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Teams must put a big loss behind it to win in college football
Seattle Times colleges reporter
On a 93-degree evening at Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State walloped Northwestern 52-21, dropping a school-record 773 yards total offense on the visiting Wildcats. Everybody — fans, overheated talk-show hosts and other media (hey, mea culpa) — arrived at conclusions:
Arizona State: Good, and getting better.
Northwestern: Bad, and going nowhere.
After that Sept. 17 game, Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller noted his team's 15 penalties and said, "If we do everything better, we would probably have 900 yards."
And he said, "We are scary to face."
National high five
12:30 p.m. (Ch. 4)
Washington State (3-4) at No. 1 USC (7-0): The Cougars have specialized in suspense this season, but they will be pressed to make this one close. Trojans are just happy to return to the Coliseum.
12:30 p.m. (Ch. 7)
No. 4 Georgia (7-0) vs. No. 16 Florida (5-2) at Jacksonville: D.J. Shockley's knee injury puts the ball in the hands of Joe Tereshinski III, special-teams vet of 2004 and son of Georgia's assistant strength coach and video coordinator.
3:30 p.m. (FSN)
No. 8 UCLA (7-0) at Stanford (4-2): Two teams that have so far exceeded preseason expectations meet in a suddenly important Pac-10 game. Bruins are talking about possibly adding kickoff-return duties to talented Maurice Drew's plate.
4 p.m. (ESPN)
No. 25 Michigan (5-3) at No. 21 Northwestern (5-2): Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr got win No. 100 last week at Iowa. Turbocharged Northwestern begins a finishing gauntlet that pits Wildcats against Iowa next week and Ohio State on Nov. 12.
4 p.m. (TBS)
No. 2 Texas (7-0) at Oklahoma State (3-4): This week, Longhorns QB Vince Young said he's "basically, coming back" next year to Texas rather than going to the NFL, whatever "basically, coming back" means. 'Horns should name the score.
And he said, maybe tellingly, "It's nice to know we had an average week in practice and we can still turn it on for a game."
Northwestern, meanwhile, boarded a plane for Chicago, surely thinking it had lost its way. But the coach, Randy Walker, reached back for an old coaching bromide.
"I tell them, 'Guys, we can't do anything about last Saturday,' " Walker said in an interview as he left the practice field Tuesday. " 'But we can do something about this Saturday. Every day, we're going to get one day better.' "
The next Saturday is the one tomorrow, the last in October. And this is what's happened to those two September adversaries: Arizona State is 3-4, 38 short days after coach Dirk Koetter called this ASU team his best; Northwestern is 5-2 — one of four one-loss teams in Big Ten Conference games — and in three wins against Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State, has averaged 603 yards.
Now, the prognosis:
Arizona State: In the dumper, hopelessly.
Northwestern: Big Ten contender, hosting Michigan.
Ah, the twists and turns, the ebbs and flows of a football season — even the brisk, 11-game, 2 ½-month college version. It's the good coach, the mature team, that will ash-can last week's game — good or bad — and embrace the next one.
The tendency is to view a performance as the definition of that team, when in reality it is a checkpoint on a large graph.
There is no better example than Stanford, mocked for losing to UC Davis — also Sept. 17; hmmm — and now winner of three in a row to go 4-2. Only first-year coach Walt Harris knows the depths Stanford plumbed with that Davis loss.
"We got embarrassed," he said this week. "The bottom is a great thing to push off. We've been pushing hard to get off the bottom. The kids have responded."
Harris had to soul-search to "remind myself our players look to me for leadership during the tough times ... about how I should present myself and how I should feel about myself."
Mike Riley's Oregon State team allowed Louisville 63 points on that great impostor of a day, Sept. 17. But it has battled back, and at 4-3 stands to play in another bowl game.
When he gathered his team Sunday afternoon to review a bad loss to UCLA, he reminded it that the personnel hadn't changed from the previous week, when it was coming off an upset victory at California.
"My theme [the previous week] was, 'No fat heads for the week,' " Riley said. Now, after the setback, Riley told his team, "Just think back one week ago Sunday to 3 o'clock. How different do we feel? We're not different people, but we sure feel different.
"You have to get ready each week. You have to find the right edge."
One can only imagine, then, how grim it is in Tempe this week. Even after Arizona State lost to USC, the vision was it could win out and be a popular choice to play in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now the Sun Devils need to worry about beating Washington. Columnists are writing that ASU must hold off on a proposed contract extension for Koetter, who is only 14-22 in Pac-10 games in five seasons.
You wonder how often the team that finishes 9-2 had 9-2 talent, or whether it squeezed out a couple of extra victories — or losses. Or even the 5-6 outfit, which might have the talent of a 1-10 team.
