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Inside College Football

Minnesota's upset of No. 2 Penn State added luster to Glen
Mason's reclamation record

Minnesota coach Glen Mason doesn't listen very well. His old
boss Woody Hayes advised him not to leave his assistant's job at
Ohio State to become the head man at Kent State in 1986. Mason
left anyway, and in his second season he led the Golden Flashes
to their first winning record in 10 years. Then, in '88, Mason
was advised by his coaching peers not to go to the football
graveyard that was Kansas. But off he went to Lawrence, where he
directed a turnaround that included a 10-2 season in '95.

Two years ago most everybody thought it would be a bad idea for
Mason to go to Minnesota, which last beat a Top 5 team in 1986,
last had a winning record in '90 and last won the Big Ten in
'67. But there Mason is in the North Country, and there he was
at Penn State last Saturday, throwing some Gopher meat into the
national championship stew with a 24-23 victory over the
previously unbeaten and second-ranked Nittany Lions. "I've taken
jobs nobody else wanted because I thought that was the only way
I could get to coach against coaches like Joe Paterno," says
Mason, who even started wearing ties on the sideline because
that's what Paterno does.

Taking fashion direction from Joe Pa is questionable judgment,
but so far Mason has done just about everything else right.
Consider his character-building preseason conditioning program,
which he decided should begin at 6 a.m.; the latest any player
showed up in this preseason was 5:48. "I liked to get there
before everybody, but it was getting ridiculous," Mason says. "I
was showing up at five, and I wasn't the first one in the door."

Until Saturday, however, the Gophers had little to show for their
bleary-eyed steadfastness, having lost to Wisconsin, Ohio State
and Purdue by a total of 11 points. The high quality of their
play didn't, however, escape the attention of Paterno, who a few
days before last week's game proclaimed Minnesota "the best team
we've played." Everybody smiled, for Joe Pa would have said the
same thing had Our Blessed Sisters of Illegal Procedure been his
Homecoming opponent instead of the Gophers. But Minnesota can be
among the Big Ten's powers next season. With the exception of
All-Big Ten safety Tyrone Carter, most of the key members of a
solid defense will return, and much-heralded redshirt freshman
quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq will be ready to take over the

Last Saturday, Minnesota's offensive specialty was the deflected
pass, which twice helped the Gophers sustain drives. The
second--which was touched by Minnesota wide receiver Ron Johnson
and Penn State defensive back Derek Fox before it landed in the
hands of wideout Arland Bruce for a 27-yard gain on
fourth-and-16--set up freshman Dan Nystrom's game-winning 32-yard
field goal as time ran out. Nystrom had practiced all week by
kicking over a ladder six yards in front of him to simulate the
leaping rushes of Nittany Lions linebacker LaVar Arrington, who
barely missed getting a couple of fingers on this one.

Minnesota's renaissance leaves the Big Ten with a frozen smile.
Yes, it's now the toughest conference in the land. But a home
loss by its top team in November almost certainly cost the
conference a chance at the national title. "I suppose now people
will say we all should play tougher nonconference schedules,"
says Mason. "It's not enough that we beat each other's brains in
every week. I've got to tell you, though, it was nice to be the
one doing the beating for a change." --Jack McCallum

Oregon State Is Bowl Bound

Last August, Oregon State's Dennis Erickson compared coaching the
Beavers to his previous college job. "When I went to Miami [in
1989] and replaced Jimmy Johnson, our goal was to win the
national championship," said Erickson, whose Hurricanes won the
title that year and in '91. "What a lot of people don't realize
is that winning six games here is just as hard." Last Saturday,
Oregon State, which finished 5-6 a year ago, beat California 17-7
to raise its record to 6-3 and qualify for its first bowl game
since the '64 season. The Beavers likely will fill one of the
Pac-10's two bowl slots in Hawaii on Christmas Day.

Qualifying for a bowl game has become football's equivalent of
earning a bid to basketball's March Madness. To get a bowl berth
a team must have a winning record, which means six wins in the
typical 11-game schedule or seven for the handful of schools that
play 12 times. That distinction is crucial to Ohio State, which
has a dozen games on its schedule this year. Illinois (5-4) at
Ohio State (6-4) is one of the games this week in which both
teams must win to qualify or stay alive for a bowl invitation.
Others: Kentucky (5-4) at Vanderbilt (5-4), where the winner will
likely go to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, and Notre Dame
(5-4) at Pittsburgh (4-5).

