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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

For Some, the Season Gets Off on Wrong Foot

September 06, 2004|Chris Dufresne

It is obvious after the first full weekend of action that college football needs time to work out the kinks.

We're talking about teams, kickers, coaches, ball boys, equipment guys, instant-replay operators and announcers (Lee Corso).

Hitches, glitches and hiccups are to be expected in a sport that allows for no exhibition games, so we are granting a one-week waiver for all concerned to get their acts together.

We are issuing probation notices to:

* Instant replay. The Big Ten is experimenting with replay this year, and based on what we saw in the Central Florida-Wisconsin game, it should go over this year about as well as West Nile virus.

The Wisconsin replay experiment/Kool-Aid acid test was marred by incessant and, at times, comical, delays.

We can report Barry Alvarez did earn his 100th win as Wisconsin coach, pending a final Big Ten replay review.

* Louisiana State. Can you have a nine-month hangover? The defending national co-champion Tigers came out flatter than 4-day-old Baton Rouge beer and were lucky to escape with an overtime win against Oregon State.

And you thought USC was shaky in last week's opener against Virginia Tech.

In the end, though, what does not beat you makes you stronger. Expect LSU, along with USC, to rebound from its near-loss experience and eventually round back into championship form.

* Kickers. It was a rough weekend for a few of the sidewinders. Northwestern kicker Brian Huffman missed five field goals in the Wildcats' 28-25 overtime loss to Texas Christian. "He hasn't missed six kicks all camp," Northwestern Coach Randy Walker moaned to reporters afterward.

Then, there was the sad saga of Oregon State redshirt freshman Alexis Serna missing three extra points in his team's 22-21 overtime loss to LSU.

* Oregon State Coach Mike Riley. He gets huge credit for nearly orchestrating an upset at LSU (the Beavers were 18-point underdogs), yet Riley's decision-making in critical moments did not remind you that he played for Bear Bryant at Alabama.

After LSU tied the score, at 15-15, in regulation, Oregon State got the ball back with 1:05 left at its 20. Instead of going for the win in regulation, the Beavers sat on the ball and played for overtime.


The Beaver defense was exhausted in the Louisiana heat. Riley should have gone for the kill when he had the chance.

Then, after his team scored a touchdown on its offensive possession in the overtime, Riley elected to send Serna out for the extra point after he already had missed two.

Wrong II. And Riley seemed to realize this as he desperately tried to call a timeout before Serna's kick went awry but got caught up in his headset cord.

Riley said he was debating whether to go for the two-point conversion.

There should have been no debate. Riley should have gone for two without hesitation and got out of red-stick town with the upset of the year or a hard-fought loss.

But these are merely nitpicks.

* Notre Dame. Uh-oh. The Fighting Irish worked like the dickens in the off-season to rearrange its schedule so that it could open the season at Brigham Young on Saturday.

See, Notre Dame wanted to play a game before it faced Michigan this week in South Bend and thought BYU might be perfect warmup fodder.

To make the switch, Notre Dame coaxed rival USC, which was supposed to play at BYU on Saturday, into moving its game to Sept. 18.

No problem, said the Trojans.

Not only did Notre Dame set up USC for another championship run by giving the Trojans a strategic series of off weeks, the Irish then blew it all by losing to BYU, 20-17.

Oh, the Irish still have to play Michigan next week. Notre Dame, 5-7 last year, is now staring at an 0-2 start.

* UCLA. The Bruin offense still seems to be struggling with the West Coast. Maybe it could pick up some pointers from Nebraska?

Weekend Wrap

He isn't taking it, but Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive deserves credit for at least pumping up the volume on the dialogue that led to Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom's becoming the first African American head football coach in conference history.

When he arrived at the SEC in 2002 from Conference USA, Slive put the issue on the front burner. He had his office compile a list of every qualified minority coach at the Division I-A and I-AA levels and in the NFL.

Slive is being slightly modest when he says, "It wasn't me. The credit belongs to everyone else. I just talked about it."

He said that the hiring of Croom was a great story.

He also said, "The next great story is when we hire a minority coach and it's not a big story."

Slive also has promised that all SEC schools will be probation-free by 2008. Don't hold your breath on that one.

More on Mississippi State: In opening the season 1-0, the Bulldogs are over the .500 mark for the first time since September 2001.

OK, the kicking wasn't all that bad ...

Performances of particular note: Freshman Jeremy Ito made four field goals in Rutgers' debut, a 19-14 victory over Michigan State.

And, there was a good reason Boston College struggled to defeat Ball State, 19-11: Reggie Hodges. The Ball State punter had 10 kicks for 440 yards. More important, in one stretch, he booted punts that pinned Boston College on its five-, six-, five-, three- and five-yard lines.

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