DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12



A quick look around the NFL league standings shows a league gasping for breath.

It's all about brooms, googlys and scrums with sports from around the world.

Soft-spoken Canadian CART driver lived and died in the fast lane.


MARK DEWING, a freelance writer and British expatriate, moved to the U.S.A. partly to experience heavy snowfall, but primarily because he got tired of having to wait until 2:00 a.m. to watch the Super Bowl live. He has worked as a social worker, freelance photographer, tomato picker, mortuary cleaner and bookstore buyer/manager. He most recently worked within the publishing industry as a PR consultant. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and he wishes the Dodgers still lived there too.


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  1999 College Football in Review
    Notre Dame gets a good ole whooping, Tennessee becomes the latest team to fail to repeat, a bizarre Texas tragedy reminds us its only a game, the Pac-10 crumples, Florida's cocky teams continue their dominance, and gritty little Virginia Tech and their incredible freshman quarterback surprise us all.


As this most surprising of college football seasons not so much rumbles to a dramatic conclusion as stumbles towards it, let's look back over the highlights. Along the way its also time for this critic to look back over his personal predictions, pointing out not only his powers of telepathy, but also his glaring mistakes - thanks so much Arizona! I also want to point to some of the better bowl match-ups to prepare you for some quality television time with some friends. Oh, and did I mention Notre Dame had its worst record since 1960?

Virginia Tech:
  Virginia Tech DE Corey Moore
The Hokies of Blacksburg are this season's best, though only second most surprising, story (The Sporting News had them as a preseason No. 30, though Athlon gave VT their highest pre-season pick at No. 6). I figured they were the best team in the Big East, but that didn't mean too much to me, and besides nobody foresaw that a year after he retired the reincarnation of a youthful John Elway would again take to the playing field in the shape of Michael Vick. The existing recipe for a tough well-coached team with amazing special teams, and a brick wall of linebackers almost entirely made up of seniors, was made complete with the addition of redshirt freshman Michael Vick's extraordinary arm, scrambling abilities and sheer smarts. Virginia Tech is the best team in the country, and they'll prove that by giving Florida State their toughest game of the year, and more likely than not beating them in the Sugar Bowl on January 4. Vick is numero uno in passing efficiency this season, completing 90 of his 152 heaves and compiling a near miraculous 1840 yards - that's 20.44 yards per completed pass, folks! Watch out for these guys next year too, despite the loss of almost their entire linebacking corps.

Aloha Hawaii!:
This is my personal favorite surprise story of the year. Remember how I'd said this was a team to watch because new coach June Jones quit his NFL head coaching job to return to his alma mater the Rainbow Warriors? Jones turned a 0-12 program into an 8-4 WAC conference co-champion. That's not only remarkable, it's also a new NCAA record for most improved record over two consecutive seasons. What's even more remarkable is that he did it with most of the same players who failed so miserably last year. Check out these guys on Christmas Day as they take on Dennis Erickson's - the other successful former NFL coaching story of the year - Oregon State Beavers. Advantage goes to Hawaii, especially since the Oahu Bowl is on their home turf in Honolulu.

Arizona and the rest of the Pac-10 - What the heck happened?
Arizona were picked by just about everybody as a Top 5 team. Why was the Pac-10 so horrible? My Michigan alum brother-in-law has a theory - which is that they lose an unusually high number of underclassmen to the NFL each year and suffer as a result. I thought that was pretty fair coming from a rabid Wolverine fan. But is it actually a case of throwing the ball too much, and a looser offensive structure? It could also be a question of parity (see the Big-10 feature below). As my brother-in-law also (he must want something) points out, every Pac-10 team has been to the Rose Bowl over the past 40 years, including five different teams in the 90's. Stanford's appearance in the forthcoming Pasadena classic will mark its first since 1972, when it squeaked past Michigan (sorry little brother) 13-12. Only California has waited longer (1959).

BCS, strength of schedule and all that jazz:
Has it worked? I write this before the final BCS standings are released, and the program is only is in its second year, so maybe its too soon to pass judgement. However my feeling is that we're getting warmer, but that it still isn't quite working. Hopefully justice will be served in the form of a Sugar Bowl match-up between VT (David) and Florida State (Goliath) in New Orleans. But lets look at the bigger picture. The BCS is overly reliant on electronic brains, and as a result factors such as strength of schedule are given too much sway. Schedules like the Hokies' are penalized for being too "soft". It's true that they played Division 1-AA James Madison, but it's also true that at least six 1-AA teams are capable of beating a bunch of 1-A teams (Hofstra, Georgia Southern, UMass and Furman are all excellent 1-AA teams). Besides, Nebraska played five sub-500 teams this year, got beaten by Texas, and narrowly escaped embarrassing defeats by Southern Miss (C-USA teams tried to spoil several parties this social season), lowly Kansas, and Colorado (OT). Several Big-10 teams could and should be placed higher, among them Wisconsin and Michigan. One loss, and sometimes even two, shouldn't be enough to condemn a team to the wilderness. Even more absurd is the apparent necessity to run up scores - as VT did against Temple - to bolster your BCS points. If bringing the game into disrepute and shame is what it takes, then the system that created this situation is simply wrong. It's one thing to play a weak opponent because of a conference and/or regional rivalry, its quite another to beat the crap out of them to please some machine. If that ain't something out of Ray Bradbury I don't know what is.

