Ohio State Shocker
1 How was that for a national title game?
Ohio State, almost a two-touchdown underdog, took advantage of five turnovers and a controversial official’s call to score a 31-24, double-overtime victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
The game had everything you’d want, most of all a gutsy performance by Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel, who took some hard hits but somehow managed to finish as the game’s MVP and the leading rusher.
The Ohio State victory gave the Buckeyes their first national title since 1968 and ended Miami’s 34-game winning streak. It also denied the Hurricanes a chance at consecutive national championships and the opportunity to next year make a run at Oklahoma’s major college record of 47 consecutive wins.
Other than that, it was just another Fiesta Bowl.
Palmer Wins Heisman
2 USC senior Carson Palmer started the season as a quarterback who had failed to live up to expectations but went on an incredible late-season tear to capture the 68th Heisman Trophy. Big games against rival schools UCLA and Notre Dame vaulted Palmer to a runaway victory in the final balloting, ending the so-called “East Coast bias” jinx. Palmer was the first Pac-10 player to win the award since USC’s Marcus Allen in 1981. Palmer made Heisman voters look smart as he turned in another dominating performance in the Orange Bowl, outplaying Iowa quarterback Brad Banks, who finished second in the voting.
3 Louisiana State beats Kentucky, 33-30: Let this be a lesson to all you players out there: Never, ever dump Gatorade on your coach until you actually win the game! Kentucky thought it had Louisiana State beaten in Lexington on Nov. 9, but a last-second desperation pass changed all that.
Devery Henderson caught a deflected, 75-yard scoring pass from quarterback Marcus Randall to cap an incredible victory that ranks in college football annals with Doug Flutie’s miracle pass against Miami and Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook against Michigan.
Kentucky fans, too busy celebrating to know what happened, were trying to tear down the goal posts on the opposite end of the field while Henderson was scoring the game-winning touchdown.
A few weeks later, though, LSU felt Kentucky’s pain, as the Tigers lost the SEC West title to Arkansas on a last-minute scoring pass.
Rose Bowl Woes
4 It wasn’t a good year for the Rose Bowl, which ended a tumultuous stretch by staging the lowest-attended game since 1944. The Granddaddy of bowl games paid a political price for agreeing to join the bowl championship series in 1998, as it was unable to secure either Big Ten co-champions Ohio State or Iowa and to make a traditional Pac-10/Big Ten matchup.
To make matters worse, the Orange Bowl ended up with USC against Iowa, the best bowl matchup possible. The Rose Bowl had to settle for Washington State against Oklahoma, and suffered another blow when Cougar Coach Mike Price announced before the game he was leaving to coach at Alabama.
5 Alabama, already on NCAA probation for a series of seedy transgressions, got another jolt when Coach Dennis Franchione left the school to become coach at Texas A&M.; Franchione outraged Crimson Tide followers by not even saying goodbye to his players. After first bumbling the search for a new coach, Alabama took a huge gamble and hired Price, who may not have a clue what he’s getting into at one of the nation’s most closely scrutinized football programs. Crimson Tide fans wanting to get a sneak peek at their new coach probably turned off their television sets after watching Price’s vaunted offense lay an egg against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Return to Glory
6 Or was it? Tyrone Willingham took a 5-6 Notre Dame team and led the program to a 10-win season, yet three late-season losses put a taint on his first-year accomplishments. After an 8-0 start, Notre Dame broke out the green jerseys against Boston College and lost, then, after a freebie win against Rutgers, finished the season with blowout defeats against USC and North Carolina State. The way the season ended made it unclear whether Notre Dame football is back for good. The Irish, remember, pulled out several close-call wins early in the season against Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Pittsburgh.
7 For years, Nebraska football seemed immune from the downturns that had beset all of the major college football powers.
Until this year.
Nebraska endured is first non-winning season in 40 years with a 7-7 finish, the year ending with a loss to Mississippi in the Independence Bowl.
The Cornhuskers’ fall came hard and fast, only a year after appearing in last year’s national title game. Coach Frank Solich was forced to make changes on his coaching staff, firing his defensive coordinator, Craig Bohl.
8 Is Joe Paterno losing his grip after all these years?
The legendary Penn State coach turned the Nittany Lions around after consecutive losing seasons, but his run-ins with Big Ten officials became national news and left some wondering whether the conference had a double-standard for major college football’s winningest coach.
Tension began after Paterno raced after official Dick Honig after an overtime loss to Iowa. Paterno grabbed Honig near the stadium tunnel to debate some questionable calls. After another tough loss to Michigan, Paterno again attacked the officiating, but was never reprimanded by the conference office.
Some fear Paterno is headed for a Woody Hayes-type meltdown that might cost him his job. Hayes punched a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Paterno turned 76 in December.
9 Iowa fans were livid four years ago when the school picked Kirk Ferentz to succeed Hayden Fry as the football coach, botching the chance to snag Bob Stoops, a former Hawkeye who seemed destined for the job.
Stoops ended up at Oklahoma, leaving Iowa with leftovers. In his first year, Ferentz’s team went 1-10 and winless in the Big Ten, but three years later he led the Hawkeyes to a share of the conference crown. The highlight was a 34-9 victory at Michigan, the Wolverines’ worst home loss since the 1960s.
Iowa fell flat in Thursday’s Orange Bowl loss to USC, but the Hawkeyes have come a long way since 1-10.
UCLA Fires Toledo
10 Despite a 49-32 career record, UCLA canned Bob Toledo after a season-ending loss to Washington State, then watched interim coach, Ed Kezirian, lead Toledo’s players to a Las Vegas Bowl victory over New Mexico. UCLA’s win, it turned out, was only one of two bowl victories garnered by the Pac-10, which went 2-5.
Toledo’s full-term successor turned out to be Karl Dorrell, a former Bruin receiver plucked from the Denver Broncos’ coaching staff. Dorrell has no head coaching experience, but he was pushed hard by alumni who wanted to bring a family feeling to the program.
It won’t be a happy family unless Dorrell can beat USC.