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September 20, 2001 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-09-20

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 20, 2001- 11A

JOE
SMITH

SEC play highlights return to gridiron
Gamecocks go for second-straight road win against ranked team in conference play

Eliminating NFL playoff
spots would be a mistake

early a decade ago, a normal
wild card playoff matchup
between the Buffalo Bills
and Houston Oilers turned into one
for the ages.
The Bills had dug themselves a
nearly inescapable hole.
They were down 35-3 at halftime,
and needed a miracle to keep their
playoff hopes alive against'an
explosive Houston team that
seemed to score at will on the help-
less Bills defense.
The Bills also had to depend on
the aged arm of veteran backup
quarterback Frank Reich to ignite
their offense. And that sounded as
appealing as relying on a 1989
Dodge Dynasty with 140,000 miles
in the tank to survive a cross-coun-
try road trip.
But, in perhaps the most exciting
two quarters of football anyone has
ever seen, Reich led the Bills to the
greatest comeback in NFL history
- a 41-38 win over the Oilers, who
were the fifth seed in the AFC play-
offs: Buffalo advanced all the way
to the Super Bowl before losing to
the Dallas Cowboys.
It was remarkable when you
think about it. Two wild card teams
participating in one of the best
games in NFL history. But that's
what makes wild card games so
special, and so intriguing to fans
everywhere. Teams that not many
would pick to win the Super Bowl
before the playoffs begin have a
chance to sip from football's Holy
Grail - the Vince Lombardi Tro-
phy.
But if everything goes as expect-
ed this season, games like the 1992
Houston-Buffalo thriller will not
even have the chance to occur,
much less get replayed on "NFL
Films" hundreds of times.
When NFL Commissioner Paul
Tagliabue announced Tuesday his
intention to play a full 16-game
schedule, part of that plan involved
moving the makeup games from last
week's understandable cancellation
to Jan. 4th and 5th - which is usual-
ly the time for the first round of the
wild card playoffs.
By taking out those games, the
NFL not only has to pay back tele-
vision stations $40-60 million for
lost playoff games, but the league is
also forced to create an eight-team
playoff format instead of the regular
12.
Only one wild card team from
each conference would be able to
join the division winners in the
playoffs.
Four more teams will be cleaning
their lockers out early, probably
losing hope weeks before the end of
the regular season.
And that would be a shame.
Many of the thyills surrounding
professional football are created
because several teams have the
gleam in their eye of postseason
dreams up until the last week. This
creates somewhat of an extended
playoff format, as teams that are
fighting for precious wild card spots
kick and scrap until the last possible
second.
Their mouths water as they notice
that wild card teams can, in fact, go
all the way.
The Baltimore Ravens won the
Super Bowl last year as a wild card
team. In fact, three other wild card
teams have completed the feat
(1997 Broncos, 1980 Raiders and
1969 Chiefs.)
Adding to that, seven other Wild

Card teams have advanced to the
Super Bowl before losing, falling
just short of the promised land.
Taking away these playoff bids
would be detrimental to not only the
fans, but the players as well.
There are some teams playing
now whose only goal is to make the
playoffs, and if those wild card slots
are removed what are they fighting
for? No players would like heading
into the offseason saying, "If those
playoff slots hadn't been taken
away, we could have caused some
major damage."
Realistically, to gain the lone
wild card berth in either conference,
a team would have to go 11-5 to
have a decent shot. And with
stacked divisions like the AFC West

Tagliabue and most NFL owners
would like to keep the 16-game
schedule and the full playoff for-
mat, but that seems unlikely at this
point.
Moving the date of the Super
Bowl back one week has been ham-
pered by a scheduling conflict in
New Orleans - a conference is set
to take place at the Louisiana
Superdome the week after the Super
Bowl.
Another option would be playing
the games involving possible wild
card teams on the final Saturday of
the season. Then the playoffs would
start the following Wednesday for
those teams, with another game to
be played within the next week.
Three games in nearly eight days?
Not the answer for a legitimate
playoff format with everyone get-
ting a fair chance.
Moving the Super Bowl back two
weeks could also have scheduling
conflicts while also creating an
even lengthier break after the con-
ference title games.
Plus, do we really want to hear
more Super Bowl hoopla?
One of the last options is playing
both conference title games back-
to-back on Jan. 27 - the day that is
currently planned for Super Bowl
Sunday - in New Orleans. While it
proves to be an interesting parallel
to the NCAA Basketball Final Four,
it still could tarnish whoever wins
the Super Bowl and also deempha-
sizing the importance of home field
advantage.
And the NFL surely doesn't want
to deal with the same situation the
NBA had a few years ago, when the
San Antonio Spurs won the NBA
title after the strike season, leading
some to call it a "token champi-
onship."
"I'll be curious to see what fol-
lows after this," Philadelphia coach
Andy Reid told ESPN.com. "I'd
hate to disrupt the playoffs in that
situation. ... I'm sure they'll come
up with an answer for it. They
understand the importance of the
playoffs."
For the league, the Lions and the
fans' sake, I hope they do.
Joe Smith can be reached at
josephms@umich.edu

