The abundance of OT games has brought thrills and an element of
Most college coaches believe the overtime format adopted in
1996, in which each team gets the ball on the opponent's 25-yard
line an equal number of times, is fair, especially when compared
with the NFL's sudden-death format. SI surveyed all 32 overtime
games involving Division I-A teams this season. Here's what we
In every one of those 32 games the team that won the toss chose
to play defense first. The reasoning behind this seems obvious:
Having played defense, the toss-winning team goes on offense
knowing how many points it needs to win or send the game into
another overtime. (An OT period is made up of a possession by
each team.) But that's not why playing defense first pays off. In
fact, in the 17 games decided in the first overtime this year,
the teams that played defense first are 10-7, a relatively
The advantage doesn't show up until the second overtime. In
two-OT games this season, teams that won the toss are 9-3. That's
because in the second overtime, the fundamental truth of OT--that
most of the pressure is on the defense--emerges. Now the team that
began on defense in the first OT starts on offense. It lines up
against a defense that was just on the field and is often
drained. "That's too much of an advantage," says Arizona State
coach Bruce Snyder, whose Sun Devils played in a record three
consecutive overtime games in late October and early November,
losing two of them in double OT after having lost the coin toss.
"Defenses wear out sooner than offenses."
Nevertheless, says Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti,
defenses must attack from the moment overtime begins. The Ducks,
who lead the Pac-10 and are 3-0 in OT games since Aliotti arrived
last season, won consecutive extended games this fall, against
Arizona State and Washington State. "We probably play a lot more
aggressively in overtime, but not until the second down," says
Aliotti. "You always want to win first down. I'm going to go with
a solid call there from what we've seen all game. On second down
I'll try to be more aggressive." A blitz could result in
third-and-long and possibly knock an opponent out of field goal
Perhaps the best way for an offense to wear down the opposing
defense in overtime is to stick to the ground. As popular as the
pass has become in this age of the spread offense, the team that
runs the ball more effectively in overtime usually wins. In the
32 games victorious teams ran the ball on two thirds of their
overtime plays, while losing teams passed on 53% of snaps.
Though coaches and players would prefer not to play overtime,
it's exciting for participants and fans. "It's thrilling as
hell," says Snyder. "There's graphic importance on every play."
Aliotti calls it a "nerve-racking sumbitch." Unlike in the NFL
there's no possibility for a tie under the college format. If the
score is even after an overtime period, another is played. Then,
beginning in the third overtime, a team must attempt a two-point
conversion if it scores a touchdown. Snyder likes the way that
rule forces the issue. "[Former USC coach] John McKay used to
say, 'The game starts out as a tie. Why try to tie it at the
end?'" Snyder says.
Even Cal's Tom Holmoe, one college coach who doesn't like the
overtime format (he prefers the NFL system), acknowledges its
appeal. "It's entertaining," says Holmoe, whose Bears beat UCLA
46-38 in three overtimes on Oct. 14, "but it's not football."
Holmoe points out that, for example, the format penalizes teams
that normally gain an advantage by having strong punt and kickoff
squads--units that never step on the field in OT.
Still, Holmoe concedes that overtime has challenged coaches to do
some fresh thinking. "Coaches are still learning the strategy,"
he says. "We have a lot of coaches on our staff who have 30-odd
years of experience. I go to them for most things, and they have
an answer. They don't have answers when I ask about overtime."
Kentucky's Nag of a Season
Don't Blame Lorenzen
Kentucky coach Hal Mumme has no second thoughts about his
decision last spring to give freshman quarterback Jared Lorenzen
the starting job over Dusty Bonner, a junior who had led the SEC
in passing in 1999 with 3,266 yards and 26 touchdowns. Bonner
transferred to Valdosta (Ga.) State, which he has led to a 10-1
record and the No. 6 ranking in Division II on the strength of
his 54 touchdown passes. The Wildcats, who went 6-6 a year ago,
are 2-8 after last Saturday's 24-20 loss to Vanderbilt.
Blame Kentucky's decline on a host of things--injuries, the
nation's 20th toughest schedule compared with 41st toughest in
1999, a defense that is surrendering an SEC-worst 32.4 points a
game and an offense that's 10th in the conference in scoring.
Just don't put too much of the blame on Lorenzen, who has thrown
19 interceptions but is second in the nation in total offense
(348.7 yards per game) and has thrown for 17 touchdowns. After
every game, Mumme says, he measures what Lorenzen did against
what Bonner might have done. "The one game where I would have
said, 'All right, Jared, I'm going to put Bonner in,' would have
been after Jared threw the second interception [of four] against
Mississippi State," Mumme says of the Wildcats' 35-17 loss on
Lorenzen goes into Saturday's game against Tennessee needing 233
passing yards to break the NCAA record for a freshman. He has
already set national freshman marks for pass attempts (513) and
completions (297). With him at quarterback Kentucky has suffered
only 17 sacks, compared with 52 last season. Lorenzen is
surprisingly agile for someone his size. The Wildcats' media
guide lists him at 6'4" and 275 pounds, but Mumme says his
quarterback is even bigger than that. "No, he's 280, 285. He's
his basic, huge self."
If Lorenzen keeps demolishing records, he'll loom even larger in
Big Ten Frenzy
No Shortage Of Thrills
The Big Ten may not be the best conference in the nation this
season, but it's right up there with the Pac-10 for pure
excitement and entertainment. Three league games have gone into
overtime, and 15 of the 36 others have been decided by eight
points or fewer. Last Saturday, two of the Big Ten's top teams,
Purdue and Northwestern, entered the day tied for the conference
lead, and both lost, leaving four teams--the Boilermakers,
Wildcats, Michigan and Ohio State--with a shot at the Rose Bowl.
