College football 2003

Times Staff Writer

All Shook Up

1 USC is No. 1 in both polls and not in the national-title game?

Yeah, you could say this was the most mixed-up season in the six-year history of the bowl championship series. College football took a serious credibility hit in 2003 when the system designed to match the top two teams failed, creating split national titles for the first time since 1997.

The BCS standings, a ratings formula created in 1998, were supposed to prevent the possibility of split titles, but this season they only added to the mayhem.

USC, though No. 1 in both the writers' and coaches' polls, finished No. 3 in the complicated BCS formula. The Trojans staked a claim to the Associated Press trophy with a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl while Louisiana State, by winning Sunday's Sugar Bowl, earned the coaches' trophy.

Giddy-Up 409

2 With a win over Bethel College on Nov. 8, St. John's (Minn.) Coach John Gagliardi earned his 409th career victory and passed former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson on the all-time win list. St. John's then capped a 14-0 season with a stunning 24-6 upset of Mount Union to win the Division III national title. The Johnnies' victory ended Mount Union's 55-game winning streak and earned the 77-year-old Gagliardi his fourth national title, but first since 1976.

SEC Breakthrough

3 Sylvester Croom made history when he was named football coach at Mississippi State. Croom became the first African American football coach in the Southeastern Conference's 71-year history and only the fifth minority coach among 117 major football schools.

Croom played football at Alabama but last year was passed over for the Crimson Tide job in favor of Mike Shula.

Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Assn., praised Croom's hiring but said it was only a start. "This isn't a sprint," he said, "it's a marathon."

Shortly after Croom was hired, Damon Evans became the SEC's first African American athletic director when he was named to succeed Vince Dooley at Georgia.

Welcome Back

4 On Sept. 18, San Jose State special teams player Neil Parry completed one of college football's most remarkable comebacks when he ran on the field with the punt-return team against Nevada. It was Parry's first game since a football injury suffered three years earlier forced the amputation of his right foot 10 inches below the knee.

Parry, fitted with a carbon-graphite prosthesis, underwent 25 operations in his effort to return. Sunday, in New Orleans, he was awarded the Courage Award by the Football Writers Assn. of America. Parry said he was inspired by the initials he scrawled on almost everything around him: NGU, which stands for Never Give Up.

Not So Frank

5 Quiz time: Frank Solich led Nebraska to a 58-19 record in six years. He was a two-time Big 12 coach of the year. His Cornhuskers won the Big 12 title in 1999 and, two years later, played in the BCS national-title game in the Rose Bowl. This season, Nebraska was 9-3 and coming off a win at Colorado when Athletic Director Steve Pederson:

A) Gave Solich a big raise and contract extension.

B) Fired Solich.

Answer: B.

The biggest change in college football over the years? Coaches used to get fired for having losing seasons. Now, they get fired for winning seasons.

Nebraska, led by interim Coach Bo Pellini, defeated Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3.

MAC Attack

6 The Mid-American Conference showed it could play with the big boys this season, scoring a series of upsets over the "power conference" teams. Big MAC wins included Marshall over Kansas State, Northern Illinois defeating Maryland and Alabama, Bowling Green over Purdue and Toledo defeating Pittsburgh.

Miami of Ohio, the conference's best team, won 13 straight games after an opening loss to Iowa and capped its stellar season with a 49-28 win over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. Led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the RedHawks finished No. 11 in the final BCS standings, one spot behind that other Miami.

Strike the Pose

7 Oklahoma senior quarterback Jason White latched onto the Heisman Trophy lead early in the season and never let go, winning college football's biggest personal prize in a ceremony held in New York. White edged out Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the award, finishing the regular season with 40 touchdown passes and only eight passes intercepted. White missed most of two seasons after tearing anterior cruciate ligaments in his right and left knees.

Because of those injuries, White was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and has announced he will return to Oklahoma next season.

Bobby and Joe

8 This country song could go on for years for two aging coaches who refuse to retire, but Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden definitely holds the upper hand in this ongoing battle.

Two years after Penn State Coach Joe Paterno broke Bear Bryant's major-college victory record of 323 wins, Bowden took advantage of a Penn State downswing to pass Paterno this season on the all-time list.

The coaches were tied at 338 wins each on Oct. 24 when Florida State defeated Wake Forest on the same day Penn State lost to Iowa.

Bowden, 74, finished the season with 342 wins, and the 77-year-old Paterno suffered through a 3-9 season and sits at 339.

Hog Tired

9 Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63.

NCAA basketball action?

No, it was the final score of a college football game played Nov. 1 in Lexington. Arkansas needed seven overtimes to claim the victory in the longest college football game ever played.

Arkansas is no stranger to working overtime. The Razorbacks lost a six-overtime game against Tennessee in 2002 and scored a seven-overtime victory against Mississippi in 2001.

This season's Arkansas-Kentucky game prompted heated discussion over whether college football's overtime system should be tweaked. Some have suggested making teams start at the 30-yard line in overtime, instead of the 25.

Anything Arkansas can do to get rest would help. The school has played in six overtime games since the format was introduced in 1996.

Roger and Out

10 Let's just say Navy's ship just came in. Led by one of the game's top coaches, Paul Johnson, Navy zoomed to the top of the service academy teams. The Midshipmen finished with an 8-5 record and advanced to their first bowl game in six years, losing to Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl. Navy's success came in a year when its rival, Army, became the first college football team to lose 13 games in a season.

In an effort to close this huge football arms (and legs) gap, Army recently hired Bobby Ross to lead the troops at West Point.

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