasts four lunches.
"We have two starches and two vegetables, always a full sandwich bar, a full salad bar, multiple beans, legumes, cottage cheese at every meal. We have tuna fish. We do not go through a lot of sugar. We have dessert out there. They don't eat it. Athletes have gotten very educated about what they should eat and not eat."
That falls under the aegis of Josh Hingst, FSU's director of sports nutrition, who has been in the athletic department for four years. He expects his players to consume fruit or vegetables at every meal. He expects them to consume carbohydrates, especially during the grind of two-a-days, and he expects them to consume a lean source of protein.
And he expects the players to know that without him standing behind them in the buffet line.
"At the beginning of the year, they have heard that nutrition is important," Hingst said. "We try to keep it simple but help them understand, 'Here are four or five things you can do to help you on the field.' I really don't have to shove it down their throats."
Hingst is an equal-opportunity nutrition cop. He capitulates to allowing fried chicken, a player favorite, only on a night when there will be no workouts the next day. And he took away the Dove bars from plane flights, a favorite with the coaches and a Seminoles football tradition, and replaced them with frozen fruit bars.
"I took a lot of heat on that one," Hingst said. "Daryl Dickey, the quarterback coach, gave me the hardest time about it."
1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma, RB: He had 34 carries for 211 yards, but the Pac-10 officiating crew has him down for 211 carries for 34 yards.
2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, RB: The grudge thing worked so well against Maryland. Wonder what he'll get mad at East Carolina about.
3. Troy Smith, Ohio State, QB: He's completing nearly 70 percent (.691) of his passes, and has thrown 81 without a pick. The hits just keep on coming.
4. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois, RB: He's already averaging nearly 40 more rushing yards per game than any other back.
5. Dwayne Jarrett, USC, WR: I'll be honest. I don't have a fifth-place pick. But Jarrett went wild against Nebraska (11-136, two touchdowns), so he gets his props.
Adios: Brady Quinn
1. Ohio State (1 last week): It took a half for the Buckeyes to figure out Cincinnati, but with their talent, they had the luxury.
2. USC (2): That's a good, methodical victory over a physical opponent.
3. Auburn (4): The Tigers put on as fine a defensive performance in a top-10 game as I can remember.
4. West Virginia (3): Saw Auburn and the Mountaineers last week. The WVU of the first quarter could beat Auburn. But the Mountaineers failed to maintain their focus over the last three quarters.
5. Texas (6): See it in CinemaScope, the new Mack Brown production: Seven Touchdowns for Seven Longhorns.
6. Florida (7): Urban Meyer can cross Tennessee off his list. Alabama, which beat the Gators 31-3 last year, is next on his grudge list. After Kentucky on Saturday night, that is.
7. LSU (8): I don't move teams up very often after they lose, but I don't think there are many teams that will beat the Tigers.
8. Michigan (14): The Wolverines proved a lot of us wrong with a performance for the ages Saturday at Notre Dame. The next task? Doing it against Wisconsin. And at Minnesota. And against Michigan State
9. Georgia (9): Freshman quarterback Matt Stafford appears wise and calm beyond his years. Against UAB, anyway.
10. Louisville (13): The Derby City Duo is on the disabled list, and the Cardinals haven't missed a beat. Circle Thursday, Nov. 2. That's when West Virginia comes to town.
11. Oregon (10): What will happen if the Ducks run the table and go 12-0 with an asterisk?
12. TCU (--): The Horned Frogs keep Mike Leach out of the end zone, which is like keeping Paris Hilton out of In Touch. It's not that easy to do.
13. Boston College (--): After the top 12, I began to struggle. The Eagles are one of three 3-0 teams in the ACC. Unlike Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, the Eagles have played a couple of good teams.
14. Oklahoma (15): The Sooners didn't drop, because they didn't really lose.
15. Tennessee (16): I moved the Vols up a space, too, because they played a higher-ranked team and lost by a point. A painful point, mind you, but just a point.
