Sour notes outnumber triumphs

On College Football

January 05, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Sssssssssss . . .

That's the sound of the air coming out of college football's balloon, the 1995 season having been reduced to a few fine memories and more than its share of busts.

Perhaps it was only fitting that the biggest game of the season -- No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 2 Florida in Tuesday night's Fiesta Bowl -- was as flat as Tom Osborne's personality.

Outside of a few places such as Lincoln, Neb., Gainesville, Fla. (until this week), and Evanston, Ill., it was a season that produced more disappointments than surprises, more unhappy endings than fairy tales.

Here's a look back:

* Best story of the year: Though the loss to USC in the Rose Bowl slightly diminished their fantasy season, the Northwestern Wildcats are firmly entrenched in the game's lore. How long that continues depends on how long Gary Barnett, who announced yesterday he wouldn't take UCLA's offer, continues to wear purple.

* Worst story of the year: If Northwestern was the feel-good team of 1995, Nebraska had to be the feel-bad team of the season. No matter how many of the Cornhuskers are solid citizens, the fact that Osborne allowed Lawrence Phillips back after he assaulted his former girlfriend, and kept Riley Washington on the roster despite a charge for attempted murder, is beyond giving players second chances. That Phillips was one of the stars against Florida only tainted the title even more.

* Best coaching job: Barnett certainly is everyone's Coach of the Year, but Butch Davis might have done an even better job. Davis, a former Miami assistant, came to Coral Gables just as it seemed the Hurricanes were about to get buried by both the NCAA and their Big East competition. After starting out 1-3 and getting blown out at Florida State, it appeared the team of the '80s was about to revert to its mediocre past. But Davis rallied the troops to win the last seven games and the Big East title. They're baaaaaack.

* Worst coaching job: Has anybody seen Howard Schnellenberger lately? The pipe-smoking Schnellenberger blew nothing but hot air when he went from Louisville to Oklahoma. According to Osborne, the Sooners had "top 10 talent," but collapsed as the season went on. Even Brent Musburger criticized him during a season-ending loss at Nebraska.

* The "I Should Have Left Last Year" Award (coach): Fred Goldsmith had a number of offers, including one at Miami, after taking Duke to an 8-4 record in 1994. Now that the Blue Devils seem to have reverted to their losing ways with a 3-8 record this season, Goldsmith could be stuck in Durham for a while.

* The "I Should Have Left Last Year" Award (player): Who other than Scott Milanovich, whose senior season at Maryland turned out to be an unmitigated disaster? Before gambling charges sidelined him for the first four games of the season, Milanovich was a first-team All-American and a possible first-round NFL pick. Now, he's considered damaged goods, a poor man's Art Schlichter. A solid performance in the Blue-Gray game last weekend was the first positive thing to happen to Milanovich all season.

* Best job in a supporting role: Nebraska's Ahman Green, who set a school freshman rushing record with 1,086 yards and helped the Cornhuskers keep their offense going in Phillips' absence. Green's closest competitor in this category is Virginia's Tiki Barber, who engineered the season's biggest upset when the Cavaliers ended Florida State's 29-game ACC unbeaten streak.

* Best game of the year: There were slim pickings this season. Except for a couple of good bowl games, only a few come to mind. But for pure down-to-the-final-gun excitement, could anything top the Cavaliers and the Seminoles in Charlottesville Nov. 2, with Florida State's frantic comeback ended with Warrick Dunn inches shy of the goal line?

* Worst game of the year: Maybe it was meant to be, or as was the case, not to be. The NFL will play Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Ariz., in a few weeks, so Nebraska's rout of Florida was merely a warm-up for the most anticlimactic event in sports.

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