Computer takes center stage today

Monday, October 22, 2001

Let the computer chips fall where they may.

The Bowl Championship Series standings officially start today to figure who's in and who's out of a national title game at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 3.

But there were too many magic moments over the weekend.

Hold that debate on why one computer has Miami 14th and the AP media poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll agree the Hurricanes are No. 1. Or why UCLA's schedule is tougher than Oklahoma's.

And speaking of Oklahoma, the Sooners are gearing up for Saturday's huge matchup with Nebraska that should go a long way toward clearing up some of the BCS picture.

Until there's a playoff system in major college football, the season is destined to end with one or more teams feeling they were robbed. Miami last year comes to mind. So why get so worked up about it seven weeks from the end of the season?

Enjoy the scenery.

Thousands of red-clad Maryland fans tomahawk-chopped and howled the Seminoles war chant during the Terrapins' 59-17 Homecoming win over Duke.

At 7-0 under new coach Ralph Friedgen, No. 10 Maryland travels to No. 19 Florida State Saturday ready to unseat the annual ACC champions and make a national title run of its own. All this from a team off to its best start since 1978.

"They have to knock us off, that's how we feel about it," Maryland receiver Scooter Monroe said. "They might not think that. But we have to go in there with confidence and play hard."

Three surprise teams

Maryland is one of three surprise teams going into Saturday undefeated. The others are No. 14 Washington State (7-0) and No. 16 BYU (7-0), and none will worry about the BCS standings until late next month.

"Can't worry about something I can't control," Washington State coach Mike Price said. He's got other concerns: No. 11 Oregon visits on Saturday, followed by No. 4 UCLA on Nov. 3.

In Evanston, Ill., no one cared about computers. Joe Paterno finally equaled Bear Bryant's major-college record of 323 career wins -- in dramatic fashion: Freshman Zack Mills replaced the injured Matt Senneca during Penn State's final drive and threw a 4-yard TD pass to Eric McCoo with 22 seconds left for a zany 38-35 victory over Northwestern.

Penn State was 0-4 -- the worst start in school history -- entering the game, and there's talk JoePa may be ready to call it a career.

Paterno seemed overwhelmed after the game. His voice broke a few times, his eyes had a hint of red behind those thick glasses.

"This is one of the really good ones I've been around. This is one of the really important ones," he said. "I'll go home, probably get in trouble with a good stiff bourbon, take a couple-hour nap and then look at some Ohio State tape."

Paterno goes for No. 324 Saturday when the Buckeyes visit Happy Valley.

Stanford pulls upset

At Autzen Stadium, where Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) had run up a 23-game winning streak -- tops in the nation -- Stanford (4-1, 3-1) stunned the Ducks 49-42 with a three-TD, fourth-quarter barrage that ended Oregon's national title hopes.

The end came swiftly. With Oregon ahead 42-41 and with a third-and-1 from its 30 late in the game, Joey Harrington's pass was intercepted by Marcus Hoover to set up Kerry Carter's 3-yard TD run with 70 seconds left.

"Not my call," a discouraged Harrington said, knowing his Heisman Trophy chances took a hit with the loss. "Second-guess all you want. We tried."

Said Chris Lewis, who replaced starter Randy Fasani at quarterback and led the Cardinal back from a 42-28 deficit: "It was all about heart, you know?"

A computer doesn't need to tell Oregon the score.

Fresno State is well aware of its fate after Friday night's 35-30 home loss to Boise State. The team that opened with wins over Colorado, Wisconsin and Oregon State is 6-1 and its long shot hopes of a BCS game are over.

"Our dreams of the BCS are over, but this can still be a very successful season," coach Pat Hill said.

The game ended when David Carr was sacked on fourth-and-4 from the Boise State 5 with less than a minute left.

"You kind of get in a euphoric state when you're 6-0," Carr, another Heisman contender, said. "Even when you're going down, you can't believe it. You look at the clock, and you think, 'There's still some time left. We should be able to win this."'

Which brings us to this week's schedule, featuring No. 2 Oklahoma (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) vs. No. 3 Nebraska (8-0, 4-0).

Last season, the Sooners knocked off the Cornhuskers 31-14 en route to their first national title since 1985. This time, the game is in Lincoln, where the Huskers now have the nation's longest home winning streak at 18 games.

Should be quite a scene.

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