A Solution:
The 1-AA has the right idea, and its big brother should copy it. A panel of judges - not IBM laptops - select the best sixteen teams in the division at the conclusion of the regular season. They are then seeded like players in an open tennis championship, and commence play in a knock-out competition, one game to be played a week, until a champion is crowned. This set-up creates very exciting games, unusual regional match-up's, and tough underdogs like UMass (last year's champs and hanging tough through the first round this year). The bowl committees would obviously hate this system, since it doesn't take into account huge media and fan draws, but maybe that's the whole point guys. Hey, NCAA are you listening?!

Conferences - the true key to college football's popularity:
The SEC still gets too many bowl bids and too much undeserved respect. Things need to change. The Big East appeared weak to many observers in the pre-season, yet it turned out to be good enough to produce four bowl bids, and the No. 2 (or perhaps no. 1) team in the nation. The Big 10's best seem to have self-destructed their championship hopes, but all that happened was that several classic regional rivalries (another factor never apparently considered by the BCS) produced exciting games which led to several excellent teams beating each other out of national title aspirations. There is a reason seven of the Big-10's eleven teams are going bowling - though Wisconsin and Michigan could probably both beat Florida State. Putting aside Wisconsin's loss to Conference USA's Cincinnati, these seven teams only lost to conference brethren. Illinois for example finished sixth in the conference, with a 4-4 conference record, and a 7-4 overall record. They crushed Ohio State, and edged the Michigan Wolverines, yet they lost to Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota. They also overcame Louisville's Chris Redman, one of the top three quarterbacks in the country. I believe the Illini could defeat a number of teams ranked much higher than them. I incorrectly predicted that a Big-10 team would win the national championship, but if they hadn't had to have beaten up on each other, the plain fact is one of them would. Observe the Big-10 in this year's bowl match-ups, to see what I mean. Purdue vs Miss St in the Outback Bowl, Wisconsin vs Stanford in the Rose, and Illinois vs Virginia should be particularly compelling - though Michigan against the SEC champ in the Orange Bowl could turn out to be the best bowl game of the year.

Saturation Coverage vs Almost Zero Coverage: Marshall &Notre Dame.
Notre Dame had a annus horribles as the Queen of England once said (that means they stunk this year). Every Irish (SI had them as a Pre-season No. 12) game was on national TV - not even "America's Team" the Dallas Cowboys get that kind of coverage. All home games were on NBC ($$$), and every other game seemed to crop up someplace be it ABC or CBS. For those who aren't fans of the Irish, this is somewhat annoying. However, even more frustrating is that a great team like Marshall (though admittedly somewhat screwed by its considerably weaker and less glamorous schedule) is never on TV. I think including their regular annual appearance in the Motor City Bowl, they will have been on ESPN exactly twice all season. Considering they have been nestling around the No. 10 spot nationally, and that they are the only other unbeaten team in Division 1-A, you would think they deserved better. Maybe they're just really bad...well no. have you ever heard of a receiver by the name of Randy Moss? Two years ago he was with the Marshall Thundering Hurd; Chad Pennington, their senior quarterback, is possibly the best in the country.

And finally..the Heisman:
My pre-season picks were all seniors. Chad Pennington, Chris Redman QB of Louisville and Ron Dayne. Even though Pennington and Redman are superb practitioners of their art - the Marshall QB will finish with over 3800 yards and 35 touchdowns, and the Louisville Cardinal has finished his final regular college season with 3647 yards and 29 TD's - many people outside of Kentucky and West Virginia have never seen them play - which would explain why I keep seeing the same Chad Pennington photo in the newspapers! Both Marshall and Louisville will be in bowl games - undetermined at the time of this writing, though possibly against each other (Wow!) in the Motor City Bowl. I urge you to watch. If you miss them, you'll be able to see them next year the same place you'll see my choice for the Heisman, in the NFL. Ron Dayne broke Ricky Williams rushing record and a few others besides. Any detractors of Dayne should remember that he ran for over 2000 yards as an 18-year-old freshman, and that he never took the easy opportunity to pile-up soft yards against a weaker opponent. If Ron Dayne doesn't win the Heisman there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. But as great as he is, I wouldn't recommend that any NFL team trades away their entire draft to get him. No player is worth that much.

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FEEDBACK: What are your thoughts on the college football season?

PICTURES: Virginia Tech's Corey Moore © 1999 Big East Conference
Virginia Tech's Michael Vick (top) © Associated Press/Steve Helber