- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Please join us in a moment of silence for the Big Ten. The nation’s oldest major conference entered the weekend with three teams ranked in the top 10 and exited without a dog in the Rose Bowl race.

No. 3 Michigan was abysmal at home against Notre Dame, losing to the resurgent Irish 17-10 largely because sophomore quarterback Chad Henne performed like a man who spent Friday night going through progressions at an Ann Arbor kegger. Henne finished 19 of 44 with a touchdown, an interception, a fumble and about six telegraph jobs deflected by the Irish defensive line. It was enough to make the Back Judge want to watch tennis.

No. 4 Ohio State, despite playing rather well for most of the game, fell at home to Texas 25-22 courtesy of some late-game heroics from Vince Young and Co. There was a certain poetic justice to the outcome. Not only did maligned Mack Brown snap his losing streak against top 10 teams by improving his career record against such heavyweights to 4-20, but Ohio State’s Jim Tressel finally lost a close game.

Tressel, who mystifyingly managed to come through Ohio State’s two years of NCAA accusations, investigations, resignations and suspensions with his stoic Boy Scout image intact, entered Saturday night’s game with a leprechaun-shaming 15-3 record in single-digit games dating to 2002. Perhaps karma finally is ready to balance the ledger against Ohio State’s Saint Sweatervest.

Finally, No. 8 Iowa was boot-heeled 23-3 by Iowa State. Nobody, nobody struts into Ames and strolls out in one piece, baby. Fear the Fighting Twisters. The Cyclones concussed Iowa quarterback and Big Ten preseason player of the year Drew Tate in the first quarter and never looked back.

Goodbye, Big Ten; we hardly knew ye.

Game balls and gassers

For the first time ever, our golden game-ball award goes to a player on a losing team, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. In a game that featured offensive dynamos like Texas Heisman Trophy hopeful Vince Young and Ohio State gamebreakers Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes, Hawk easily was the best player on the field Saturday night.

In a performance that shouldn’t be overshadowed by the Longhorns’ last-minute heroics, Hawk had a game-high 12 tackles, including three for losses, and two sacks. He also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted an ill-advised Young pass, returning it 24 yards to set up a field goal that put the Buckeyes up 13-10 midway through the second quarter. Quite simply, Hawk was a Manimal, putting on a show worthy of a Miller High Life commercial.

Here’s to you, Mr. Hawk. Never was a man so aptly named.

The week’s other game balls go to coach Frank Solich and defensive back Dion Byrum of Ohio University, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Vanderbilt.

Solich, exiled from Nebraska after a 9-3 season two years ago, led Ohio to the biggest win in school history Thursday night against Pittsburgh (16-10, OT) thanks to two interceptions returned for touchdowns by Byrum. Amazingly, Byrum also had a pick six against Northwestern in the Bobcats’ opener.

By the way, there’s something morbidly satisfying about watching Dave Wannstedt flounder at Pitt. There are so many Spurrier-to-Redskins, Carroll-to-USC and Weis-to-Notre Dame examples that seem to suggest that NFL coaching is vastly superior to college coaching that it’s refreshing to see a moderately successful NFL coach like Wannstedt looking like a complete monkey in his debut as a college head coach.

Peterson rebounded from a miserable day against TCU to put himself right back in the Heisman mix with a 220-yard eruption against Tulsa. The Sooner sophomore averaged 6.9 yards on 32 carries and scored three times to push the wobbling Sooner Schooner past lowly Tulsa 31-15.

Vanderbilt gets love for upsetting Arkansas 28-24, one of the more stunning results in the SEC over the last decade. The Commodores, often called the “Commodes” for their long-standing role as SEC Port-A-John, haven’t won two games in September since Caesar was in diapers.

This week’s gassers go to Marshall and Temple.

The Thundering Herd gifted a 21-19 victory to Kansas State in Huntington on Saturday when backup quarterback Jimmy Skinner misplaced his brain in the waning seconds. Marshall had one timeout remaining and had driven to the Kansas State 21 with nine seconds remaining when Skinner lost his mind, running a pass play and throwing a game-ending interception in lieu of a pair of obvious intelligent options: (a) spike the ball and attempt a game-winning field goal, or (b) move the ball to the center of the field via a running play, call a timeout and attempt a game-winning field goal.

First-year Marshall coach Mark Snyder claimed afterward that Skinner became confused in the last-second chaos of the moment. Gee, Coach, you think? So why didn’t Snyder call time out? There are no excuses for such a debacle.

And finally, it’s time to pose the annual question: Why is Temple still playing Division I-A football? Does the school really need the money so badly that it’s willing to subject students (nobody would call the gridiron Owls student-athletes) to week-in, week-out humiliation?

The Owls, who have beaten just two I-A opponents since the start of 2003, were blasted 65-0 by Wisconsin in a game where they had a total of 7 yards of offense and two first downs with less than four minutes remaining. That’s not just a joke; at some point, such competitive disparity becomes physically dangerous. Apparently, that’s a risk the Temple administration is willing to take.

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