UAB Corner Looks to Mom

After Alabama-Birmingham's 36-17 victory over No. 18 East
Carolina last Saturday, Blazers cornerback Rodregis Brooks, a
5'11", 190-pound junior, knelt at the 30-yard line and reflected
on what had been a wild day for him. In the second quarter, while
attempting to make a tackle, he was hit in the head as he
collided with a teammate. Brooks lay motionless on the turf, his
left arm numb. He was removed from the field on a stretcher, but
X-rays taken in the UAB trainer's room came up negative. By then
the numbness had subsided, so the Blazers' doctor gave Brooks
permission to return to action.

One problem: Brooks's jersey had been cut off him by medical
personnel, and UAB didn't have a spare. Though he could have
donned a shirt with a different number, Brooks turned to his
mother, Cathey, who had worn his 1998 jersey to the game and had
followed her injured son to the dressing room. Brooks, who leads
the nation in interceptions (eight) and punt returns (19.7
average), showed no ill effects from the injury. Soon after
reentering the game midway through the third quarter, he ran back
a punt 59 yards to set up a score. In the fourth quarter he
returned an interception 91 yards for the first touchdown of his
career. His mother wore a Blazers' T-shirt for the rest of the
game. --B.J. Schecter

Injury-Riddled North Carolina

North Carolina must have college football's longest bungee cord.
The Tar Heels have been falling for seven weeks, and there's
still slack in the line. Two years after going 11-1, North
Carolina is 1-8 following back-to-back losses to Furman and, last
Saturday, Wake Forest. The few Tar Heels who played significant
roles in both seasons--North Carolina has only 21 fourth-year
juniors and fifth-year seniors--say the difference between 11-1
and 1-8 is smaller than they had imagined. "There's a fine line,"
punter Brian Schmitz says, "and we're all on the wrong side of
it." Here are a few snapshots from a disastrous autumn.

--Before the season began, second-year coach Carl Torbush said,
"There are only two players we can't do without: Ronald Curry
and Brandon Spoon." The Heels had lost both men for good by the
fifth game. Spoon, a senior linebacker, tore his left biceps
tendon in Week 2. Curry, a sophomore quarterback, ruptured his
right Achilles tendon in a 31-24 overtime loss to Georgia Tech
in Week 5.

--Without Curry the offense has gone from bad to worst in the
ACC. Backup quarterback Luke Huard, a redshirt freshman, sat out
most of the two games before the 19-3 loss to Wake Forest with a
bruised rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Behind Huard are no
scholarship quarterbacks. Junior safety Antwon Black, a high
school quarterback, shifted back to his old position and moved
the Tar Heels surprisingly well against Maryland on Oct. 23, but
he contracted mononucleosis before the Oct. 30 game against
Furman. He, too, is out for the year. Behind Black was sophomore
tailback Domonique Williams, who took the majority of snaps in
the Tar Heels' 28-3 loss to the--ugh--Division I-AA Paladins,
and who hadn't played quarterback since high school. Over the
last four games North Carolina has scored two touchdowns.

--Tight end Alge Crumpler, who fought back from having torn
cartilage and two torn ligaments in his left knee in March 1998
to start in this year's opener, has only 19 receptions for 179
yards and no touchdowns. "It's not like a leak in a flat tire,"
he says of North Carolina's season. "It's a pin in a balloon.
Pop! Everything is gone. It's a total embarrassment sitting here
the way we're sitting here."

After the loss to Furman, columnists in the six North Carolina
daily newspapers that cover the Tar Heels either called for
Torbush to be fired or said the firing is a fait accompli.
Torbush has three years remaining on his contract. He refused to
talk to SI. Last Thursday he said at least three times (once to a
local reporter and twice on his statewide radio show), "I'm a
no-excuses guy."

He has plenty of them. He ought to use them.

