There is definitely magic in college football, 1994

October 20, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

Is it the imagination, or is college football having one whale of a season that has been getting better and better with each passing week?

Surefire winners in the interest department are perennial losers suddenly showing up with representative teams or better and turning on their tormentors of decades past. Rice and all those math majors with the 1250 SAT scores beating up on Texas, breaking a 28-year losing streak, on national TV no less, is the thing legends are made of.

Wouldn't a Rice-Alabama Cotton Bowl matchup be great with a Crimson Tide player jumping up off the bench and tackling a Rice running back as he's away on a 75-yard touchdown run? Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say.

And how about Kansas State, holder of scores of records for autumn ineptitude. The Wildcats, good last year, threatened greatness this year until beaten by No. 2 Nebraska respectably, 17-6.

Then there's Duke, the basketball school picked to finish behind even Maryland and Wake Forest in the ACC, and Colorado State, which lists potent Arizona among its victims. Both are still unbeaten and into the second half of their schedules after years of something very south of mediocrity.

The Auburn story is such that, even though the War Eagles are still being sanctioned, millions are pulling for them to run the table for a second straight year and somehow end up with the national championship in the Associated Press poll (currently ranked No. 4) while not getting so much as a mention in the coaches' poll conducted by CNN and USA Today.

And it's not as though this is a freak of nature and the team isn't deserving. Auburn's come-from-behind victory over top-ranked Florida last week was the third time the team has come through in the clutch in the late going.

You want upsets? Army, after dropping four straight against hardly overwhelming opposition, beat Louisville, 30-29, last Saturday. The Cardinals have been going to bowl games lately, and winning.

Vanderbilt, a 20-point underdog to Georgia, buried the Dawgs, 43-30. Notre Dame, a 15-point favorite against Brigham Young at home, where an opposing coach once said, "it's like taking on the devil in hell going to South Bend," loses.

Form reversals are always a huge attention-grabber, just as spectacular individual performances have a way of sticking around forever. Some pretty amazing stats have been run up by guys over the years, but the numbers Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair is posting weekly are in the twilight zone. He has passed or run for 34 scores already, an average of just under five TDs per game.

Fantastic finishes, sure. Even the folks who witnessed it live or on TV still won't swear that Colorado beat Michigan, 28-27, on a last-play Hail Mary pass in Ann Arbor. Pitt and West Virginia have certainly seen better days, but think of the thrills and excitement of Pitt's recovering from a 31-6 deficit to lead, 41-40, only to lose on another last-play heave.

And all this doesn't include what has happened in Division II or III. Over in the NAIA, a 160-pound freshman named Cliff Hall gets his first start for Howard Payne College and rushes for 306 yards.

Despite passing for 614 yards, Western New Mexico's Alfred Monte, and his favorite target Bobby Felix, who had 17 catches for 300 yards plus, are on the losing end of a 70-44 score. And how much chance did ninth-ranked Harding of Arizona have against Northeastern State of Oklahoma, being held to minus-44 yards rushing?

On and on the stories go and where they stop nobody knows. Maybe it has something to do with college football celebrating its 125th birthday. Nov. 6, 1869, is when it all started when lads from Princeton and Rutgers decided they were spending too much time in the library on Saturday afternoons.

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