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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It's a Vexing Problem From Cover to Cover

September 29, 2003|Chris Dufresne

An update from the Hex Files:

While the prospect of a Boston Red Sox-Chicago Cub World Series remains rapturously alive, the vestiges of voodoo refuse to let loose of the college pigskin.

The dreaded Sports Illustrated jinx struck again -- last week's cover headline should have read "Hey, Oregon ... duck!" -- while the lesser-known "Chicken Curse" of South Carolina not only stole an overtime game from the Gamecocks, it even hammered our USC in triple overtime at California.

What could you say about Oregon-Washington State except that it was as predictable as getting wet in the Eugene rain?

True story: After picking this week's SI out of my mailbox Wednesday, I walked into the house, put the magazine on my kitchen table and announced, "Oregon is toast."

"Dazzling Ducks," read the magazine headline touting Oregon's 4-0 start.

Final score: Washington State 55, Oregon 16.

The Ducks had seven turnovers -- in the first half -- finished with nine turnovers and also had two kicks blocked.

Flush with glory only days earlier after an upset victory over Michigan, Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti remarked to reporters after the Washington State loss, "We'll flush it and move on."

Oregon joined a pantheon of college teams paralyzed by SI cover stories. Space does not allow a complete horror story review, so we offer a sampling:

* Aug. 13, 2001. Magazine touts Oregon State as preseason No. 1. Beavers finish 5-6.

* Nov. 26, 2001. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch graces cover days before team is crushed at Colorado, 62-36.

* Sept. 3, 1990. USC's Todd Marinovich goes from SI cover to SC bench, to Raiders, to naked surfing, to jail, basically, to hell in a handbasket.

* Nov. 16, 1998. Texas tailback Ricky Williams billed as "Texas Tornado" before he is outrushed by Ricky Williams of Texas Tech.

* Nov. 22, 1993. "We Did It!" pronounced the cover after Notre Dame beat Florida State. A week later, Notre Dame lost to Boston College, costing it the national title.

* Nov. 24, 1986. Vinny Testaverde of Miami makes the cover and then is injured in a motor scooter accident.

* Dec. 12, 1970. Texas is 10-0 with a 30-game winning streak when it makes the cover, then fumbles nine times in a loss to Notre Dame.

Of course, a lot of this "bad karma" is self-inflicted. Teams that make magazine covers are prone to letdowns given the over-the-top adulation that comes with good press. We're guessing Oregon players had their backs slapped so many times after the Michigan win it must have been painful to put on their shoulder pads.

Curse II: South Carolina lost an overtime heartbreaker to Tennessee, and some in Columbia will no doubt blame the "Chicken Curse," which dates to the 1880s, when U.S. Sen. Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman, founder of Clemson, put a hex on South Carolina.

You couldn't help but think of ol' "Pitchfork" after Tennessee's Casey Clausen tossed a four-yard scoring pass to win Saturday's game.

*

Down But Not Out

USC's national title hopes were severely damaged with Saturday's loss to California, but there's a chance at least one team with one loss will make this season's Sugar Bowl.

Here's a look at the undefeated teams in title contention and the possible losses that loom:

Oklahoma: At Texas, at Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Big 12 title game.

Miami: At Florida State, at Virginia Tech, Tennessee, at Pittsburgh.

Ohio State: At Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue, at Michigan.

Virginia Tech: Miami, at Pittsburgh, Boston College.

Florida State: Miami, at Notre Dame, North Carolina State, at Florida.

Louisiana State: Florida, at South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, SEC title game.

Tennessee: At Auburn, Georgia, at Alabama, at Miami, SEC title game.

Arkansas: Auburn, Florida, at LSU, SEC title game.

Nebraska: At Missouri, at Texas, Kansas State, at Colorado, Big 12 title game.

Minnesota: Michigan, Michigan State, at Iowa.

*

Weekend Wrap

You knew Arizona Coach John Macko- vic, fired Sunday, was a goner as soon as he received the dreaded "vote of confidence" last week from Athletic Director Jim Livengood. Arizona (1-4) was at least competitive in a 13-10 overtime loss to Texas Christian, but since when is a team from Conference USA, playing with its second-string quarterback and third-string tailback, supposed to beat a Pac-10 team on the road? The answer, obviously, is never.

Anyone who thinks the NFL overtime format is better than the college system ought to watch last season's Fiesta Bowl double-overtime thriller between Miami and Ohio State and/or California's triple-overtime win over USC on Saturday.

The chase continues, Part I: St. John's (Minn.) Coach John Gagliardi recorded career win No. 403 on Saturday when the Johnnies defeated St. Olaf. Gagliardi needs six victories to break Eddie Robinson's record of 408.

The chase continues, Part II: Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden recorded career win No. 337 on Saturday and is only one victory behind Penn State's Joe Paterno on the major college win list.

Keeping tabs on: Northern Illinois. The Huskies are No. 17 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 20 in the coaches' rankings. The chances of this non-bowl championship series school making a major bowl, however, are still slim. Northern Illinois must finish No. 6 or higher in the final BCS standings to earn an automatic bid.

Notre Dame fell to 1-3 with its loss to Purdue and the season doesn't get any easier. The cumulative record of the Irish's next four opponents -- Pittsburgh, USC, Boston College and Florida State -- is 14-4.

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