The Big East's Final Fling

Times Staff Writer

Well, at least they have made it interesting.

The final days of the Big East, as we've known it, are at hand and the race for the championship is down to three teams with 5-1 conference records. It's perhaps the only compelling conference race remaining.

Miami, Pittsburgh and West Virginia share the Big East lead going into the final weekend of the season. Miami and Pittsburgh play next week at Pittsburgh and West Virginia plays host to Temple.

If Miami wins, the No. 13 Hurricanes will be conference champions and will advance to a bowl championship series game. If Pittsburgh wins, the No. 21 Panthers must hope Temple upsets West Virginia for Pittsburgh to claim the conference title and a BCS bid.

West Virginia can win only if Pittsburgh defeats Miami and the No. 25 Mountaineers defeat the Owls, who are 1-10, 0-6 in the Big East.

Got it?

Kind of makes you wonder why they wanted to break up the conference in the first place. With Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech bolting for the Atlantic Coast Conference, lured by the potential of bigger bucks in an expanded conference with a championship game, the Big East is set for one superb final weekend.

The fact that Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald is a Heisman Trophy candidate only heightens the conference's appeal.

Plus, there's the distinct possibility that Temple could muck things up by pulling off the upset that has eluded the Owls the last two weeks.

Despite being one of the doormats of Division I-A, Temple forced Virginia Tech to overtime before missing an extra point last week. Saturday, the Owls rallied from a 21-3 deficit before falling to Pittsburgh, 30-16.

Miami has been anything but predictable this season, barely defeating West Virginia and needing a bounce-back performance by quarterback Brock Berlin to subdue Rutgers. Berlin was benched for last week's victory over Syracuse.

West Virginia, which has upset Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, defeated Syracuse, 34-23, on Saturday for its first victory at the Carrier Dome in a decade.

"To play for the Big East championship is huge," Pittsburgh Coach Walt Harris said after the Panthers' victory over Temple.

And considering the defections earlier in the season, who would have expected anyone to say something like that?

Paterno's Last Stand?

Penn State lost its ninth game of the season, falling to Michigan State, 41-10, and igniting more talk about the future of Joe Paterno, its 76-year-old coach. Some of it came from Paterno, who has said he won't quit.

"This is as bad a football game as we've played in a long time," Paterno said. "I want to get out of here, get on a plane, go home and hug my wife."

Paterno indicated he would think about this season for the next two weeks, then begin preparing for 2004, his 39th year as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions ended the season with a 3-9 record, 1-7 in the Big Ten.

"I'm glad this game is over," he said. "Nothing quite worked out the way we had hoped it would work. I thought we were getting close, but today was one of those games where nothing goes right."

John L. Smith, Michigan State coach, said Paterno should coach again next season.

"You're talking about an individual who has done more for kids than anyone in the country," Smith said. "He should be given the opportunity to do whatever he wants, because he's earned that.... In the coaching profession, we all look up to that because he's done it the right way. He's educated kids. He's a positive influence on his kids. And who cares about how many games he wins?"

Terrapin Television

Maryland has been a disappointment this season, but that doesn't mean the Terrapins haven't established themselves as a team to watch. In fact, fans can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the Terrapins and, especially, Coach Ralph Friedgen.

FridgeTV.com, a new Internet site devoted to the portly coach and aimed at fans and especially recruits, has shown pregame pep talks and other events that newspaper and television reporters are not allowed to cover.

"I don't want any cursing on there," Friedgen said. "I think it's important to get the emotions and the feelings of the team out there, but there are limits.... I just think we have to be careful. It's a very powerful medium."

One that might finally eliminate the need for annoying sideline reporters.

BYU's Big Bagel

If it seemed like a lifetime since Brigham Young had been shut out, well, that's because it last happened before any members of the current squad were born.

When BYU lost to Utah, 3-0, it marked the first shutout by an opponent since Arizona State blanked the Cougars, 20-0, on Sept. 27, 1975. BYU last was shut out at home in September 1970 by Texas El Paso, 17-0.

On a windy, snowy afternoon at Provo, Utah, BYU had only 156 yards of offense. Utah gained 220 yards and Bryan Borreson kicked a 41-yard field goal, clinching the Mountain West championship for the Utes.

Utah's last outright conference football title was in 1957.

Snowbound In Laramie

New Mexico and Wyoming braved a 9-degree temperature at the kickoff, with the wind chill dipping to minus-14 by game's end.

Of course, it also must be pointed out that the Lobos could go back to the relative warmth of Albuquerque after a 26-3 victory that gave them the Western Athletic Conference Mountain Division championship.

The Cowboys were stuck in Laramie.

After the game, New Mexico (8-4, 5-2 in conference play) accepted a bid to play in the Insight Bowl. The Lobos' record is their best since a 9-4 mark in 1997.

"I thought the weather hurt both offenses," Lobo Coach Rocky Long said. "It was cold enough that nobody had an advantage."

A crowd of 8,751 attended the game, and each fan was rewarded with a free ticket to the Wyoming-Southern Illinois basketball game.

Anchors Aweigh

Navy's 63-34 victory over Central Michigan made the Midshipmen bowl-eligible, with a 7-4 record sure to bring their first bowl bid since 1996. Navy, which has had only nine winning seasons in the last 40 years, ends the regular season Dec. 6 against Army.

Representatives of the Motor City Bowl attended Saturday's game.

The nation's top rushing team, Navy gained 530 yards on the ground against Central Michigan, the second-highest total in school history. Craig Candeto led Navy with 150 yards and three touchdowns.

The Last Is Best

Eighty years of football at East Tennessee State ended with a 22-yard game-winning field goal with two seconds to play by Jonathan Godfrey, who grew up near the Johnson City campus and said he dreamed of kicking the winning field goal.

"It was great to see everybody smiling one last time," Godfrey said after a 16-13 victory over The Citadel. "We will remember for the rest of our lives ... that last kick that went through the uprights ended 80 years of football at ETSU."

The school decided before the season began to drop the football program for financial reasons.

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

To the Victors Go the Spoils

A look at some of Saturday's rivalry games and the trophies for the winning teams:

*--* UCLA vs. USC Washington vs. California vs. Stanford Purdue vs. Indiana Washington State Victory Bell Apple Cup Stanford Axe Old Oaken Bucket Result: USC, 47-22 Result: Result: California, 28-16 Result: Purdue, 24-16 Washington, 27-19 USC leads, 39-27-7 Washington Stanford leads, 54-41-11 Purdue leads, 65-35-6 leads, 63-27-6

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