Anyone needing to be convinced that there's no dominant team in
the Big Ten should look no further than Ohio State's final two
possessions last Saturday at Illinois. Trailing 21-18 with
second-and-goal at the Illini two, the Buckeyes' Steve Bellisari
failed twice to score on quarterback sneaks, and Ohio State had
to settle for a game-tying field goal. On the Buckeyes' next
possession, Dan Stultz kicked his fourth field goal of the game
as time expired to clinch the victory. The point is that a team
now tied for the conference lead couldn't make two yards running
the ball in two plays against the league's worst rushing defense.
For the first time since 1992 the Big Ten will finish the regular
season without a 10-win team. Remember in 1984, when 10-1
Illinois lost to 6-4-1 UCLA? The roles have been reversed. By
beating Indiana on Saturday, Purdue will finish 8-3 and go to the
Rose Bowl to play--and quite possibly defeat--a 10-1 team, either
Oregon, Oregon State or Washington. Given how things have gone in
the Big Ten this year, however, don't be surprised if the
Boilermakers lose their conference finale and Northwestern
(should it beat Illinois) or the winner of Michigan-Ohio State
(if Purdue and Northwestern both lose) heads to Pasadena instead.
For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus more news from
Ivan Maisel and B.J. Schecter, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Nebraska's Eric Crouch beat Notre Dame with this touchdown in one of the record 32 overtime games.
COLOR PHOTO: ED REINKE/AP The portly Lorenzen has provided the few highlights for 2-8 Kentucky.
Going the Extra Mile
Entering this season there had been 99 overtime games--and never
more than 26 in a year--since the NCAA instituted overtime in
1996. With three weeks left in the season, 32 OT games have
already been played. Here are some facts and figures on this
season's overtime games, of which there were five last weekend.
--Home teams are 16-16.
--Teams that got the ball first in overtime are 12-20.
--Teams that had the last possession are 13-19.
--Teams that scored last in regulation are 16-16.
--Losers have committed 14 turnovers in OT, winners one.
--Winners average 8.4 points in overtime, losers 3.9.
--Leagues with most OT games: C-USA and Pac-10 with six.
--Overtime games that went at least two extra periods: 15.
North Carolina State junior linebacker Levar Fisher has
flourished under first-year coach Chuck Amato, who has given
Fisher the opportunity to make more plays by shifting him from
the strong side to the weak side. Fisher leads the nation with 15
tackles per game. Amato is an emotional fellow who yells at
nearly everyone, but he hadn't barked at Fisher until he blew an
assignment in practice last week. Fisher responded by yelling, "I
love you, Chuck!" every time he made a tackle during the
remainder of the workout. Amato had a hard time keeping a
The ice between Oregon and its most prominent alumnus has begun
to thaw. Last spring Nike CEO Phil Knight withdrew a pledge of
$30 million toward the renovation of Autzen Stadium after the
university had joined the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an
organization that monitors and verifies labor practices. WRC has
criticized Nike for labor conditions at the overseas factories
it uses for production. Recently, Oregon withdrew from the WRC,
and athletic director Bill Moos has invited Knight to every
Ducks game, home and away. Knight has attended Oregon's last two
games (one home, one away) but hasn't said whether he'll
reinstate his pledge....
You haven't heard much about Tulane left tackle Bernard
Robertson, but you will. Robertson, a 6'4", 300-pound senior,
hasn't allowed a sack or a quarterback pressure all season. The
5-5 Green Wave has the 11th-best offense (450.6 yards per game)
in the nation.
Ya Gotta Love This Guy
Air Force senior quarterback Mike Thiessen has a strong arm, but
over the last three years he showed it on the baseball
field--where he has started at shortstop and centerfield for the
Falcons--more than on the gridiron. Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry
likes to run the option, and last season Thiessen completed 38 of
a mere 83 passes for 599 yards and three touchdowns.
After finishing 6-5 in 1999, however, DeBerry realized that he
had a gun and ought to use it. New offensive coordinator Chuck
Petersen retooled the offense during spring practice, and the
results have been stunning. Thiessen ranks eighth in the nation
in passing efficiency and has thrown for 1,565 yards and 12
touchdowns. Still working out of the option, he has rushed for
623 yards and nine scores for the 7-3 Falcons, who upset Colorado
State 44-40 last Saturday. Once he finishes leading Air Force in
a bowl game, Thiessen will head back to the diamond and continue
his superb play there. Last season he had a 33-game hitting
streak and batted .424 for the 23-34 Falcons.
--Oregon (9-1) at Oregon State (9-1)
The Ducks have won one nail-biter after another, while the
Beavers have steadily gotten stronger. A win won't put Oregon
State in the Rose Bowl unless Washington loses to Washington
State. Even if that doesn't happen, ruining the Ducks' unbeaten
league record and knocking them out of Pasadena will be sweet.
--Florida (9-1) at Florida State (10-1)
A victory over fourth-ranked Florida would boost Florida State's
BCS rating and put it back ahead of Miami in the race for a berth
in the national championship game. The Seminoles have better
talent than the Gators, more of it and the nation's longest home
winning streak: 34 games. Make it 35.
--South Carolina (7-3) at Clemson (8-2)
The cross-state rivals both come into Death Valley with two-game
losing streaks. The Tigers, with two weeks to rest and recharged
after their 54-7 loss at Florida State, will be sharper than the
--Michigan (7-3) at Ohio State (8-2)
You say John Cooper can't beat the Wolverines? The Buckeyes have
defeated Michigan two of the last three times the teams have met
at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes have an edge in special teams,
particularly in placekicking: Senior Dan Stultz has made 17 of 21
field goals this fall, including a last-second, 34-yard
game-winning kick last Saturday at Illinois. Just what the
Wolverines need--their third last-minute loss of the year.