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SPOTLIGHT WEEK 3

Cal's 150 Points Not Moot

September 15, 2002|Robyn Norwood

At the time, it seemed like the most irrelevant NCAA penalty ever handed down.

In June, Cal was banned from appearing in a postseason bowl game this season as part of a five-year probation for academic improprieties and improper payment of hotel incidental expenses.

Considering the Bears were 1-10 last season, the point seemed beyond moot.

But after Cal's stunning 46-22 upset of No. 15 Michigan State, the Bears are 3-0 and halfway to the six-victory benchmark required to play in one of this season's overabundance of 28 bowl games.

Looks like the Big Game probably will have to do.

Still, Cal's turnaround is astounding.

After three games, the Bears have outscored their opponents, 150-57.

They didn't score their 150th point until their ninth game last season--and they gave up an average of 39 a game.

There's one obvious person to point to in explanation: New Coach Jeff Tedford, the former Oregon offensive coordinator who guided the careers of Joey Harrington and Akili Smith at Oregon after coaching Trent Dilfer and David Carr for part of their careers at Fresno State.

The happiest person when Tedford got the job had to be Kyle Boller, the quarterback from Newhall Hart High who was anointed "Jesus in cleats" by the Cal student paper before his career began but had been merely mortal.

Before this season, Boller had thrown two more interceptions (38) than touchdowns, his career completion percentage was 45% and Cal's record since he arrived was 8-25.

Against Michigan State, Boller completed 19 of 33 passes for 232 yards and had a hand in four touchdowns--two passing, one running and a 14-yard reception from receiver LaShaun Ward.

It's not only offense. Cal forced five Michigan State turnovers and is plus-10 in turnover margin this season after ranking 114th out of 115 Division I-A schools with a minus-17 margin last year.

Now the Bears have another dangerous quality: Confidence.

"We know we have the athletes to play with anybody in the country," Ward said. "Our coaching staff has told us that, and we're all believers. We expected to win here, so we're not surprised."

Unbeaten, Unimpressive

No. 22 Wisconsin is 4-0 and fooling no one.

"I wouldn't say we're a good team," Coach Barry Alvarez said after quarterback Brooks Bollinger scored with less than two minutes left to take a 24-21 victory and avoid being upset by Northern Illinois. "I just know we have four wins right now."

Those are over Fresno State, Nevada Las Vegas, West Virginia and the Huskies.

Saturday, the only team plunging right through that line, as the Wisconsin fight song goes, was Northern Illinois: The Huskies had 10 sacks.

"Quite honestly, they deserved to win the football game," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Brian White said. "But we won it, and we're not embarrassed by it."

A Northern Illinois victory would have been remarkable--and not only because it would have been only the second in 27 tries against Big Ten schools. (The Huskies beat Wisconsin, 19-17, in 1988.)

Northern Illinois is playing without star running back Thomas Hammock, a 5-foot-8, 214-pound Doak Walker award candidate who was found to have a career-threatening buildup of fatty tissue around his heart after experiencing shortness of breath the day after the Huskies' season-opening victory over Wake Forest.

But his replacement, Michael Turner, ran for 160 yards, and scored the winning touchdown against the Demon Deacons with less than six minutes left.

Storm Watch

It was a rainy night in Georgia ... and Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Seemed like it was rainin' all over the world.

Tropical Storm Hanna soaked players and fans at games in the South from the early afternoon into the evening, temporarily halting a number of games because of lightning.

The game between No. 9 Georgia and South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., was suspended for 52 minutes because of heavy rain and lightning before the Bulldogs completed their 13-7 victory.

The game between 12th-ranked Florida and 42-point underdog Ohio was halted for 46 minutes because of lightning--with Ohio leading, 3-0. (The Gators returned to the field and took care of business, 34-6.)

Elsewhere, the Indiana-Kentucky and Army-Rutgers games--and far from tropical storm territory, the Texas El Paso-Oklahoma game--also were stopped temporarily because of severe weather.

It was a decent day for Hurricanes and Cyclones, however: No. 1 Miami overcame its own sloppy play in a 44-21 victory over Temple, and Iowa State came from 17 points behind at halftime to beat Iowa, 36-31.

Big Win, Big Loss

Nevada's 31-28 upset of Brigham Young put an end to the sort of pretensions to BCS glory that BYU had last season.

But Nevada lost star running back Chance Kretschmer to a knee injury after a late hit out of bounds on his first carry of the game.

Kretschmer, a former rodeo cowboy from Tonopah, Nev., led the NCAA in rushing last season with 1,732 yards--the first freshman to lead the nation since Marshall Faulk at San Diego State in 1991.

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