Is Spurrier's 'Gun Aimed at Pollsters?

The moral of the story, kids, is don't make Stevie mad.

Gator gazers say they'd never seen Florida Coach Steve Spurrier more panhandle hot than he was after his team's lackluster, 21-6, season-opening victory over Southern Mississippi on Aug. 30.

Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun attack--the Rolls-Royce of college offenses--ranked last among

Southeastern Conference schools after one week.

Uh-oh.

Bottom line, some Division I-A bottom feeder was going to pay for this calamity, and it just so happened Central Michigan crossed the tracks as Stevie's Steamer rounded the bend. In a nutshell, that was how the Chippewas came up on the short end of an 82-6 score Saturday in Gainesville.

"We will not be last after this week," Spurrier reportedly quipped in the days before the game.

No, sir.

Florida's 708 total yards against Central Michigan shot the Gators up to fifth nationally.

Florida's rout raises the usual questions about Spurrier's reputation.

"If people want to say 'They run it up,' that's OK," Spurrier said Wednesday. "We can live with that. They've said it before."

They said it in 1994, when Florida outscored New Mexico State and Kentucky, 143-28, in consecutive weeks.

Did Spurrier go too far against Central Michigan?

He played five quarterbacks and cleared the bench after scoring 56 first-half points.

Starting quarterback Doug Johnson threw seven touchdown passes--all before intermission, when the Gators scored on seven of eight possessions.

"We did run it up in the first half, I'll admit to that," Spurrier said. "We tried to score every time we touched it."

Chippewa Coach Dick Lynn did not accuse Florida of piling it on, but some in the Central Michigan administration did.

"The general reaction has been that," one department official said, noting Florida threw a touchdown pass while leading, 49-3, in the second quarter. "They could have scored 100 points if they wanted to. They only missed by 18. They threw a no-hitter at us, carved us up. He could have named the score he wanted."

The better question is: What motivation was there for Spurrier not to run up scores?

With the lopsided victory, second-ranked Florida gained ground on No. 1 Penn State in this week's Associated Press poll--closing the gap from 73 votes to 30--presumably because the Nittany Lions didn't rub it in enough in their 34-17 victory over Pittsburgh.

Penn State players grumbled afterward about how their score would play nationally, citing historical precedent.

In 1994, the Nittany Lions lost their No. 1 ranking--and eventually the national championship--because Coach Joe Paterno chose to call off his Lions in the midst of a wipeout win at Indiana. Two late touchdowns against Paterno's second-team defense accounted for a misleading 35-29 final.

Penn State finished the season unbeaten, yet lost the national-title vote to Nebraska.

Will Paterno's high-ground position--Pitt scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Penn State reserves--cost him again?

"I think I'm obligated to those people," Paterno said of his backups.

"Somebody said, 'Well, don't you owe it to your team to protect your No. 1?' No, I owe it to everyone on the squad. I owe it to those kids who worked hard every day. If there is an opportunity to get them in the game, and they're not the stars, then I get them in the game. I'm going to continue to do that. If it ends up hurting us some [in the polls] it hurts us some. There's nothing I can do about the irrationality of other people."

Spurrier long has been a proponent of a national playoff, and this week's poll fluctuations are his best argument.

But since there is no playoff, and Spurrier gets a $99,000 bonus for winning the national title, and the only way you can get to the title game is to win over poll voters, well, tough luck Central Michigan.

"Yeah, without a playoff system, I guess it is important that you win by a few points, if you can," Spurrier acknowledged, "but still, on the other hand, it comes down in the end to who has the best record."

Gosh, maybe Gator haters have misjudged the coach all these years. Maybe Spurrier is not the egocentric blowout king they all think, but rather a visionary and an ardent advocate of change.

HEY, DIDN'T YOU USED TO BE GOOD?

Congratulations to Arizona State for cracking the AP poll this week, debuting at No. 24.

So what was it, last Friday's practice that dazzled voters?

The Sun Devils had a bye last week but will take any pub they can get given the defending Pacific 10 Conference champions have been all but mothballed as the media move on to the next fairy tale.

There's a reason for this.

Eleven players from last year's 11-1 Rose Bowl team made opening-day NFL rosters, including snake-hating quarterback Jake Plummer.

Bruce Snyder, last year's national coach of the year, hoped people wouldn't look at his program as a one-year wonder, but that obviously is the case.

"We had an exceptional class last year, no question about it," Snyder said. "It was reasonable to believe we were going to retreat some. Because it took a long time to have Jake and all those guys mature. We don't reload as some of the other schools might. But I do believe we won't retreat as much as people are guessing."

Publicly, Snyder has used the preseason snubs as motivation.

"I'm trying to do that, the chip on the shoulder thing, you guys are trash, just to keep them hungry," Snyder said of his tactics. "Because I do believe success can breed arrogance."

Privately?

