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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Don't Look Ahead, They Might Be Gaining on You

October 07, 2002|Chris Dufresne

We take 'em one game at a time.

Our focus is on this week's opponent.

We don't look ahead.

Welcome to Liars Club, the carefully worded world of football double talk.

If Oklahoma wasn't looking ahead to this week's game with Texas, how do you explain the Sooners almost losing at Missouri, a journalism school, Bob Stoops' troops needing a trick play--touchdown pass off a fake field-goal attempt--to stave off disaster?

If Texas wasn't looking ahead to Saturday's showdown with Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, possibly the most important step-up game the program has faced in 30 years, how do you explain the Longhorns having to thwart a two-point conversion and then needing a game-saving interception to beat Oklahoma State, a team our powderblue-clad UCLA lads had no trouble disassembling only a few weeks ago in Stillwater?

Or, perhaps the very sight of Oklahoma, even when it's followed by "State" on a jersey, just freaks out Texas.

Oklahoma has shot Texas' national-title lights out in each of the last two Red River Shootouts, but no one thought the Longhorns would start gripping over Oklahoma during "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Oklahoma State.

Who knows what got into Oklahoma? Maybe, after they jumped out to a comfortable lead, one of those cartoon bubbles formed over Sooner heads with the image of them standing over the Longhorn mascot, Bevo, with dinner knives, the steer divided in a delectable grid--top sirloin, prime rib, UT-bone.

In sports, it is impossible not to look ahead or underestimate an allegedly unworthy opponent--it's the reason why college football is wonderful and why scalpers station themselves outside stadiums.

You can bet Washington Coach Rick Neuheisel warned his players last week not to look past California and Washington players were thinking, "Dude, loosen your load, those guys haven't beaten us since 1976."

Some men put up convincing fronts.

You get the idea Notre Dame first-year Coach Tyrone Willingham wouldn't look past 7:30 if his wristwatch read 7:25.

Pundits attribute Willingham's laser-beam focus and attention to the task at hand as reasons for the Irish's first 5-0 start since 1993.

"We just need to keep taking everything one game at a time," Willingham implored after Saturday's 31-7 win over Stanford. "We didn't pay attention to the rankings this week and we will continue not to do so."

Looks good on a chalkboard, but if Willingham wasn't peeking down the road at the possibilities, how come, after the Stanford game, he took a playful dig at the Chicago Tribune's national columnist for having Notre Dame No. 15 in his weekly rankings?

No one is immune from skipping ahead to the next chapter, or reading the fortune before eating the cookie, not even sportswriters.

To be honest, the report filed Sunday from South Bend by yours truly was less than satisfactory. In fact, a copy editor could have intercepted one of my dangling participles and run it all the way back to the back shop.

They taught us in journalism school to write 'em one story at a time, yet how could a man concentrate on Stanford-Notre Dame, a mostly dreadful game interrupted by a seven-minute flurry of Irish touchdowns, with a fantastic slate of games coming up next weekend?

Next Saturday is next-to-Nirvana, with Texas-Oklahoma, Florida State at Miami, Tennessee at Georgia, Oregon at UCLA and Penn State at Michigan.

It's almost too much to digest, really, but you know what your coach would say:

You've got to take 'em one game at a time.

Weekend Wrap

Rambling thoughts: There are no exceptional teams this year except Miami, which won its 27th consecutive game Saturday. Any poll, computer or otherwise, that has any team other than Miami at No. 1 ranks right below Enron on the credibility list. Other than Miami, the most impressive-looking undefeated team through weekend play may have been Virginia Tech, which had an open date.

Texas and Oklahoma both played footsy with defeat. Ohio State struggled at Northwestern, a team that lost to non-bowl championship series-certified Air Force by almost 50 points. Georgia needed a last-minute field goal to beat Alabama. Notre Dame's offense generated one touchdown against Stanford, a school that ranked 112th in scoring defense, allowing 41.7 points a game. Oregon (5-0) hasn't beaten a quality opponent since last season's Fiesta Bowl.

North Carolina State (6-0) was idle, which has pretty much been the case all season with a schedule liberally sprinkled with the likes of New Mexico, East Tennessee State, Navy and Massachusetts.

Air Force is 5-0, has defeated a school from the Big Ten (Northwestern) and the Pacific 10 (California), yet has no shot at the national championship unless Congress intervenes and rewrites BCS bylaws.

On our rank-o-meter, Notre Dame is a solid team, nowhere near great--at least not yet. The difference between this year's 5-0 start and last year's 5-6 finish is Willingham has instilled the confidence in his players to win close games.

The Irish offense is only average, so they rely on a defense that is Rockne solid. It's shocking that their secondary doesn't get burned for more big plays--"They took some chances," Stanford Coach Buddy Teevens said--yet the Irish have so far managed to play aggressively without paying a price.

College football sage Beano Cook was way off when he once predicted two Heisman Trophies for Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus, but he was dead on with his radio comment Saturday that Colorado ought to hire Tony Soprano's psychiatrist. No team needs couch time more than the Buffaloes, who continue to confound. A look at the log: Colorado lost its fourth consecutive opener under Gary Barnett, got wiped out at home by USC, then throttled UCLA at the Rose Bowl and, most recently, knocked Kansas State from the national title race (yes!!).

Colorado has become the team you want to play most in early September and the team you want to play least in November.

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