- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

Most of America slept through the most riveting donnybrook of the college football season.

Take last month’s insta-classic between top-ranked Southern California and Notre Dame, double the scoring and yardage, triple the momentum swings, mix in a career performance from the most exciting player in the nation and swap Charlie Weis’ gut for Pat Hill’s glare and you have USC vs. Fresno State.

Three thoughts on the proceedings, which began at 10:30 p.m. local time Saturday night and saw the plucky, anyone-anywhere Bulldogs pound out to a 21-13 halftime lead.

First, this is the leader in the clubhouse for game of the season, obviously pending the forthcoming Rose Bowl tussle between the Trojans and Texas. Both Southern Cal and Fresno State rallied from double-digit deficits to take the lead in this game, an extreme rarity. Overtime seemed imminent when the Bulldogs took possession trailing by the final tally (50-42) with 3:12 remaining and sprinted down the field, earning a first down at the USC 25-yard line with 1:54 left.

But Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar got a bit greedy with the end zone in sight, throwing into double coverage in a forced effort to find big-play specialist Paul Williams. USC safety Darnell Bing jumped under the route at the goal line to snatch away the interception (Pinegar’s fourth of the game) and the No. 16 Bulldogs’ upset bid with 1:37 remaining. But for 58:23, Hill’s Valley mutts pushed their pedigreed Southern neighbors to the absolute limit.

Second, Reggie Bush is so good the adjective worthy of his game has yet to be invented. He is Barry Sanders with hands. He is Marshall Faulk gone nasty. And Saturday’s performance at the Coliseum was his opus magnum.

Take away Bush and the Trojans lose to Fresno. Bush finished the game with a Pac-10 record 513 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 294 rushing yards on just 23 carries. In the third quarter alone, he had rushes of 36, 45 and 50 yards, the last two for touchdowns.

If he doesn’t win the Heisman, it will be less because of Vince Young and more because of voter ignorance. His 8.58 average yards a carry this season is the highest ever for a back with more than 150 carries, dwarfing the numbers of the next three players on the list — Mike Rozier (7.81 in 1983), Larry Johnson (7.70 in 2002) and Sanders (7.64 in 1988). Bush is simply the best back on the planet, period.

Third, though this team continues to find ways to win such games, USC’s defense, which ranks 43rd in the nation (351.0 yards a game), has worries. The Trojans are young on the Butkus side of the football, but they’re still stocked with more raw defensive talent than anyone else in the nation, and their coach is supposedly a defensive specialist. USC should not need to score 50 at home to beat a mid-major. This hasn’t been Pete Carroll’s most impressive season — not even close.

Gameballs — Bush and … Please, nobody in the NFL, let alone the college game, deserves a ball this week after the night Bush dropped on Fresno State. Now, the Back Judge will give some kudos to the man who is starting to resemble an old gameball. Well done, JoePa. You have posted a 10-1 record, won the Big Ten and earned your first BCS berth. Now, beat it! Get out while most of the football world is fawning and has forgotten the previous five-year spiral that resulted in four losing seasons.

Gassers — With a trip to the ACC title game on the line, Miami came up minuscule in a 14-10 loss to Georgia Tech at the Orange Bowl. The Back Judge’s favorite stat: The ‘Canes converted just one of 15 chances on third down in a cosmic display of incompetence.

Now, let’s give out some no-doubt pink slips to coaches who need to turn in their headphones. Texas A&M;’s Dennis Franchione and Kentucky’s Rich Brooks both have earned the boot, with three-season runs resulting in 16-18 and 9-24 records, respectively. But nobody deserves a pink Christmas like Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer, who has managed to guide the preseason third-ranked Volunteers to a 4-6 campaign. The Vols had their bowl eligibility doomed Saturday in a 28-24 loss to longtime SEC doormat Vanderbilt. This season’s Vols are one of the most disappointing teams in the modern college football era. It’s compost pile time for the Great Pumpkin.

Just in case there wasn’t enough evidence Fulmer had lost control of his team, several Tennessee players threw their helmets on the field after Saturday’s loss at Neyland Stadium and left them for trainers to collect. Now that’s school pride.

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