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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

Chaos, controversy ruled college football in 2001

By Richard Rosenblatt
Associated Press


Those numbers, combined with the final results of the Bowl Championship Series standings, sent the college football world into a dizzying controversy that won't soon be forgotten.

Add a Notre Dame coaching mess — Bob Davie fired and George O'Leary hired for five days before resigning because he lied on his resume — and the 2001 season will probably end up as one of the wackiest in history.

When Colorado humbled Nebraska 62-36 on Nov. 23, the Cornhuskers were knocked out of the national championship picture, right? Wrong.

After a series of mind-boggling upsets — Oklahoma State over Oklahoma, Tennessee over Florida, Colorado over Texas and LSU over Tennessee — the computer had the final say: Nebraska (11-1) vs. Miami (11-0), the only major unbeaten in the land, in the Rose Bowl for the BCS' national title.

The verdict did not go over well, especially with Oregon (10-1) and Colorado (10-2), both ranked ahead of the Huskers in the AP media poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

"I liken the BCS to a bad disease, like cancer," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.

Now, there's a chance for a split national title because the Ducks and Buffaloes will play in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. If the Huskers upset the Hurricanes in Pasadena on Jan. 3, the Fiesta winner has a strong chance of sharing the title.

The coaches will automatically crown the Rose Bowl winner, while The Associated Press poll voters are free to pick their own champion.

"If you're asking me if the perception of chaos is good, I'm not buying into that," BCS coordinator John Swofford said.

Miami, meanwhile, outsmarted the BCS' complex formula for determining the top two teams by simply winning all its games, under rookie coach Larry Coker, no less.

There were two close calls, against Boston College and Virginia Tech, but the Hurricanes got the lucky bounces this season.

Chaos, though, was the catch phrase this season:

• Notre Dame and Penn State both opened with the worst starts in school history, the Nittany Lions 0-4, the Fighting Irish 0-3. Immediately, cries went out for Joe Paterno to retire at Penn State and for Davie to be fired.

Paterno became the winningest coach in major college football history when his Nittany Lions rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat Ohio State, 29-27, Oct. 27 in State College, Pa. The win was No. 324 for Paterno, who passed Bear Bryant for the record.

Paterno's guys finished 5-6, so did the Irish, but Davie was fired after five seasons.

O'Leary left Georgia Tech for his dream job, but resigned because of inaccuracies on his resume about his academic and athletic credentials.

• Northwestern opened the season just a few weeks after the death of Rashidi Wheeler, a defensive back who collapsed and died during a preseason conditioning drill Aug. 3. Bronchial asthma was listed as the cause of death. The Wildcats won their first three games, but finished 4-7.

• The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to the postponement of games of Sept. 15. Teams scrambled to reschedule, creating late-season matchups — Vols at Gators, for one — that played a big part in determining BCS bowl berths.

• The wide-open Heisman Trophy race ended with Nebraska's option quarterback Eric Crouch winning over Florida's sophomore quarterback Rex Grossman. Miami's Ken Dorsey was third. Grossman, the nation's top-rated passer who threw for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns, won AP player of the year.

• Maryland became the surprise team under rookie coach Ralph Friedgen, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the first time since 1985, finishing 10-1 and earning a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida.

• A major disappointment was Florida State (7-4). The Seminoles' 54-game home unbeaten streak fell, along with their nine-year run of ACC titles.

• Arkansas beat Mississippi, 58-56, in seven OTs — the longest game in major-college history.

In addition to the Rose, Fiesta and Orange matchups, the BCS' other bowl features LSU (9-3) against Illinois. The Tigers upset the Vols in the Southeastern Conference title game, while the Illini won the Big Ten title with their best record since 1983.

Normally, Illinois would play in the Rose Bowl, but this year the Rose is the BCS' designated title game, with the teams rated first and second in the final standings playing in Pasadena.

Oklahoma finished a perfect 2000 season with a 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl to claim its seventh AP national title and first since 1985.

On the first full weekend, Fresno State upset Colorado, and by mid-October had soared to No. 8 in the AP poll with a 6-0 record and a Heisman contender in quarterback David Carr. Then came losses to Boise State and Hawai'i, and the Bulldogs' bid for a BCS game ended.

BYU won its first 12 games under new coach Gary Crowton, but lost its perfect season in a 72-45 season-ending defeat at Hawai'i, which finished 9-3.

Florida regained the No. 1 ranking briefly, but a 23-20 loss at Auburn knocked the Gators down, allowing Miami to regain the top spot and Oklahoma to move up to No. 2. Florida fell from title contention with its 34-32 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 1.

On Oct. 27, Nebraska beat Oklahoma 20-10 — Crouch's 63-yard pass reception for a TD off a trick play was the clincher — and the Huskers were chasing the Hurricanes in the polls, although they were first in the BCS standings.

Then came the upsets, beginning with Colorado over Nebraska. But because of the surprises that followed, the Huskers find themselves right where they wanted to be in the first place — playing for a national title.

Montana won the Division I-AA title finishing 15-1, including a season-opening loss to Hawai'i.

North Dakota won its first Division II national title, and Mount Union won the D-III crown.