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Winning isn't enough for Big Ten

The conference goes 9-1 in season openers, but close calls for Ohio State (against Navy) and Iowa (against Northern Iowa) sully its reputation.

September 06, 2009|Mike Hiserman

Atlantic Coast Conference teams went 4-6 Saturday -- two of the losses to Division I-AA teams -- and somehow still came away having not any less luster than the Big Ten, which went 9-1 in openers.

The reason: two nationally ranked Big Ten teams needed special plays from their special teams to avoid what would have been huge upsets.

A four-point switch saved No. 6 Ohio State, which led Navy, 29-14, in the fourth quarter before the Midshipmen scored two touchdowns in four minutes. Trailing, 29-27, with a little more than two minutes to play, Navy tried to pass for a two-point conversion, but Brian Rolle intercepted and returned it for two points for the Buckeyes.

Meanwhile, in Iowa City, No. 22 required two blocked field goals in the final seven seconds to survive Northern Iowa, 17-16.

The second block, by Jeremiha Hunter, would not have been needed had he scooped up the ball after the first block, by Broderick Binns. However, teammates told Hunter to stay away from it and he did, allowing the Panthers a second chance.

You could call Iowa lucky, but the Hawkeyes would say they were due: Last season, their four losses came by a total of 12 points.

Along with those close calls, the Big Ten's only loss of the day was an especially bad one: Illinois, which was considered a potential title contender, lost, 37-9, to a Missouri team that was supposed to be rebuilding.

In the ACC, the losses to Division I-AA teams were suffered by Virginia (to William & Mary) and Duke (to Richmond).

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Sign of the times

Anybody think there might be a new billboard up in South Bend in the next couple of days?

Notre Dame piled up 510 yards of offense in a 35-0 victory over what was supposed to be a tough Nevada team, and all signs are suddenly go for Fighting Irish Coach Charlie Weis.

Weis was called out in a billboard advertisement near the Notre Dame campus last week that read, in gold letters, "Best wishes to Charlie Weis in the 5th year of his college coaching internship."

The ad was placed by Tom Reynolds, a retired college marketing professor who played for the Fighting Irish in 1967. He told the South Bend Tribune that he represented about 50 former players who believed that the coach -- with a contract that pays him about $4.2 million a year -- should have a better record than 29-21 in his first four seasons.

Reynolds said he paid for the ad to stand for 12 weeks, but after three days it was taken down because Notre Dame "pressured" the billboard company to remove it -- a claim the school denied.

Weis shrugged it off, saying that taking criticism was part of the job.

"Everything was great," Weis joked about the billboard, "until the last word."

Against Nevada, Westlake Village Oaks Christian High product Jimmy Clausen had a big day, completing 15 of 18 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Included were the two longest passes of his college career -- 70 yards to Michael Floyd in the first half, then an 88-yarder to Floyd later in the game.

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Picked off

Turnovers hurt in any sport. Just ask Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus.

Paulus, a former point guard for the Duke basketball team, made his debut as a college football player against Minnesota and nearly pulled off an upset victory.

Playing in his first football game in five years, Paulus completed 19 of 31 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.

However, his poor decision in overtime enabled Minnesota to escape with a 23-20 victory.

Syracuse had the ball at the Minnesota five-yard line when Paulus tried to force a pass into triple coverage. It was intercepted by Nate Triplett and the Golden Gophers kicked a game-winning 35-yard field goal.

"That pick, I shouldn't make that mistake," Paulus said. "I'll be kicking myself for a little bit thinking about that one. But playing football is awesome. It's so much fun. I can't tell you the joy I get."

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Unlevel playing field

Since 1978, when the NCAA split Division I football into two divisions, I-A and I-AA -- now the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision -- only four teams in the top division have not played a lower-level opponent: USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Washington.

Michigan State had never done it either, until it defeated Montana State on Saturday, 44-3. That was one of a record 38 such matchups this week.

Bowl Subdivision teams have a maximum of 85 scholarships compared with 63 for FCS schools, and are generally better funded overall.

Which is perhaps why there were only three upsets among all those games -- William & Mary over Virginia, 26-14; Richmond over Duke, 24-16; and Villanova over Temple on Thursday, 27-24.

The biggest rout?

It was expected to be top-ranked Florida over Charleston Southern. But the Gators, who were 73-point favorites, didn't even cover the betting spread in a 62-3 win. (Plus, the Gators paid Charleston $450,000 just to take the beating.)

Instead, Air Force was the big bully, routing Nicholls State, 72-0 -- the largest margin of victory in Air Force history.

Well, of the football program's, anyway.

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mike.hiserman@latimes.com

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