By Eric Chan
For the Daily
As college football play resumes this
week, we are faced with a week where
few ranked teams outside of the Big
Ten are playing other strong teams.
But, key match-ups in the SEC and
the Pac-10 are on the horizon.
NO. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA (2-0) AT
NO. 17 MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-0),
TIIURSDAY, 7:30 P.M., ESPN
In a conference filled with giants like
Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana State,
it's easy to overlook teams like Missis-
sippi State's and South Carolina - but
don't be mistaken, these teams are defi-
nitely contenders for the SEC crown.
Mississippi State has veteran quarter-
back Wayne Madkin at the helm. In the
Bulldogs' first game of the season he
completed 12 of 21 passes for 174
yards with a pair of touchdowns. On the
ground, Mississippi State's main
weapon is Dicenzo Miller. Last year,
Miller rushed for 1,005 yards and 6.6
yards per carry (best in the SEC).
South Carolina is coming off a huge
victory on the road against another SEC
powerhouse, Georgia. The Gamecocks
feature running back Derek Watson, the
SEC's leading returning rusher.
Watson ran for 1,066 yards last year
and is South Carolina's greatest asset.
But, Watson's ankle seemed to be both-
ering him against Georgia when he ran
for only 13 yards on eight carries.
If and only if Watson comes back at
full strength against Mississippi State
will South Carolina have a fighting
chance.
Mississippi State's ability to mix it
up on the offensive end should be the
X-factor in this one.
Mississippi St. 17, South Carolina
14
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (1-1) AT
No. 7 OREGON (2-0), SATURDAY,
10:15 P.M., FOx SPORTS Nur
This Pac 10 game is definitely one
worth watching, as it features one of the
nation's best quarterbacks against what
looks to be a very solid Southern Cal.
defense.
Oregon quarterback and Heisman
candidate Joey Harrington is one of col-
lege football's biggest offensive threats.
In the Ducks' opener a few weeks
ago, Harrington burned Wisconsin for
277 yards while throwing two touch-
downs and rushing for a third.
Two weeks ago, Southern Cal. held
twelfth-ranked Kansas State to only ten
points. With this in mind, we must ask
ourselves: Did Pete Carroll work a mir-
acle with a Southern Cal. defense that
was sub-par in 2000? Or was Kansas
State's lack of offense just a fluke?

Well, Carroll didn't do much with
the New England Patriots' defense in
his short stint there, so it's probably the
latter.
At home, Oregon has won 22
straight. Make that 23 after this Satur-
day.
Oregon 35, Southern California 17
No. 2 FLORIDA (2-0) AT KEN-
TCKY (1-1), SATURDAY, 12:30 P.M.
Kentucky has the home field advan-
tage here so it should be able to pull the
upset. Wait, no ... scratch that -the
Wildcats are going to get killed.
Florida is the No. 2 team in the
nation and thus far, the Gators have
annihilated their opponents. In its first
two games, Florida averaged 52 points
per game and 431 yards. Leading the
Gators' offense is quarterback Rex
Grossman, who is currently fifth in the
nation in passing yards with 706 yards.
In its first two contests, Kentucky
allowed an average of 28 points and
almost 300 total yards to mediocre
Louisville and Ball State squads.
The Wildcats need to come through
with some big plays if they want to stay
within 30 points.
Well, what happens when you com-
bine a nasty, relentless Florida offense
with Kentucky's less-than-stellar
defense? Think Michael Jordan vs.
Brian Ellerbe in one-on-one ball ..
Florida 41, Kentucky 6
No. 5 FLORIDA STATE (2-0) AT
NORTH CAROLINA (0-3), SAIVRDAY,
NOON
With this match-up on Saturday,
we'll see one team that's at the top of
its game and another that has essential-
ly sucked thus far. The Tar Heels just
can't get a break this year. They've
started off the schedule against three
tough teams ---Oklahoma, Maryland
and Texas.
Now, after a cancelled game against
Southern Methodist -- a team they
likely would have beaten - the Tar
Heels have to play the fifth-ranked
Seminoles.
Florida State redshirt freshman quar-
terback Chris Rix has stepped in quite
nicely for the departed Chris Weinke.
It's hard to come out of the shadow of a

AP PHOTO

Lou Holtz's Gamecocks hope to escape from Mississippi State with a win.

Heisman winner, but Rix has done the
job. In Florida State's most recent game
against Alabama-Birmingham, Rix
completed 1 5 of 23 passes for 246
yards.
Then again, it was Alabama-Birm-
ingham ...
The Seminoles' freshman quarter-
back has fared better than North Caroli-
na's senior quarterback. The Tar Heels
had high expectations this year for
Ronald Curry, but thus far, Curry has
not been able to find his arm - he has-
n't thrown a touchdown yet this season,
and even worse, he's been picked four
times.
Can you say, "0-and-4"? North Car-
olina will be able to.
Florida State 37, North Carolina 7
No. 15 FRESNO Sr (3-0) AT TULSA
(1-0), SAIVRDAY, 3:00 P.M.
If you've ever watched the NCAA
Tournament, you'll know who the Gon-
zaga Bulldogs are. Everyone loves
watching the Bulldogs because they're
known as a Cinderella team.
This game doesn't feature Gonzaga,

but it features another Cinderella Bull-
dogs squad - Fresno State.
Thus far, Fresno State is undefeated,
having beaten some of the toughest
teams in the nation in Colorado, Ore-
gon State and Wisconsin. The main rea-
son why the Bulldogs have been able to
win is quarterback David Carr.
Carr has turned a' lot of heads, espe-
cially among NFL scouts. He looks to
be in the huge pack of players with
Heisman aspirations.
In three games this season, Carr has
thrown for 778 yards and 7 to-uch-
downs, only one interception, and has a
completion percentage of 59.3 percent.
Fresno State shouldn't be too worried
about- Tulsa, but it shouldn't send out
the reserves either. Tulsa's Josh
Blankenship went 29 of 35 with 337
yards and two touchdowns in his first
game.
If Fresno State can keep the pressure
on Blankenship, and Carr keeps doing
what he's been doing, the Bulldogs
should have their first 4-0 start since
1991.
Fresno State 51, Tulsa 24

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