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What It Takes to Herd 'Cats

September 21, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Almost everyone makes fun of Kansas State for its notoriously weak nonconference schedule, scoffing with good reason at the annual parade of stiffs waiting to be thumped.

Given the dubious standing of many of the programs paying visits to Manhattan, Kan., over the years, it's no wonder the Wildcats had a 41-game home nonconference winning streak going into Saturday.

Take this year's list of tomato cans, puh-leaze.

California?

Troy State?

McNeese State?

UMass?

You must be joking.

Then the Marshall Thundering Herd showed up, and the laughter stopped. Kansas State's final tuneup before facing Big 12 Conference rival Texas was more than the Wildcats had bargained for, with the Thundering Herd pulling out a 27-20 victory to end the streak.

Actually, the No. 6 Wildcats (4-1) should have known better than to schedule a team from the Mid-American Conference this season, especially unranked Marshall (2-2). Saturday's victory was Marshall's 56th in the last five seasons, putting the Herd ahead of the pack in the NCAA Division I-A.

Each team played without its starting quarterback. Graham Gochneaur's three-yard touchdown pass to Jason Rader (plus a two-point conversion pass to Josh Davis) with 3 1/2 minutes to play provided the winning margin.

"Everybody had us 1-3, except us," Marshall Coach Bob Pruett said after the Herd's first victory over a ranked opponent ended any realistic hopes the Wildcats had at winning a national championship. "It's maybe the biggest win since the win over Xavier after the plane crash."

Pruett referred to Marshall's first victory after a 1970 crash on takeoff from Huntington, W.Va., that killed 75 players, coaches, administrators, fans and crew members.

In time, the Herd went on to become something of a Division I-AA powerhouse, winning national championships in 1992 and 1996 before moving to Division I-A and joining the MAC in 1997. Past standouts have included receiver Randy Moss and quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington.

Thundering Herd, indeed.

More MAC Mania

Marshall's victory at Kansas State ranked as the upset of the season by a MAC team ... for the afternoon, anyway.

Then Northern Illinois, which had already upended then-No. 15 Maryland, took out No. 21 Alabama, 19-16.

Then (Holy) Toledo, the Rockets knocked off No. 9 Pittsburgh, 35-31.

Talk about a hat trick.

"I really don't think they respected us as much as they should have," Northern Illinois receiver P.J. Fleck said, referring to the crimson-faced Tide. "Sometimes the most talented teams don't win football games, and I really think they're more athletic. But it's the team."

And there were more surprises from teams from the conference that plays in the shadow of the Big Ten.

Miami of Ohio routed Colorado State, 41-21, with 6-foot-5, 248-pound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completing 29 of 39 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns.

"I did not think they could shut us down," Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick said of the RedHawks. "They had an answer for everything."

Then there was Bowling Green, which gave No. 4 Ohio State fits before falling, 24-17, after the Buckeyes needed an interception in their own territory on the game's final play to win.

UGA House Party

Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley and his wife, Barbara, reportedly received more than $300,000 from two Georgia booster clubs to pay for maintenance, renovations and entertainment at their home since 1998.

According to information uncovered this week by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dooleys essentially have been issued blank checks from athletic boosters and, as the newspaper put it, "without oversight from university administrators."

An amendment to Dooley's contract in 1982 calls for the associations to pay his routine bills, including utilities, property taxes, homeowners' insurance, maid service, pest control and lawn care. And because the agreement also calls for "maintenance" of the home, officials have given the OK for a new roof for the Dooley's home and their pool house, plus a $15,400 renovation of the pool itself.

The revelations made for an embarrassing backdrop to the No. 7 Bulldogs' 17-10 loss to No. 11 Louisiana State at Baton Rouge, La.

Evidently that was one (reality) check Dooley couldn't cash.

Stop the Madness

The pressure to win at all cost evidently has spread (gasp!) to the Ivy League, where research by a former Princeton president has unearthed the fact that many schools are admitting many standout football and basketball players, who then have difficulty keeping pace academically.

These students have SAT scores 119 to 165 points lower than their classmates and four out of five of them go on to finish in the bottom third of their classes.

The bottom third of an Ivy League school is probably better than the top third of a lot of schools, don't you think?

Mackovic's Final Days?

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