- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

The Washington Times’ Barker Davis takes a look back at the week that was in college football.

Who is No. 3?

The major story line after the second full weekend of the college football season is the enormous talent/performance chasm that continues to widen between the game’s dynamic duo of USC and Oklahoma and the rest of the nation.

Also-rans Michigan (lost), Florida State (lost), Miami (should have lost), Texas (should have lost), Georgia (nearly lost) and Ohio State (nearly lost) followed last week’s dreadful performance by LSU with pedestrian efforts of their own. That clouded the picture behind college football’s titan tandem.

Thus far, none of these usual suspects deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the Trojans and Sooners because none has played like a top-10 team, much less an Orange Bowl challenger. Simply put, legitimate top-5 teams not only beat unranked opponents, they routinely pound into submission second-tier teams, regardless of location (see USC 49, Colorado State 0). They do not need to rely on kickers gagging extra points (LSU), last-second, 55-yard field goals (Ohio State) or last-minute turnovers from decidedly inferior opponents (Georgia and Texas) to slither to victory.

Therefore, California, Purdue and Fresno State earned the Back Judge’s votes for Nos. 3-5 this week in admittedly the oddest-looking ballot he has filed in his five years as an Associated Press pollster. Actually, the Back Judge was sorely tempted to rank Fresno State No. 3; the Bulldogs have had by far the most impressive start of any team in the nation. Nobody has handled two tougher foes with such merciless efficiency.

In consecutive weeks, Pat Hill’s intrepid WAC road warriors walked into Washington and Kansas State and boot-heeled their major-conference hosts by an average of 22 points.

Fresno’s sacking of Manhattan (45-21), where then-No. 13 Kansas State had won 32 of 37 since 1999, marked the Wildcats’ worst home loss in a decade. Unranked Fresno State, not a Big 12 behemoth like Oklahoma, Nebraska or Texas, is responsible for the worst modern home humiliation of the Bill Snyder era. And adding insult to injury, the Bulldogs officially snuffed Darren Sproles’ Heisman campaign, holding the senior tailback to 37 yards on 11 carries.

Frankly, the Back Judge is disappointed his cohorts saw fit to elevate Fresno State to only No. 19 in this week’s AP poll. Sure, the Back Judge wouldn’t expect Fresno to travel to Miami (which he ranked No. 8 after a sluggish opener) and beat the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. But you shouldn’t rank teams based on hypotheticals; with two games in the books for most teams, rankings should be based on this season’s performances, not last season’s results or this season’s expectations.

Who has played a tougher schedule than Fresno State? Nobody.

Who has handled roughly equivalent competition with comparable ease? Only those teams the Back Judge ranked Nos. 1-4.

Nix Rix

Perhaps it’s time to suggest that Florida State senior quarterback Chris Rix is the most disappointing mega-recruit in the history of the program. He cemented his 0-5 career record against Miami with a four-turnover effort in Friday night’s 16-10 overtime loss. College football’s Human TO has a surreal 13 turnovers in his five starts against the ‘Canes and just five touchdowns. The Back Judge challenges his readers to come up with anyone who has committed more turnovers against one team in his college career.

FSU’s Bobby Bowden, normally one to take a bullet for any of his players, was near-scathing in his postgame assessment of Rix on Friday night and seems ready to make a change.

“[Rix] wasn’t good. It wasn’t the performance I expected,” said Bowden, who never has won a game decided by single-digits against Miami (0-11). “It’s going to fall on the responsibility of the coaching staff to do the right thing in regard to his play.”

Gameballs

This week’s team kudos go to Tyrone Willingham and Notre Dame, who rebounded from their season-opening debacle at BYU by physically thrashing a solid Michigan team at Notre Dame Stadium 28-20. Willingham needed the win to quiet his critics, and his Irish charges responded.

This week’s individual laurels go to Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton, who was almost flawless in the Boilermakers’ 59-7 victory over Ball State, completing 23 of 26 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Honestly, it would be difficult to better those stats throwing against an empty secondary. Orton, now 39 of 56 for 616 yards and nine touchdowns, is officially in the Heisman race. And the Boilermakers (2-0), who have outscored their first two opponents by only 110-7, are the clear favorites to win the Big Ten.

Goat horns

Though there were certainly players who had a more negative impact on their team (see Rix), nobody had a more shameful weekend than Arkansas’ Arrion Dixon. Here’s hoping the SEC office was watching, as a national viewing audience was on ESPN, when the defensive tackle blatantly wrenched the ankle of Texas quarterback Vince Young after a near-sack in the third quarter. It’s often difficult to draw the line between ferocious and vicious play, but Dixon’s post-play malice was such a stunningly obvious breach of sportsmanship and decency. He clearly intended to injure Young after the play, and the Back Judge would be shocked if Dixon doesn’t draw a suspension. In fact, the Back Judge would like to challenge Arkansas coach Houston Nutt to prove his moral mettle by meting out a suspension to Dixon. A two-game sitdown, a personal letter of apology to Young and about five laps around Fayetteville should be sufficient.

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