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COLLEGE FOOTBALL SPOTLIGHT / WEEK 11

Lament of the Lovable Losers Worth a Laugh

November 05, 2000

So you thought Florida was the capital of the college football world on Saturday, huh?

And you figured Virginia Tech-Miami and Clemson-Florida State were the only matchups that really mattered?

Oh, how wrong you were.

Some would argue that Ypsilanti, Mich., was the place to be, or even Winston-Salem, N.C. And if you had the (mis?)fortune of being in Monroe, La., you'd understand what a big week this really was.

Forget the BCS for a minute and ponder some of the titanic (and we all know what happened to the legendary ship) matchups that highlighted (lowlighted?) a loser's dream weekend of football among the 115 Division I-A programs.

Among the meaty morsels: Eastern Michigan (1-7) vs. Central Michigan (1-7); Duke (0-8) vs. Wake Forest (0-7); and Louisiana Lafayette (0-8) vs. Louisiana Monroe (1-7).

The latter matchup is one that pitted the No. 114 team (Monroe) against the No. 115 team (Lafayette). Does it get any better?

The pregame hype for this one was hot.

Leading up to the game, Lafayette Coach Jerry Baldwin was asked seriously if it was a must win.

"We feel that way going into every game," said Baldwin, whose team obviously has had a hard time translating feelings into reality. "We take that same approach this week."

And just as Baldwin never lost his faith, something finally magically clicked.

Lafayette, in a thriller, battled back from a 10-0 deficit Saturday and held on for a 21-18 victory over Monroe in a game that is sure to send shockwaves throughout the legion of BCS bottom feeders.

Monroe figures to take over at No. 115 when the new ratings are released Monday, although No. 112 Kent, which lost to No. 113 Buffalo, 20-17, in double overtime, probably will stake a claim. No. 111 Central Michigan's 31-15 loss to No. 110 Eastern Michigan should plunge the Chippewas near the bottom spot as well.

And in the ACC's dud of the day--otherwise known as the Bagel Bowl in some circles--Wake Forest kept Duke in line for its second 0-11 season in five years with a 28-26 victory that gave the Demon Deacons their first win.

Think the Blue Devils are wondering if Heather Sue Mercer still has some eligibility left?

BOO HOO HOO FOR PENN STATE, PATERNO

If ever there was a day to boo, this was it.

Not only did Penn State lose, 26-23, in overtime to an Iowa team that had won only once before Saturday. And not only did the Nittany Lions assure themselves of not going to a bowl game for the first time since 1988. Penn State robbed Joe Paterno of the chance of breaking Bear Bryant's all-time record for coaching victories this season, leaving Paterno two behind with two to play.

It wasn't a happy day in Happy Valley.

This also was the first home game at State College, Pa., since the University Faculty Senate passed a resolution discouraging "negative cheering."

And, predictably, Penn State students enthusiastically booed Iowa before Saturday's game.

An announcement is to be read before each game in which the athletic department encourages fans to show respect for both teams. The Faculty Senate was added as a sponsor of the announcement.

Students balked at the Faculty Senate's request, saying there was nothing wrong with booing the opposing team.

There's one more chance for students and fans to get the frustration out of their systems when Penn State plays host to Michigan State in the regular-season finale Nov. 18.

END OF THE LINE FOR MOUNTAINEER OF A COACH

The way Don Nehlen talked in the West Virginia media guide, you'd think he was geared up to coach another 20 seasons.

But the veteran coach, who has spent the last 21 seasons in Morgantown, stunned his players and fans with the announcement that this will be his last season after the Mountaineers lost to Syracuse, 31-27, on Saturday.

"I just thought it was time for me to get on down the pike," the 64-year-old coach said. "I want to check around to see if there's still something else to do. I don't even know how to keep score in a bowling game."

Nehlen, who came to West Virginia from Bowling Green, needs one more victory to reach 200. He ranks fifth among active coaches behind Paterno, Bobby Bowden (a former West Virginia coach), Lavell Edwards and Lou Holtz.

One of Nehlen's legacies has been his eight consecutive bowl losses. One was to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl after the 1988 season. That was one of two undefeated regular seasons for Nehlen. The other came in 1993.

Nehlen never hinted that 2000 would be his last season.

"I've said when I retire that you'd be the first to know. Well, you're the first to know," Nehlen told a gathering of reporters. "I told my staff yesterday. I told my team about 10 minutes ago. It was a pretty tough time to drop that bomb on them."

In the 21 pages devoted to him in the media guide, Nehlen spoke of how his back trouble had dissipated and how his enthusiasm for this season was as high as any other.

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