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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : For Sweeney, 94-17 Is Not Price of Fame


Fresno State Coach Jim Sweeney will never forget the taunting of a New Mexico crowd giddy with unexpected victory.

It was 1989, and Sweeney's Fresno State team was 10-0, ranked 23rd in the country and this close to an undefeated regular season. All that stood in the Bulldogs' way was lowly New Mexico, which had won one game in 11 tries that year. A blowout was all but guaranteed.

And then the incredible happened. New Mexico beat Fresno State, winner of 17 consecutive games, 45-22, in front of a pleasantly stunned Lobo audience at University Stadium. As the game ended, the chant began:

Sweeney is a weenie. . . . Sweeney is a weenie.

A feud was born, complete with annual acts of name-calling and cheap shots. Sweeney would describe the state of the Lobo football program as "bad." New Mexico coaches and players would mutter that the Bulldogs were arrogant and pompous.

And so it went until last Saturday in Fresno, when the rivalry might have reached its lowest point. That's when Sweeney, ever mindful of the past, happily watched Fresno State defeat New Mexico, 94-17.

The Bulldogs tied an NCAA record by scoring 49 points in the second quarter. They led, 66-7, at halftime. By game's end, 10 Fresno State players had scored, three of them twice. The average gain per play was nine yards, and quarterback Mark Barsotti threw for three touchdowns and ran for two. Houston Coach John Jenkins would have been proud.

Not so thrilled with the Bulldog victory was Lobo Coach Mike Sheppard, who announced later: "I can tell you that forever New Mexico will have a blood rivalry with Fresno."

Sheppard was upset for several reasons. For starters, he said, it was the first time one of his teams had truly given up. Equally disturbing, he added, was the conduct of Sweeney and Barsotti.

--Why, asked Sheppard, with the score, 59-7, did Barsotti call time out with seven seconds remaining in the first half and the ball at the Lobo two-yard line?

--Why was Fresno State still throwing the ball when the score was 59-7?

--Why punish an outmanned team for the chants of a crowd two years earlier?

Sweeney dismissed the complaints as sour grapes. Had they wanted to, the Bulldogs probably could have surpassed the NCAA scoring record against a Division I-A opponent--100, set by Houston against Tulsa in 1968. Instead, said Sweeney, the Bulldogs emptied their bench and did everything they could in the second half to stay below triple digits.

"We used everybody who was not redshirted," he said. "We had guys carry the ball who don't get to carry it in practice."

True enough.

Not so true was Sweeney's lame explanation of Barsotti throwing the ball late in the second quarter, with the game obviously beyond New Mexico's reach. Or why he allowed Barsotti to call time out with only a few seconds remaining in the first half.

"Barsotti, he's a senior," Sweeney said. "We've got to get our guy a little bit of recognition."

It was more than that. Sweeney admitted that much. "I have no love for that particular opponent," he said. "In the first half, I wasn't looking for anything to do but score."

Sweeney said he told Fresno State coaches at halftime that he wished the game could be stopped right then and there. He also mentioned the possibility of running the clock the entire second half, rather than stopping it for first downs, incomplete passes, etc.

What he should have done was mention the ideas to New Mexico coaches and officials. Instead, they said, they never heard a peep from Sweeney about putting the Lobos out of their misery.

So Fresno State is undefeated. In this case, the Bulldogs' fourth victory came with a price: Sweeney's reputation.

Rumor alert: Contrary to assorted reports, Florida State and Washington never were scheduled to play each other this season. It would have been nice--the No. 1 Seminoles vs. the No. 2 Huskies--especially when you consider that Washington, which probably will earn a Rose Bowl spot, won't be able to face Florida State in postseason play.

Actually, said officials of both schools, the Seminoles had agreed to play in Seattle during the early 1980s. There was no provision for Washington to travel to Tallahassee later, a point that ultimately caused Florida State officials to break the contract. Washington sued but eventually dropped the complaint and found another opponent.

And that was that until word spread that Toledo, which plays at Washington Saturday, was the replacement team for Florida State. Thoughts of what could have been danced in everyone's head. But the truth is, as best as Florida State and Washington officials can determine, a 1991 meeting between the Seminoles and the Huskies was never scheduled.

Not since 1980, when Baylor was ranked sixth, have the Bears--No. 8 and climbing--enjoyed this sort of success. As usual, Baylor fans can thank Coach Grant Teaff's commitment to defense, strong special teams play and a balanced offense.

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