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This Sport's Pattern Is Down-and-Out

'Coaches Gone Wild' and other sordid tales have made this off-season perhaps the most embarrassing on record for college football. They'll still play the games, though.

August 24, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

One coach hit bottom after going to a topless bar, another lost his job for allegedly lying, gambling on basketball and, if you read the NCAA report, cheating.

The Atlantic Coast Conference raided two football schools from the Big East in a contentious quarrel that could only lower one's opinion of higher education, and the have-nots of the sport have threatened antitrust action because they don't trust the haves.

Florida State's avuncular coach took the stand during a gambling trial for one of his ex-quarterbacks and, no, the coach wasn't allowed to wear a headset.

The Big Ten's preseason defensive player of the year, from Michigan, recently copped a plea to aggravated assault, and the Big Ten's preseason offensive player of the year, Ohio State's leading ground gainer, was held out of fall practice and could be facing a six-game suspension.

Funny you should ask, but this was also the off-season during which the rules committee eliminated the "halo rule."

Is it any wonder?

Since Princeton and Rutgers first went at it back in 1869, it is difficult to imagine a time when college football's name has been more thoroughly mud-slung. The sport failed, stunningly so, to capitalize on the afterglow of Ohio State's stupendous, double-overtime national-championship victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

Since that night in Tempe, there haven't been many reasons to whistle your school's fight song.

Amos Alonzo Stagg, the legendary coach, once said, "To me, the coaching profession is one of the noblest and most far-reaching in building manhood."

Mike Price, the recently defrocked Alabama coach, said in a statement, "During my departure from the bar, a woman, who was not a dancer, seeing that I was heavily intoxicated offered to assist me to my cab. She then rode in the cab with me and helped me to my hotel room where I fell asleep. There was no sex involved."

So there you have it: Stagg to stag.

Thank goodness they still play games Saturdays -- and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays -- because never have the sport's "caretakers" needed to be so preoccupied to keep from devouring themselves.

So far as we know, no court order will prevent USC from playing at Auburn on Aug. 30, or Notre Dame from playing at Michigan on Sept. 13.

Unless otherwise notified, the Ohio State University band can still dot the i in script "Ohio" and the Texas A&M student body can remain standing for the duration.

You can never be sure about the legality of these things -- see, USC vs. its horse.

In the end, and this tends to get lost in the depositions, the game puts people in seats, not the presidents, conference commissioners, networks, athletic directors, coaches or lawyers.

So let the games begin ... before some judge issues an injunction.

We have time for 20 questions:

1 What are the most overrated teams heading into the season?

Ohio State and USC. Ohio State won the national title and has all 11 starters back on offense, but you think the Buckeyes are going to catch every break again this year?

Ohio State won seven games by a touchdown or less. Cincinnati had the Buckeyes beat. All Purdue had to do was stop Ohio State once on fourth down. Illinois took the Columbus kids to overtime. Even Miami had Ohio State beaten in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl until a late pass-interference call gave the Buckeyes new life.

The point is, Ohio State could be better this year and not go undefeated.

And even USC Coach Pete Carroll thinks his Trojans might be overrated.

"It's recognition and respect for last year," he says of his team's top-10 ranking.

The Trojans may challenge for the national title in 2004, but this year they need to replace their starting quarterback and three-headed tailback.

USC played the nation's toughest schedule last year and this year's is only slightly less brutal, with road games at Auburn, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona State.

2 Will it be 21 years before another Pac-10 player wins the Heisman Trophy?

Probably. A few Heisman voters admitted privately last year they'd voted for USC's Carson Palmer just to shut everyone up about the perceived "East Coast bias."

So, look for the Pac-10 to land another Heisman winner in 2024, or roughly the same year Joe Paterno calls it quits at Penn State.

3 What preseason college magazines went to press too early?

Almost all of them.

From Lindy's: "ACC: Expansion. Who needs it?"

Well, as it turns out, Virginia Tech and Miami needed it.

From Preview Sports: "Neuheisel needs to find a running game."

Um, check that, Rick Neuheisel needs to find a job.

4 Is this the year Texas breaks through to win the national title?

Maybe, and I call this my "Tee Martin Theory."

Remember how much pressure there was on Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning to win the big one? And how he never did?

As dandy a quarterback as Manning was, he could never get over on Florida and never delivered the national title to Knoxville.

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