16. Iowa (--): The difference between the Hawkeyes at Syracuse and the Hawkeyes against Iowa State was immeasurable. So that's how good quarterback Drew Tate is.
Adios: Notre Dame (5), Florida State (11), Nebraska (12)
Remember last week, when there were eight or 10 games to TiVo? Did you save any of them?
Not that the schedule this week is dreary, but I've read more interesting menus in elementary school cafeterias. But you clicked on Three Games, so Three Games you're going to get.
Alabama vs. Arkansas
Saturday, 3:30 ET, CBS
This rivalry has a history of being physical, even by SEC standards, which, as we saw at Auburn last week, are a notch above most (ask California about its trip to Knoxville). It will be difficult to find anyone outside of either state who believes this is for anything other than third in the SEC West.
But it is an interesting game because of the youth of the respective teams. The Razorbacks' two offensive stars are sophomore tailback Darren McFadden and freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain. The Crimson Tide's inexperience on offense is evident in its record in the red zone: four touchdowns in 14 trips.
The Tide once again has a formidable defense. Alabama leads the SEC in turnovers forced with nine, and in turnover margin at plus-5. There's only one school in Division I-A that hasn't forced a turnover yet -- Arkansas. The Razorbacks are at minus-7, last in the league and next to last in the nation. That is reason enough to think that Alabama can win in Fayetteville for only the second time in five trips.
Wisconsin at No. 6 Michigan
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
Long before it became associated with Michigan Stadium, the term "Big House" meant prison. Take "The Big House," a 1930 movie with Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone. Or take Wisconsin's record at Ann Arbor, which pretty much became a prison for the visiting Badgers.
Wisconsin won at Michigan Stadium in 1962, the Badgers' Rose Bowl season, then lost 12 in a row there by an average score of 38-8. Wisconsin won again in 1994, but has lost its last three visits. It's a good thing, from the Badgers' view, that they don't play the Wolverines every season.
This is an interesting game for the Wolverines, who must shed the hangover and emotional release of the 47-21 rout at Notre Dame and refocus on the Big Ten race. The Wolverines gathered speed through their first two games and unloaded on the Fighting Irish.
It should be easy for Michigan to refocus. The fourth- and fifth-year Wolverines are the only players who have won a Big Ten championship.
The Badgers are young, talented, and young some more. Redshirt freshman tailback P.J. Hill leads the Big Ten in rushing, with 138.3 yards per game and nearly six yards per carry, but that's against Bowling Green, I-AA Western Illinois and San Diego State.
But here's the Wisconsin stat that's impossible to ignore. The Badgers have five senior starters. Michigan has seven -- on each side of the ball. Experience will carry the day for the Wolverines.
No. 12 Notre Dame at Michigan State
Saturday, 8 ET, ABC
The 40th anniversary of the 10-10, "Tie One For The Gipper" Game doesn't carry the same gravitas, but it has become especially important for the Irish after their washout loss to Michigan last week.
This one will test Irish coach Charlie Weis, even if he will coach in the comfort of someone else's home (Weis is 6-0 on the road, 5-3 at home, and 0-1 at a neutral site). Michigan State has a passing game that bedeviled the Irish last season, just as it has nearly everyone on the Spartans' schedule. Senior quarterback Drew Stanton is living up to the expectations placed on him before the season. Stanton is one of Brady Quinn's greatest rivals to become an early first-round selection in the 2007 NFL draft.
Michigan State sputtered for a couple of weeks before the engine kicked in against Pittsburgh in the second half last Saturday. There's no doubt that the engine will start up immediately against Notre Dame. It always does. The Spartans have won seven of the nine games since the schools began playing annually in 1997.
Michigan exposed the same flaws in the Notre Dame pass defense that appeared to have been corrected in the opening wins over Georgia Tech and Penn State. Even if we didn't have overtime, it's safe to assume this game wouldn't finish 10-10.