A Crackling Opening Day

Times Staff Writer

There was electricity in the air Saturday. An off-season punctuated by arrests, ineligibility, alleged academic fraud, suspensions and hirings and firings came to a crashing end with the first full day of college football, and a full slate of news that had nothing to do with a police blotter.

The games began and, in the case of the Colorado-Colorado State game at Denver, there really was electricity in the air.

Heavy rain fell and lightning struck just as Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt completed an 82-yard touchdown pass play to Derek McCoy with 3:11 left in the third quarter of the unranked Buffaloes’ 42-35 upset over the No. 23 Rams.

The Buffaloes kicked the extra point, then ran with the Rams, game officials and other sideline personnel toward the locker rooms, to wait for 28 minutes for the storm to pass the stadium.



“I don’t know what to do because I’ve never been through anything like this before,” Colorado Coach Gary Barnett, who had his rain slicker pulled tight, said when ESPN’s sideline reporter asked him how he would keep his team sharp during the delay.

All anyone expected was the unexpected when the Buffaloes and Rams met.

After all, Ram quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt ensured this game would be closely watched after tossing the ball at a Buff after scoring the go-ahead touchdown in Colorado State’s victory last season. He then called Colorado the worst seventh-ranked team he had ever seen, and didn’t back away from his year-old comments in the days leading up to the rematch Saturday.


There was an unconfirmed rumor that a bounty had been placed on Van Pelt’s head.

In the end, the Buffaloes settled for delivering a payback with a last-minute victory -- sparked by Klatt -- after the Rams had won three of the last four meetings.

The teams played nice, although the weather didn’t for a time in the second half.


Victory or Sigh of Relief?

Down, 17-7, late in the second quarter, and looking like a fragile team after a tumultuous off-season, Alabama had to rally for a 40-17 victory over the South Florida Bulls at Legion Field.

Winning by a lopsided margin was one way to put the past in the past. Well, for one afternoon, anyway.

Losing would have meant more unwanted scrutiny for Alabama and Mike Shula, its third coach in nine months. Dennis Franchione bolted unexpectedly in December for Texas A&M.; Mike Price got the boot in May after partying in Pensacola, Fla.


Which left Shula, a former Tide quarterback who had never been a head coach at any level, to help reduce the crimson faces around Tuscaloosa, Ala. Which wasn’t happening in the early going against South Florida.

Brian Fisher ran for one touchdown and caught another and Santiago Gramatica, of the kicking Gramaticas, booted a 45-yard field goal for South Florida. Suddenly, Price’s wild-and-crazy nights on the Redneck Riviera were merely an off-season distraction for Tide fans.

Things would improve.

“A lot of attention has been focused on me this week, but those guys are the ones who have been working hard and they’re the ones who went out there and made the plays,” Shula said, referring to players such as Shaud Williams, who had 177 total yards and scored three touchdowns in the second half.


Any Team, Any Place

Tennessee has the second-toughest schedule of any team in the country, ranking a notch behind Southeastern Conference rival Alabama.

So says one national preseason magazine.


So what does that make Fresno State’s schedule?

After a visit to Rocky Top, the Underdogs, er, Bulldogs, play host to Oregon State next week, hit the road to play No. 1 Oklahoma the following week, then open their Western Athletic Conference schedule with a home date against a Louisiana Tech team that gave defending national runner-up Miami fits for, oh, 10 minutes Thursday.

Sort of makes you wonder if Coach Pat Hill has spent too much time baking like a raisin in the hot Fresno sun.

There is a method to his madness, of course. Nothing ventured means nothing gained for Fresno State, which was hoping for a repeat of 2001 when the Bulldogs upset Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin to start the season. The Bulldogs also defeated Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Bowl to end last season with a 9-5 record.

“We are trying to find out where our program ranks with the big guys,” Hill said on the eve of Fresno State’s second game against a SEC team. In 1996, Auburn edged Fresno, 62-0.

Saturday, playing without starting quarterback Paul Pinegar because of a pulled chest muscle, Fresno lost to the No. 12 Volunteers, 24-6. Tennessee lost its shutout when Richard Marshall returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown.

Tennessee fans apparently didn’t take the Underdogs as seriously as did the team, failing to sell out Neyland Stadium for a season opener for the first time since 1974.


August Madness, Anyone?

You might expect to see Connecticut and Indiana playing hoops in late March in the closing rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, but football? You didn’t know Indiana played Division I-A football, did you?

Actually, UConn was the school making its I-A debut, playing in front of a near-capacity crowd of 40,000 at its new $90-million stadium in East Hartford, built on the site of an old airfield used by aviation pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

With Gov. John G. Rowland in attendance, UConn took a 34-10 victory at Rentschler Field. Not a bad way to begin for the Huskies, but considering the woebegone Hoosiers have lost seven consecutive games, perhaps it’s not yet time for UConn to dream of a BCS invite.

Of course, the Huskies do play Army next week, then Boston College and Buffalo -- before reality sets in with a date Sept. 27 against No. 9 Virginia Tech at Blacksburg, Va.


But It Looks Good on You

Oklahoma, hosting North Texas, wore throwback uniforms of the type apparently worn before television was invented. There was no “O” and no “U” on the helmets. No “Oklahoma” across the front of the jerseys. Only Crimson and Scream.

Illinois, playing Missouri at St. Louis, wore all-Orange uniforms that could have burned a hole in your TV. Think giant orange candy slices with a bit of dark blue thrown in for good measure.

Oregon, facing Mississippi State at Starkville, wore very yellow uniforms (with green trim) that made its unfortunate players look like rubber ducks rather than mighty ducks.

Give Oregon the Ugly Duckling award for having the worst of the worst uniforms. In a word: Yuck.


Associated Press contributed to this report.