"To some way of thinking, it's good we're ranked so low again," he said. "To be very honest, and my wife gets mad at me about this, I'm awfully pragmatic, I think, or rational. I don't fly off the handle that much. But, God, I think that's where we are."

No one is sending sympathy cards. The Sun Devils have plenty of young talent in stock and may be in line for another national-title run next year.

J.R. Redmond, a sophomore tailback from Carson, is already a terror, and the pass-catch combination of Ryan Kealy to Tariq McDonald may one day rival Plummer to Keith Poole.

Kealy, a redshirt freshman who won the starting job over junior Steve Campbell, and McDonald combined for 22 touchdowns in leading Phoenix's St. Mary's High to the state title.

The fate of this Arizona State incarnation, 1-0 after a 41-10 victory over New Mexico State on Aug. 30, soon will be determined.

The Sun Devils play at Miami on Saturday in the first of a six-game stretch that includes Brigham Young, Oregon State (whew), USC, Washington and Stanford.

TEMPLE OF DOOM

Temple football is so pathetic, the Philadelphia media did not discover that Coach Ron Dickerson had prostate cancer until two weeks after his surgery June 9.

Temple football is so low, Big East Conference presidents have scheduled a fall conference call to discuss Temple's football fate--with one option reportedly being a buyout.

The situation is so bleak Dickerson tried to quit last season after an emotional mea culpa breakdown loss to Pittsburgh but eventually was talked into returning.

The Big East powers--Miami, Syracuse, West Virginia, Virginia Tech--are frankly tired of Temple, and Rutgers for that matter, dragging the conference down.

Possible replacements already have been mentioned: Connecticut has a Dec. 31 deadline to move up to I-A for football. Central Florida and Navy have been mentioned as possibilities.

Temple, 0-1 after a 34-14 loss to Western Michigan on Aug. 28, could not have been more down Saturday when it . . . pulled off a 28-21 upset of Boston College.

For the Owls, it was a desperate and important moment toward Big East survival.

"I don't get into political ramifications that go on in and out of conference," Dickerson said. "I'm trying to mold this team and win some football games, put a competitive team on the field."

Temple is nothing if not determined.

"We're committed to I-A football, and we'll die trying," an athletic department spokesman said.

Saturday's victory was Temple's ninth in the last six years. Dickerson is 6-40 since taking over the program in 1993. The Owls are 2-33 in the Big East.

Convincing anyone other than alumnus Bill Cosby that Temple football is worth a dime is going to be a chore.

Saturday's game drew 5,805 at 68,000-seat Veterans Stadium.

Despite the mountain of evidence against him, Dickerson says he can bring the program back.

"I want to make Temple another Cinderella in college football," he said.

Good luck.

When Dickerson became ill last spring, one rival Big East school reportedly was telling potential recruits the Temple coach had colon cancer, which has a much lower cure rate.

Dickerson, 49, returned to his job six weeks after his surgery and reports he is feeling fine. "I told the team at the beginning of the year, the doctor said I'm not supposed to get flustered and riled, because I don't feel like dying this quick," Dickerson said. "I'm thankful for even being here right now."

Oh, Temple plays No. 1 Penn State this weekend at University Park.

QUICK KICKS

Thad Busby is 11-1 as a starter, but you have to wonder how long Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden will stick with the senior quarterback with Dan Kendra waiting on deck. . . . Bowden's strategy against USC? "No. 1. Bloody their noses." That's what Bowden wrote Friday night on the portable chalkboard in his top-floor suite at the Newport Beach Marriott.

Bob Knight Award: Disgusted his team was trailing Colorado State, 14-7, Colorado receiver Paul Savoy slammed two plastic chairs against the wall during halftime and then caught two third-quarter touchdown passes in the Buffaloes' 31-21 comeback victory at Boulder.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

INFOSTAT

Most victories by first-year Division I-A coaches

*--*

COACH, SCHOOL (YEAR) RECORD Gary Blackney, Bowling Green (1991) 11-1-0 John Robinson, USC (1976) 11-1-0 Bill Battle, Tennessee (1970) 11-1-0 Dick Crum, Miami, Ohio (1974) 10-0-1 Barry Switzer, Oklahoma (1973) 10-0-1 John Jenkins, Houston (1990) 10-1-0 Dwight Wallace, Ball St. (1978) 10-1-0 Chuck Fairbanks, Oklahoma (1967) 10-1-0 Mike Archer, LSU (1987) 10-1-1 Rick Neuheisel, Colorado (1995) 10-2-0 Curley Hallman, Southern Miss. (1988) 10-2-0 Pat Jones, Oklahoma St. (1984) 10-2-0 Earle Bruce, Tampa (1972) 10-2-0 Billy Kinard, Mississippi (1971) 10-2-0

*--*

Note: Bernie Oosterbaan, Michigan, 1948 (9-0-0) is the only first-year coach to win the national championship.

Researched by HOUSTON MITCHELL / Los Angeles Times

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