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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / CHRIS DUFRESNE

Is Spurrier's 'Gun Aimed at Pollsters?

September 11, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

The moral of the story, kids, is don't make Stevie mad.

Gator gazers say they'd never seen Florida Coach Steve Spurrier more panhandle hot than he was after his team's lackluster, 21-6, season-opening victory over Southern Mississippi on Aug. 30.

Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun attack--the Rolls-Royce of college offenses--ranked last among

Southeastern Conference schools after one week.

Uh-oh.

Bottom line, some Division I-A bottom feeder was going to pay for this calamity, and it just so happened Central Michigan crossed the tracks as Stevie's Steamer rounded the bend. In a nutshell, that was how the Chippewas came up on the short end of an 82-6 score Saturday in Gainesville.

"We will not be last after this week," Spurrier reportedly quipped in the days before the game.

No, sir.

Florida's 708 total yards against Central Michigan shot the Gators up to fifth nationally.

Florida's rout raises the usual questions about Spurrier's reputation.

"If people want to say 'They run it up,' that's OK," Spurrier said Wednesday. "We can live with that. They've said it before."

They said it in 1994, when Florida outscored New Mexico State and Kentucky, 143-28, in consecutive weeks.

Did Spurrier go too far against Central Michigan?

He played five quarterbacks and cleared the bench after scoring 56 first-half points.

Starting quarterback Doug Johnson threw seven touchdown passes--all before intermission, when the Gators scored on seven of eight possessions.

"We did run it up in the first half, I'll admit to that," Spurrier said. "We tried to score every time we touched it."

Chippewa Coach Dick Lynn did not accuse Florida of piling it on, but some in the Central Michigan administration did.

"The general reaction has been that," one department official said, noting Florida threw a touchdown pass while leading, 49-3, in the second quarter. "They could have scored 100 points if they wanted to. They only missed by 18. They threw a no-hitter at us, carved us up. He could have named the score he wanted."

The better question is: What motivation was there for Spurrier not to run up scores?

With the lopsided victory, second-ranked Florida gained ground on No. 1 Penn State in this week's Associated Press poll--closing the gap from 73 votes to 30--presumably because the Nittany Lions didn't rub it in enough in their 34-17 victory over Pittsburgh.

Penn State players grumbled afterward about how their score would play nationally, citing historical precedent.

In 1994, the Nittany Lions lost their No. 1 ranking--and eventually the national championship--because Coach Joe Paterno chose to call off his Lions in the midst of a wipeout win at Indiana. Two late touchdowns against Paterno's second-team defense accounted for a misleading 35-29 final.

Penn State finished the season unbeaten, yet lost the national-title vote to Nebraska.

Will Paterno's high-ground position--Pitt scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Penn State reserves--cost him again?

"I think I'm obligated to those people," Paterno said of his backups.

"Somebody said, 'Well, don't you owe it to your team to protect your No. 1?' No, I owe it to everyone on the squad. I owe it to those kids who worked hard every day. If there is an opportunity to get them in the game, and they're not the stars, then I get them in the game. I'm going to continue to do that. If it ends up hurting us some [in the polls] it hurts us some. There's nothing I can do about the irrationality of other people."

Spurrier long has been a proponent of a national playoff, and this week's poll fluctuations are his best argument.

But since there is no playoff, and Spurrier gets a $99,000 bonus for winning the national title, and the only way you can get to the title game is to win over poll voters, well, tough luck Central Michigan.

"Yeah, without a playoff system, I guess it is important that you win by a few points, if you can," Spurrier acknowledged, "but still, on the other hand, it comes down in the end to who has the best record."

Gosh, maybe Gator haters have misjudged the coach all these years. Maybe Spurrier is not the egocentric blowout king they all think, but rather a visionary and an ardent advocate of change.

HEY, DIDN'T YOU USED TO BE GOOD?

Congratulations to Arizona State for cracking the AP poll this week, debuting at No. 24.

So what was it, last Friday's practice that dazzled voters?

The Sun Devils had a bye last week but will take any pub they can get given the defending Pacific 10 Conference champions have been all but mothballed as the media move on to the next fairy tale.

There's a reason for this.

Eleven players from last year's 11-1 Rose Bowl team made opening-day NFL rosters, including snake-hating quarterback Jake Plummer.

Bruce Snyder, last year's national coach of the year, hoped people wouldn't look at his program as a one-year wonder, but that obviously is the case.

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