Howard fans should go with Paterno

November 15, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

A week ago we were under siege around here because, in The Sun's Top 15 high school football poll, Howard High got dropped 10 places (from No. 5 to No. 15) following a one-point loss in the last minute to 15th-ranked Oakland Mills.

People called. People wept. People said they were canceling subscriptions and were seriously considering moving out of state. One guy said he planned on leaving the reporters who vote in the poll out of his will. Picketing was planned.

While Howard High was free-falling, Oakland Mills moved up one measly notch to No. 14. The whole thing seemed a bit illogical but, as Penn State coach Joe Paterno says almost daily from mid-August to Christmas, "The only poll that means anything is the last one."

In any case, we hadn't had as much excitement in the sports wing of the fifth floor since construction loosed a bunch of field mice in our midst a few years ago.

Besides, it's not as though The Sun poll is the only one that ever raised blood pressures. How about the year Ted Williams not only didn't win the MVP Award in the American League after winning the Triple Crown, but didn't even finish runner-up to Joe DiMaggio?

And look at what's going on in the college polls as the season heads toward its traditional late November battles and bowl games that seem to number in the hundreds:

Considering Alabama was the national champion two years ago, it's mystifying how the Crimson Tide can just now be arriving within shouting distance of the top spot. Particularly since they're 10-0.

'Bama entered the weekend ranked No. 4 by the coaches (USA Today/CNN) and No. 6 by The Associated Press. It had to move mountains to overcome a 10-point deficit against Mississippi State on the road, winning 29-25 in the last minute. State entered the game ranked No. 20 in both polls.

The natural assumption is Alabama might hold position or perhaps drop a spot considering all the trouble it had with a team ranked a mile behind it. Conversely, after a massive effort, Mississippi State figured to hold what it had, at least.

So 'Bama moves up to No. 3 with the coaches, No. 4 with AP while State is dropping three positions to No. 23. The Bulldogs probably would have made out better had they forfeited.

Then there's Syracuse, a team that showed enough week after week since early September to consistently be rated in the mid-teens. The Orangemen get crunched by Boston College and it's as if they never existed, the coaches dropping them nine spots (to No. 24) while the writers (AP) exile them to Elba.

Meanwhile, B.C., which wasn't even a blip on the Coalition Poll's screen a week ago, shoots up to No. 17 with both the coaches and writers. The Coalition is the combined results of the other two polls and, as the season comes down to its last two weeks, it becomes important.

For why, ye ask?

The Coalition provides eight teams for six bowls, including four biggies -- the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta -- and it wants its teams to be as highly ranked as possible come decision day.

The situation is not unlike the one existing in boxing when the World Boxing Council champ has a deal with a cable network and/or pay-per-view and wants to kick around a no-risk tomato can for decent money. Suddenly, some journeyman will move up from No. 24 to No. 10 on the strength of knocking down a sparring partner in the gym.

The manner in which "undesirables" like Arizona (dull and defensive) and Utah (which does not have a large following) fell ++ after losses and "desirables," perennial big-bowl participants Michigan and Southern Cal shot ahead after victories suggests a bit of politicking is going on.

For example, Michigan leaped ahead four places in both the AP and coaches' polls on the "strength" of its "Little Brown Jug" win over Minnesota. The Wolverines were a 23-point favorite over the Golden Gophers, whose claim to fame this year is relieving Northwestern of its cellar duty in the Big Ten. At the same time, Michigan set an all-time attendance record, averaging more than 106,000 spectators per game, and a lot of those folks would follow the Big Blue to Mars if there was a bowl game there.

The Coalition needs to provide opponents for unified No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange, the SEC champ Alabama or Florida in the Sugar, an unranked and eligible champ of the Southwest in the Cotton and someone to go against the third-place finisher in the SEC in the Gator. It provides both sides of the matchups in the Fiesta and Sun bowls.

This means it has the likes of Miami, Florida State, Colorado, Kansas State, Southern Cal, Michigan and even the TV ratings king Notre Dame even though the Irish are a victory over USC away from making it into the Top 25.

I hope this eases the frustration of the Howard High faithful. Hey, it's the way things are; live with it and don't cancel.

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