Fresno State Coach Jim Sweeney will never forget the taunting of a New Mexico crowd giddy with unexpected victory.
It was 1989, and Sweeney’s Fresno State team was 10-0, ranked 23rd in the country and this close to an undefeated regular season. All that stood in the Bulldogs’ way was lowly New Mexico, which had won one game in 11 tries that year. A blowout was all but guaranteed.
And then the incredible happened. New Mexico beat Fresno State, winner of 17 consecutive games, 45-22, in front of a pleasantly stunned Lobo audience at University Stadium. As the game ended, the chant began:
Sweeney is a weenie. . . . Sweeney is a weenie.
A feud was born, complete with annual acts of name-calling and cheap shots. Sweeney would describe the state of the Lobo football program as “bad.” New Mexico coaches and players would mutter that the Bulldogs were arrogant and pompous.
And so it went until last Saturday in Fresno, when the rivalry might have reached its lowest point. That’s when Sweeney, ever mindful of the past, happily watched Fresno State defeat New Mexico, 94-17.
The Bulldogs tied an NCAA record by scoring 49 points in the second quarter. They led, 66-7, at halftime. By game’s end, 10 Fresno State players had scored, three of them twice. The average gain per play was nine yards, and quarterback Mark Barsotti threw for three touchdowns and ran for two. Houston Coach John Jenkins would have been proud.
Not so thrilled with the Bulldog victory was Lobo Coach Mike Sheppard, who announced later: “I can tell you that forever New Mexico will have a blood rivalry with Fresno.”
Sheppard was upset for several reasons. For starters, he said, it was the first time one of his teams had truly given up. Equally disturbing, he added, was the conduct of Sweeney and Barsotti.
--Why, asked Sheppard, with the score, 59-7, did Barsotti call time out with seven seconds remaining in the first half and the ball at the Lobo two-yard line?
--Why was Fresno State still throwing the ball when the score was 59-7?
--Why punish an outmanned team for the chants of a crowd two years earlier?
Sweeney dismissed the complaints as sour grapes. Had they wanted to, the Bulldogs probably could have surpassed the NCAA scoring record against a Division I-A opponent--100, set by Houston against Tulsa in 1968. Instead, said Sweeney, the Bulldogs emptied their bench and did everything they could in the second half to stay below triple digits.
“We used everybody who was not redshirted,” he said. “We had guys carry the ball who don’t get to carry it in practice.”
Not so true was Sweeney’s lame explanation of Barsotti throwing the ball late in the second quarter, with the game obviously beyond New Mexico’s reach. Or why he allowed Barsotti to call time out with only a few seconds remaining in the first half.
“Barsotti, he’s a senior,” Sweeney said. “We’ve got to get our guy a little bit of recognition.”
It was more than that. Sweeney admitted that much. “I have no love for that particular opponent,” he said. “In the first half, I wasn’t looking for anything to do but score.”
Sweeney said he told Fresno State coaches at halftime that he wished the game could be stopped right then and there. He also mentioned the possibility of running the clock the entire second half, rather than stopping it for first downs, incomplete passes, etc.
What he should have done was mention the ideas to New Mexico coaches and officials. Instead, they said, they never heard a peep from Sweeney about putting the Lobos out of their misery.
So Fresno State is undefeated. In this case, the Bulldogs’ fourth victory came with a price: Sweeney’s reputation.
Rumor alert: Contrary to assorted reports, Florida State and Washington never were scheduled to play each other this season. It would have been nice--the No. 1 Seminoles vs. the No. 2 Huskies--especially when you consider that Washington, which probably will earn a Rose Bowl spot, won’t be able to face Florida State in postseason play.
Actually, said officials of both schools, the Seminoles had agreed to play in Seattle during the early 1980s. There was no provision for Washington to travel to Tallahassee later, a point that ultimately caused Florida State officials to break the contract. Washington sued but eventually dropped the complaint and found another opponent.
And that was that until word spread that Toledo, which plays at Washington Saturday, was the replacement team for Florida State. Thoughts of what could have been danced in everyone’s head. But the truth is, as best as Florida State and Washington officials can determine, a 1991 meeting between the Seminoles and the Huskies was never scheduled.
Not since 1980, when Baylor was ranked sixth, have the Bears--No. 8 and climbing--enjoyed this sort of success. As usual, Baylor fans can thank Coach Grant Teaff’s commitment to defense, strong special teams play and a balanced offense.
But the best decision Teaff might have made came last spring, when he chose John Eric Joe as his starting quarterback.
Nicknamed J.J. by his mother, Joe, a senior, has moved atop the weekly NCAA rankings for passing efficiency. Since Joe became the full-time starter, the Bears are 8-1-1 and show few signs of slowing down. Already this season, Joe has completed the four longest passes in the Southwest Conference (77, 75, 74 and 74 yards) and thrown only one interception in 90 passes--and that pass was tipped. In all, Joe has completed 57 passes for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
No wonder there are those in the SWC who say the best quarterback in the conference can be found in Waco, Tex., and not in Houston, where David Klingler resides.
