The jig's up for Mountaineers

West Virginia's title hopes gone after weekend flop

Cal primed for USC clash


College Football

October 04, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The most overrated team in the country going into the 2004 college football season was easily West Virginia.

The Mountaineers were coming off an 8-5 season that ended with a 41-7 thumping by Maryland in the Gator Bowl. They were ranked No. 10 in the preseason and their fans were talking about winning a national championship.

So where does West Virginia go after Saturday's 19-13 loss at Virginia Tech - except plummeting in the national rankings from No. 6 to No. 16.

"We have to regroup," said linebacker Scott Gyorko. "It's as simple as that. ... We've got to start learning from the mistakes we made."

About the only consolation for the Mountaineers is that they can still get an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid because the Big East Conference is so weak.

"It's a long season. There's going to be very few teams that go undefeated," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, trying to put a politician's positive spin on the undeniable truth that a national title shot is, well, shot.

The Mountaineers weren't alone in watching their pie-in-the-sky hopes turn into a pie-in-the-face. Among some other pretenders that also saw preseason hopes turn into so much hype:

OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes were barely a legitimate national contender after needing a 55-yard field goal to beat Marshall a couple of weeks ago. But losing at Northwestern, which then-No. 7 Ohio State did Saturday, is something that had not happened since 1958.

"I came here with a dream to beat the Buckeyes," said Northwestern safety Jeff Backes after the unranked Wildcats survived a 33-27 overtime thriller. "This is one I'll never forget."

This is certainly one that Jim Tressel, whose team dropped all the way to No. 18, won't be allowed to forget. He might want to call his predecessor, John Cooper, and ask what to do when the honeymoon ends in Columbus. A word of advice: Beat Michigan at home this year, and all will be forgiven.

TENNESSEE: Most figured that Tennessee wasn't going to go far anyway with a couple of freshmen sharing the quarterback job. But the Volunteers, who had moved up to 10th in the rankings, looked horrible in one of Phillip Fulmer's typical bang-up big-game coaching jobs.

"We knew they were young and haven't faced a defense like us," said Auburn strong safety Junior Rosegreen, who had an SEC record-tying four interceptions among the six turnovers the Tigers forced.

Freshman quarterback Erik Ainge, the nephew of former NBA player and current NBA executive Danny Ainge, showed his inexperience and his genes. Like his uncle in years past, Ainge had talked quite a bit of trash before the game. The Tigers made him pay.

"We knew he was signing a big check he couldn't cash," Rosegreen said. "We had to make sure he couldn't cash that check."

FRESNO STATE: The Bulldogs were 3-0, ranked 17th, and had won at Washington and Kansas State. While Pat Hill's team still had to play at Boise State on Oct. 23, Fresno State can now only hope to try the role of spoiler for another BCS mid-major long shot after Saturday's 28-21 loss at Louisiana Tech.

"I can't really put it into words," Hill said after his team's comeback ended when quarterback Paul Pinegar was intercepted at the Louisiana Tech 20 with a little more than a minute left. "Our goal was to play in a BCS bowl. That's over. This is really tough."

Looking ahead

If last week's games helped give some separation near the top, this week's schedule includes the two biggest games of the season to date: top-ranked Southern California trying to avenge its only loss last year, against California, and No. 2 Oklahoma taking on perennial pretender Texas, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The Trojans, who had a week off, looked better each week since appearing vulnerable in a season-opening win against Virginia Tech in the Black Coaches Association Classic at FedEx Field.

The Bears, now ranked No. 7, have put up impressive numbers, including Saturday's 49-7 win at Oregon State, and feature a balanced offense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tailback J.J. Arrington, who had his third straight 100-yard-plus game.

"We've been dreaming about the 'SC game since summer workouts," Cal linebacker Wendell Hunter said.

Guess what? The Trojans have been dreaming about the Bears since losing last year's 34-31 triple-overtime shocker in Berkeley. It ended up being USC's only loss, and it cost Pete Carroll and his players a chance at winning the outright national championship rather than sharing it with LSU (another on this year's pretender list - see Georgia).

The other game doesn't seem to have the same kind of hype for one good reason: the Longhorns, ranked fifth, always lose to the Sooners, especially since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman and Mack Brown gets to stay in Austin.

Brown, who couldn't win big games in the ACC either, won't get caught up in the hype, but he gave the Sooners fodder for the locker room wall. He called Oklahoma "our next opponent." He even got his players into not talking about the Sooners.

"We're not even thinking about it," quarterback Vince Young said.

Oh sure.

Making a point(s)

How does defense win a game with a final score of 70-63? When the winning team, San Jose State, makes two fourth-quarter interceptions and returns one 28 yards for a touchdown - the last of 19 touchdowns in the game - to seal a victory over Rice.

It was the highest-scoring regulation game in Division I-A history.

"The conventional rules of football did not apply," said San Jose State coach Fitz Hill. "You had to score to win."

In 30 years, at least 5,000 people will say they were in San Jose to watch the game.

As of Saturday night, there were only 4,093 in the stands.

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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