For Washington State and Washington, there is thus a sliver of hope. The Cougars (3-4) don't have to be the team playing giveaway in the fourth quarter; they have two chilly games at home in November, plus the Apple Cup, and could still play in a bowl game. The Huskies (1-6) could, say, win three of their last four and suddenly, a 4-7 season would signify momentum.
Just take it from somebody who has seen misery give way to beauty.
"Sometimes the worst thing in your life," says Randy Walker, "is the best thing in your life."
1. USC (7-0)
No. 2 in BCS, and Mack Brown hasn't even started campaigning yet
2. UCLA (7-0)
Finally getting pub; named one of most overrated 7-0 teams in college history
3. Oregon (7-1)
With Clemens out, DuRocher moves up to No. 2 at both Washington and Oregon
4. Stanford (4-2)
At this rate, UC Davis may play in national-championship game
5. California (6-2)
Pact now calls for stadium upgrade before Tedford has great-grandchildren
6. Oregon State (4-3)
At times like this, Joe Avezzano always did his best coaching
7. Arizona State (3-4)
Koetter dreading call from AD saying, "Oh, and bring your headphones"
8. WSU (3-4)
Doba agrees to book deal entitled, "What Was He Thinking?"
9. Washington (1-6)
In savvy move, Willingham showing Huskies Idaho video for inspiration
10. Arizona (1-6)
Good news is, Stoops up to No. 3 nationally in sideline warnings
ASU 34, Washington 14
Sun Devils liable to be especially testy
USC 51, WSU 20
Last year, Cougars opened with failed onside kick
Oregon St. 34, Arizona 13
Get this one and Beavers are one away from a bowl berth
Stanford 28, UCLA 27
Don't want to get in front of Cardinal express just yet
Last week — 3-2. Season — 29-12.
JoePa, at 78
Penn State's Joe Paterno was asked this week if he had listened to his critics in recent years.
"The only thing I remembered is, my daddy used to box a little bit," Paterno said. "He said, 'You never saw anybody get carried out of the ring, did you? They get knocked down, and when they decided they didn't want to get up again, they got knocked out.'
"Honest to goodness, I don't read the sports page. I don't listen to those crazy talk shows. I don't know what's going on on the Internet. I don't have a computer."
He does have a pretty good football team — 7-1 and hosting Purdue.
Who's bringing the keg?
That's a popular question on campus, but Louisville officials blanched Saturday morning when they realized in Cincinnati the Keg of Nails trophy that goes to the winner of the Louisville-Cincy game had been left behind at the Cardinals' stadium.
A Louisville publicist dispatched a recruiting hostess to drive back to Louisville, about 100 miles, to fetch the Keg. She, and it, arrived late in the first quarter.
Not to worry. Louisville won 46-22, retaining the Keg.
Big East brouhaha
The Big East, which lost Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College in two years, has been the target of smirks for its remaining football membership. Now, some South Florida faithful believe the league tried to cover its reputation in rescheduling the West Virginia-South Florida game from last Saturday to Dec. 3.
With Hurricane Wilma threatening, South Florida wanted the game either bumped up to last Friday night, or moved back to Wednesday night.
West Virginia, 6-1-1 and ranked 18th, had just come off its wild triple-overtime win over Louisville, quarterback Adam Bednarik probably would have been out and the Mountaineers would have been playing a seventh consecutive week.
Commissioner Mike Tranghese, saying the game was too important and he wanted a "level playing field," opted for the late date. "If people have a conspiracy theory," he told the Tampa Tribune, "they're going up the wrong tree."
Eagles still flapping
The talks Boston College coach Tom O'Brien had with Washington last December about its football vacancy apparently haven't persuaded recruits that he isn't stable at the school. The Eagles have 16 commitments, the latest a four-star tight end from Minneapolis, Jordan McMichael.
And what's more
• Notre Dame's ranking in total defense — 97th — would be its worst since 1956.
• Maybe Washington State's Bill Doba needs to ring up Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coach. Last week's loss to Michigan was the Hawkeyes' first in 36 games when leading entering the fourth quarter.
• Nebraska (5-2) hosts Oklahoma (4-3), recalling Huskers coach Bill Callahan's comments last year in Norman about Oklahoma "hillbillies." He apologized at Big 12 media day.
• Iowa president David Skorton says he won't address the controversy about the Hawkeyes' pink visiting locker rooms, saying the school should look at ways to increase athletic opportunities for women and study comparative spending between sports.
• Minnesota's bye week was saddened with the death of ex-walk-on OT Lance Sannes at 22 after a chest virus that spread to his heart. Some 30 players and coaches chartered a bus to his hometown of Wahpeton, N.D., for his funeral.
• Northwestern OT Zach Strief coined the line of the week after the Wildcats drubbed Michigan State, 49-14, on the road. "Coach Walker says to act like you've been there before," Strief told the Chicago Tribune, "but I don't remember being there."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company