“When it comes to our conference, I really don’t look at it like that,” Joe said. “I look at how our team is doing.”
The Bears are doing just fine, thank you. At 5-0, Baylor has won two conference games and faces Rice Saturday, followed by Texas A&M; on Oct. 19 at Waco. An undefeated season isn’t out of the question.
Houston continues to make more enemies each week. Against Baylor, the Cougar team captains refused to shake hands with the Baylor players. The same thing happened when Houston played Miami earlier this season. “I guess it was a tactic they wanted to try to intimidate us with early in the game,” Joe said. “But our team is not going to be intimidated.”
True enough. Houston lost, 38-21.
And Miami Coach Dennis Erickson had this to say when asked about the differences between Saturday’s opponent, Penn State, and John Jenkins’ Houston team (1-3): “Penn State is a way, way, way, way better team than Houston. There’s no comparison.”
Erickson also half-mocked the celebrated Houston passing attack. Questioned about the Hurricanes’ young defense (with only two senior starters), he said: “Again, we haven’t been tested. Houston was supposed to be a test. Obviously, (with) what happened last month, they weren’t.” Miami won, 40-10.
He probably won’t win a Heisman Trophy this year, but Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer is having a great season. The Irish offense is averaging 492 yards and 39.8 points and is ranked eighth in the nation in total offense. Mirer, fifth in passing efficiency, has completed 56 of 88 passes for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. At this pace, the Irish will surpass their existing modern-era per-game scoring record of 37.6 points set in 1968.
Viewers of Saturday’s game between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 12 Pittsburgh also might want to keep an eye on twin brothers Devon and Ricardo McDonald, who play linebacker, but for opposing teams. Devon is a starter for the Irish, and Ricardo is a starter for the Panthers.
“He’s a better football player,” Devon said of his brother.
Of course, Devon can afford to be generous with his praise. Notre Dame has beaten Pitt three consecutive years, which means Ricardo has yet to be part of a Panther victory against the Irish.
Thanks to a cruel scheduling quirk, Syracuse is the only team--if you include last season--to have faced Miami, Florida State and Florida in three of its last seven games. “And we’re glad it’s over, I guarantee you that,” Orangemen Coach Paul Pasqualoni said.
Pasqualoni has witnessed the power of Miami and its not-so-secret weapon--the Orange Bowl. He has seen Florida’s celebrated passing attack, conceived by Gator Coach Steve Spurrier and executed by quarterback Shane Matthews (in a game the Orangemen won). And he has viewed the balance and talent of No. 1-ranked Florida State, which disposed of Syracuse last week at Tallahassee.
And Pasqualoni’s choice as the best of the three? Well, don’t hold him to it, but he said the Seminoles are the early favorite.
“We knew going into the Florida State game that if there was anything wrong defensively, we were going to find out--and we found out,” he said. “Anything that you do wrong is tremendously magnified, magnified 100%.”
Bowden--the final chapter (we promise): No need to search for the whereabouts of Coach Bobby Bowden Saturday evening. After his Seminoles play Virginia Tech, Bowden will stay at the Citrus Bowl and watch Samford face Central Florida. Bowden’s son, Terry, is the head coach at Samford, Bobby’s alma mater. . . . Informed that the Atlanta Braves had clinched the National League West title last Saturday, Bowden asked: “Does that mean they’re in the World Series?”
And how popular is the Florida State “War Chant,” that semi-annoying but mostly effective little tune sung over and over during games? Well, the Braves stole it, and look what happened. Kansas City Chief Coach Marty Schottenheimer instructed team officials to adopt the chant, and guess what? The Chiefs beat the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills Monday night.
Not since 1984 has Auburn lost two games this early in the season. Adding to Coach Pat Dye’s problems is a growing controversy involving at least two former Auburn players who allege that they received payoffs and loans from Tiger coaches and alumni. Said Dye of the charges’ effects on his team: “It can’t help you any, that’s for sure. We’ve tried to low-key it. Of course, our coaches and myself aren’t saying anything about it. No use to have a war of words in the paper, in the media.”
As part of a tribute to defensive end Rodney Stowers, who died last week after complications from a broken leg, Mississippi State players will wear No. 97 decals on their helmets.
The decals also will be distributed to students and fans at Saturday’s game between the Bulldogs and Kentucky. A pregame ceremony to honor Stowers is also planned.
To help his players better deal with the loss of their teammate, Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill arranged for local ministers, psychologists and psychiatrists to speak to his players and coaches.
“It’s something that has not been very easy,” Sherrill said. “Certainly, you try to push yourself through it. The only way I know how to do it is go out and practice, try to get after each other, try to get it done there.”
As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski.
No. Team Record 1. Florida State 5-0 2. Washington 4-0 3. Miami 4-0 4. Tennessee 4-0 5. Oklahoma 4-0 6. Baylor 5-0 7. Penn State 5-1 8. Michigan 3-1 9. Notre Dame 4-1 10. North Carolina State 5-0
The waiting list: Pittsburgh (5-0), Syracuse (4-1), Ohio State (4-0), Clemson (3-1), California (4-0).