- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

The Washington Times’ college football writer takes a look at the week that was.

It’s statement time for Southern Cal.

With solid Saturday victories from fellow unbeaten Orange Bowl suitors Auburn and Oklahoma in the books, the top-ranked Trojans must now take their turn playing Russian roulette with college football’s BCS revolver.

The Trojans (10-0, 7-0 Pac-10) will play six quarters of football on national TV before either the Tigers (11-0, 8-0 SEC) or Sooners (11-0, 8-0 Big 12) take the field again in their respective conference title games on Dec.4, and poll voters will be riveted to USC’s games against dangerous Notre Dame (Saturday) and at bitter rival UCLA (Dec.4 at 4:30p.m.) to see how the Trojans handle their turn in the spotlight.

Frankly, the Back Judge tends to agree with the criticism leveled at poll voters by both Bob Stoops and Tommy Tuberville last week. Why has all the BCS flap been focused on Oklahoma and Auburn? Why has USC been granted balloting immunity and exempted from the No.3 discussion. Who have the Trojans beaten this season?

USC’s season-opening win over Virginia Tech (24-13) looks better and better. But its only other victories over ranked teams (California and Arizona State) came at home. And despite falling at the Coliseum 23-17, Cal outplayed USC, more than doubling the Trojans in both yardage (424-205) and first downs (28-12).

USC apologists will claim the Trojans shouldn’t be punished just because the Pac-10 is down. So who should suffer for the soft state of the Patsy-10? Auburn? Oklahoma? Such a notion is obviously absurd. Fact is, USC not only needs to beat Notre Dame and UCLA to stay ahead of Oklahoma on the Back Judge’s ballot, it needs to beat them convincingly.

SECond to none — It was a banner week for the SEC. First, the world learned Steve Spurrier was headed to South Carolina. In the pantheon of SEC coaching greats, the Visored One ranks below only Bear Bryant. Even if Spurrier spends as much time at Augusta National as he does in Columbia, his return to the SEC certainly boosts the conference’s Q-rating and cements the SEC East as the toughest division in the college game.

Not to be totally overshadowed by the re-emergence of its former coach, Florida then closed out its regular season Saturday night with a 20-13 upset of No.10 Florida State. Now, there’s no question that the new-look ACC has closed the gap on the SEC in the gridiron goliath category. But it certainly smarts for ACC suits when a pedestrian Florida team with a lame duck coach stumbles into Tallahassee and drops their league’s top-ranked team.

Heisman update — Utah’s Alex Smith lasted exactly one week as the Back Judge’s bronze boy front-runner. The Utes (11-0) might be headed to the Fiesta Bowl and BCS glory following Saturday’s 52-21 rout of BYU. But Smith isn’t headed for any hardware after throwing for just 184 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions.

The Back Judge’s current Heisman leader is a familiar front-runner — Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson. AD single-handedly flattened Baylor (35-0), rushing for 240 yards and three touchdowns to jump to third place on the NCAA’s list of best freshman seasons. Peterson needs 193 yards in the Big 12 title game to eclipse Ron Dayne (1,863 yards in 1996) as the all-time freshman rushing champion.

Interestingly, Peterson’s 11-game stats (284 rushes, 1,671 yards) are nearly identical to those of Herschel Walker from 1980 (274 rushes, 1,616 yards). Practically every Heisman voter the Back Judge has talked to from 1980 has admitted in retrospect the Heisman Trophy that season should have gone to Walker.

Game balls and gassers — This week’s team leather goes to Penn State, Ohio State and Florida, the trio of schools who salvaged a measure of dignity in otherwise abysmal seasons via Saturday shockers.

The Back Judge’s individual game ball goes to South Carolina tackle Na’Shan Goddard. The Gamecocks were mauled by Clemson both during and after the game, but Goddard did author this gem on the Holtz-to-Spurrier transition:

“That’s like going from J. Lo to Halle Berry. We’re getting a real good dude.”

The Back Judge gives his gasser to a man who could use a little exercise — Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen. Now Fridge is a star, and the Back Judge is a big fan. But Thursday night was not one of his finer moments, and not just because his Terps absorbed a 55-6 beatdown from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Obviously angry his supposed pal, Frank Beamer, was attempting a field goal with the Hokies already up 38-3 on Maryland with six seconds left in the half, Friedgen called back-to-back timeouts which were clearly not intended to ice Tech’s kicker. Big Ralph’s TOs were intended to send a message to Beamer: “You’re pounding us 38-3, and you’re stopping the clock to kick a field goal? What’s the deal? Are you trying to embarrass me?”

Guess what, Fridge? Your boys already had embarrassed you. And your pouty timeouts were a clear case of misdirected anger. Peel the paint in the locker room by berating your heartless players. But don’t point any fingers across the field; those down by 35 points have no finger-pointing privileges. Coach Bill Curry delivered the defining quote on running up the score years ago when a muckraking reporter broached the subject after Curry’s Kentucky team had suffered a four-quarter flogging from Florida and merciless opposing coach Steve Spurrier:

“The offense’s job is to score. The defense’s job is to stop the offense. That’s football. It’s a man’s game where no quarter is asked and none is given. How can you dare to criticize another man for doing his job when you aren’t doing yours?”

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