- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Forget New Year’s Day with its insipid parades and duo of missing BCS behemoths. This is college football’s D-day.

If you’re going to pick one day all season to beg for a “honey-do” reprieve, this is it. If you’re looking for the perfect date to hold a nonstop, couch-sprawling, eye-blurring,12-hour pigskin fiesta, welcome home.

“It’s just a bonanza,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “It’s the best slate of pivotal games I can remember. It’s the kind of day that makes you long for five TVs and a swivel recliner.”

League championships hang in the balance in the Big 12, Big East, SEC, Pac-10 and Big Ten. Heisman Trophy hopefuls clash in Norman and Blacksburg, classic college towns that need no state designations. And most importantly, national title implications are everywhere as the top 10 teams in the BCS standings face showdowns against bitter state foes, traditional league rivals or longtime nemeses.

Each of the nation’s top four teams faces its toughest task of the season against a ranked conference opponent.

No.1 Oklahoma (8-0, 4-0 Big 12) plays host to No.14 Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1) in the latest installation of the Bedlam Series. In each of the last two seasons, the Cowboys shocked the Sooners, knocking them out of national title contention behind senior AllAmerican receiver and Heisman dark horse Rashaun Woods. This season’s Oklahoma State team is much stronger than its predecessors, but Oklahoma complements the nation’s most daunting defense with a vertical passing attack conducted by senior quarterback and midseason Heisman favorite Jason White.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s the biggest game of our season, given the way they’ve handled us the last two years,” said White, who has thrown 25 touchdown passes against just four interceptions this season. “It will be bedlam.”

No.2 Miami (7-0, 3-0 Big East) must travel to No.10 Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1), where the Hokies have won three of the last four meetings.

No.3 Southern California (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) is home against No.6 Washington State (7-1, 3-1) for the inside track to the league title and possibly the Pac-10’s first trip to a BCS title game. The Trojans, who have pasted every opponent by 20 points or more since a stunning loss at California on Sept.27, would jump Florida State (7-1) in the BCS standings with a victory over the Cougars, but Washington State has won the last two meetings. And the Cougars resent both their underdog status and all the chatter about USC’s talent glut.

“Don’t forget we’re the defending Pac-10 champs,” said Washington State defensive end Isaac Brown, a senior starter on the conference’s stingiest defense (16.9 points a game). “Don’t get me wrong; I like being the underdog. But should we be? Probably not. We beat them last year when they had the Heisman Trophy winner [Carson Palmer]. … And we beat them the time before that. I’ve never lost to USC, and I don’t plan on leaving there with a loss this time.”

In the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” No.4 Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) limps into its annual showdown with Florida (5-3, 3-2) in Jacksonville. An astounding 17 players who have started for the Bulldogs this season, including All-American defensive end David Pollack, are listed as out or questionable for today’s game against the 23rd-ranked Gators. And while Georgia is beset by health concerns and doubts against a Florida program that has won five straight in the series, the Gators are in the midst of a remarkable midseason turnaround. Riding the arm of true freshman phenom Chris Leak, Florida has pulled back-to-back road upsets over LSU and Arkansas.

“We’re on fumes, and they’re firing on all cylinders and foaming at the mouth,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s gut check time.”

The undercard for the Fab Four is almost as impressive. No.11 Michigan (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) faces No.9 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) in East Lansing for Big Ten supremacy, No.5 Florida State (7-1) visits Notre Dame (2-5), No.8 Ohio State (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) meets proud but struggling Penn State (2-6, 0-4) in Happy Valley and No.12 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 Big 12) takes on No.16 Texas (6-2, 3-1) in Austin.

It’s the kind of day that spawned the sports bar. Sit back and enjoy.

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