Mississippi State's Escape

Just before midnight on Nov. 4 Mississippi State senior defensive
back Ashley Cooper was trying to explain the Bulldogs' Cinderella
season, which had been kept perfect earlier that evening by a
last-second field goal that gave Mississippi State a 23-22
victory over Kentucky. Suddenly his cell phone rang. On the other
end was Florida State backup quarterback Marcus Outzen, who had
been Cooper's teammate at Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) High. Outzen
congratulated Cooper on the Bulldogs' win and kidded him about
the possibility of Mississippi State playing the Seminoles in the
national championship game in the Sugar Bowl. Three months ago
the thought of the Bulldogs playing in any major bowl seemed
preposterous. Now they're 8-0, and the notion isn't so

Granted, No. 8 Mississippi State would need a lot of help to
reach the title game, but given the Bulldogs' three consecutive
come-from-behind victories, fans in Starkville are starting to
believe anything is possible. "Every week people say the heart
can't take much more of this," Mississippi State coach Jackie
Sherrill said after the Kentucky game, "but when you keep
winning, your heart keeps pumping."

On Oct. 9 Mississippi State trailed Auburn 16-3 with four minutes
remaining but rallied for an 18-16 victory. Two weeks later it
erased a 16-11 deficit against LSU by twice converting on fourth
down during a game-winning drive that ended with Rod Gibson's
one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:39 left. Last week backup
quarterback Matt Wyatt drove the Bulldogs 52 yards in the final
1:30 to set up Scott Westerfield's game-winning 45-yard field
goal with only five seconds left on the clock.

The next three weeks will tell whether Mississippi State has so
much as a prayer of playing for the national championship. After
facing just two teams with winning records in their first eight
games, the Bulldogs play at Alabama (7-2) and at Arkansas (5-3)
and then host intrastate rival Mississippi (7-2). After that
could come an SEC championship game against Florida. "Every game
is a one-game elimination situation," says Sherrill. "I don't
really know what's going to happen. All I know is we're still
alive." --B.J.S.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Ron Johnson got his kicks by making a second-quarter TD catch between Penn State defenders.

COLOR PHOTO: GRANT HALVERSON/AP Morgan Kane and the Deacons drove North Carolina even lower.

Fast Forward

--Kansas State (9-0, 6-0) at Nebraska (8-1, 5-1)
The Wildcats can establish themselves as the alpha males of the
Big 12 by beating the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Two stout defenses
against two young quarterbacks. We say Nebraska's Eric Crouch
makes more plays than Kansas State's Jonathan Beasley does.

--Miami (5-3, 3-0) at Virginia Tech (8-0, 4-0)
Which Miami will show up? The team that walloped Pittsburgh 33-3
last week or the team that fell behind Boston College 28-0 and
West Virginia 13-0 earlier in the season? Which Virginia Tech
will appear? The team that beat Syracuse 62-0 or the team that
needed a last-ditch field goal to beat West Virginia last week?
When in doubt, go with history--the Hokies have beaten the
Hurricanes four in a row.

--Mississippi St. (8-0, 5-0) at Alabama (7-2, 5-1)
The Tide has played a tough schedule and has improved every week.
The Bulldogs have played an easy schedule and won their last
three games over middling SEC opponents by a total of four
points. The Alabama defense lost three starters to injury against
LSU. Good thing the Bulldogs' offense is average. The Tide should
find a way to win and take control of the SEC West.

--Marshall (9-0, 6-0) at W. Michigan (7-2, 6-0)
He leads the MAC in passing yardage (2,822) and is tied for the
lead in touchdown throws (29). Yes, the Broncos' Tim Lester is
some quarterback. But his Thundering Herd counterpart, Chad
Pennington, is pretty good, too. He'll pull Marshall through.

For complete scores, schedules, rosters and stats, plus more
news from Ivan Maisel, go to

If All Hell Breaks Loose

Should No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Virginia Tech and Nebraska run
the table, and the other powers play to form for the remainder
of the regular season, we predict a Bowl Championship Series
lineup of Penn State-Washington in the Rose, Tennessee-Wisconsin
in the Orange, Florida-Nebraska in the Fiesta and Florida
State-Virginia Tech in the Sugar. However, if upsets abound, as
was the case down the stretch last season, don't be surprised to
see the following:

Badgers running back Ron Dayne collapses from fatigue after a
400-yard rushing day against the Pac-10's worst defense, but
Wisconsin wins 48-45.

Some prize for the Volunteers--playing what amounts to a road
game. They finally win in Florida, if not at Florida.

Could Bobby Bowden get his Seminoles ready to win after another
devastating loss to the Gators? Yes, he could.

While ABC executives fling themselves off the top of the
Superdome, the Wildcats win their first national
championship--whether anyone watches or not.