With dark days behind, K-State and Rutgers surge
By the Associated Press
Kansas State is located in Manhattan, Kan. Rutgers is in Piscataway, N.J., a short drive from that more famous Manhattan, depending on the traffic. Aside from that the schools share little in common, except for this: They both at one point were college football wastelands, programs so bad it seemed futile to even keep them going. The Scarlet Knights and Wildcats have both come a long way from their darkest days, but still it catches many fans off-guard to see them racking up huge wins, contending for championships and grabbing spots in the national rankings. Kansas State (4-0) is coming off a huge win at Oklahoma and at No. 7 is the highest ranked Big 12 team in the AP Top 25. “Everybody in the world wants to pat them on the back,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said Monday. “It’s a harder time in this day and age to keep things in perspective.” Rutgers (4-0) stayed unbeaten by adding to Arkansas’ misery and moved into the national rankings for the first since 2009 at No. 23. “Now the challenge is to take the success we’ve had and to build on that,” said coach Kyle Flood, in his first season as Greg Schiano’s replacement. Both Kansas State and Rutgers have a week off to enjoy their new lofty status before they get back into conference play. Both are worth watching the rest of the way. Snyder already has a place reserved for him in the Hall of Fame as the architect of the Miracle in Manhattan. He turned the most inept program in major college football into a national power in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 72-year-old retired in 2005, returned after three years away and is up to his old tricks again. Snyder’s Wildcats have found success by being a tortoise in a conference full of hares. While most of the Big 12 is spreading the field, upping the offensive tempo and striving to run 100 plays, the Wildcats take their time and pound away on offense with quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert. By limiting mistakes and controlling the clock with his offense, Snyder can mask some of the deficiencies of a defense that struggles in pass coverage — which is a huge problem in the Big 12 — but plays tough against the run. Kansas State has a chance to pick up steam over the next couple weeks, with a home game against Kansas (1-3) followed by a potentially tricky trip to Iowa State (3-0) and what could be its next huge game at No. 9 West Virginia. As for Rutgers, Schiano did a Snyder-like job rebuilding a program that was languishing at the bottom of Division I-A in the 1990s into one that has missed the postseason only once in the last five seasons. The 41-year-old Flood, Schiano’s right-hand man, took over after his boss left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and inherited a team that was expected to contend for the Big East title. “I think our program is at a different place now,” Flood said. Consecutive victories on the road against league rival South Florida and Arkansas have Rutgers set up to make a big run. The Knights’ defense is physical and fast and could be dominant against Big East offenses. And the offense with an improving young sophomore quarterback in Gary Nova and a group of imposing receivers was spectacular in Fayetteville, Ark., albeit against a ragged defense. Rutgers’ next five games line up like this: home against UConn, home against Syracuse, at Temple, home against Kent State and home against Army. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to project the Scarlet Knights getting to 9-0, and bringing back memories of 2006 when they went 11-2 and stunningly slipped into the national championship conversation for about a week. Can Rutgers and Kansas State stay undefeated heading into November? It won’t take miracle. HEISMAN WATCH Always promising and generally productive, EJ Manuel’s career might have seemed like a disappointment coming into his final season in Tallahassee. But that’s only because so much was expected of him when then coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher recruited him to Florida State out of Virginia Beach. Manuel whetted the appetites of Seminoles fans early in his career by helping Florida State win two bowl games while filling in for an injured Christian Ponder. Manuel’s sensational performance against Clemson (380 yards passing, 102 rushing) signaled that — if he can stay healthy — he will likely leave Florida State with one truly great season. He should be at or near the top of any list of Heisman Trophy contenders from now until the end of the season. IOWA CROSSROADS Since winning 11 games in 2009, including the Orange Bowl, Iowa’s record has gotten worse each season. The trend seems on its way to continuing with the Hawkeyes at 2-2 entering conference play Saturday against unbeaten Minnesota. The low point was last week’s last-second loss at home to Central Michigan. So where does that leave coach Kirk Ferentz in his 14th season with the Hawkeyes? Ferentz’s program has been steady and successful, and occasionally excellent, sharing the Big Ten title twice and getting to two BCS games. The 57-year-old Ferentz is 98-68 overall at Iowa, 57-47 in the Big Ten. Iowa fans are frustrated, many are itching for change. But unless Ferentz decides to leave on his own, a contract that pays him $3.875 million this year and runs through 2020 means he’s probably going to get the chance to right the ship beyond 2012. QUICK HITS • Fun with numbers. Texas Tech has the No. 1 total defense in the country at 160 yards allowed per game. The Red Raiders have played Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico. They start Big 12 play with Iowa State on Saturday.
• Good player, not so good team: Defensive end Travis Long of Washington State is tied for second in the nation with 6.5 sacks in four games. • Army is 0-3 after a couple of tough, high-scoring losses to Northern Illinois and Wake Forest. If you long for the days when the Black Knights ruled college football, a new book titled “When Saturday Mattered Most” by Mark Beech of Sports Illustrated chronicles the 1958 season, the last great season under legendary coach Red Blaik. “I’m going to have to get back in the coaches’ poll, so I can get us down in the rankings.” — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who prefers his team to stay out of the national spotlight.
Packers seething as NFL replacement refs take heat
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — With the Green Bay Packers still seething, fans pondering the possibility of turning off their televisions on NFL Sundays and even the President weighing in, it’s official: Overnight, the NFL’s replacement referees went from minor nuisance to staggering problem. With the league’s regular officials locked out since June and frustration with their replacements already festering throughout the league, the worst-case scenario finally materialized in Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game in Seattle: A mistake by a replacement official decided the outcome of a game. A last-second scrum in the end zone was ruled a touchdown to Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. But Packers players, their fans and much of the football-watching public saw a clear-cut interception by Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings. Aaron Rodgers used his weekly radio show Tuesday as a platform to lash out at an NFL-issued statement explaining the replacement officials’ decision. The MVP quarterback also questioned the league’s priorities in its labor dispute with the regular refs. “I just feel bad for the fans,” Rodgers said on Milwaukee’s ESPN 540 AM. “They pay good money and the game is being tarnished by an NFL who obviously cares more about saving a little money than having the integrity of the game diminish a little bit.” Even President Barack Obama got in on the conversation Tuesday, tweeting: “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon.” Packers coach Mike McCarthy continued to take the high road Tuesday night, but said he did appreciate the passion of a handful of fans who stood outside Lambeau Field with protest signs. McCarthy also said he thought the play “clearly” was an interception. His colleagues around the NFL apparently thought the same thing.
“I received more text messages and emails than I did after the Super Bowl,” McCarthy said. “I can tell the impact this made.” And while the NFL and its regular officials resumed talks in an attempt to resolve the impasse, every day the labor dispute lingers could further tarnish the league’s reputation. “At this point, the NFL leadership is on a disappearing island,” said Ramsey Poston, a crisis communications expert and president of Tuckahoe Strategies. “Virtually every important stakeholder group, including its broadcast partners, coaches, players and fans are outraged. Every day that goes by without resolution to the dispute is another day the brand is damaged. And a damaged brand potentially means lower TV ratings, more empty seats and fewer tickets sold. We might not see that this week, but we will if the lockout extends through the season.” Poston, who managed communications for NASCAR for nearly ten years — including the fallout around the death of star driver Dale Earnhardt — said Monday night’s game was a turning point that requires swift action. "Disaster is lurking,” Poston said. “There is no reason to believe the replacement referees will suddenly get better — and now in light of all the negative media attention their confidence as a group has to be shot to hell. How could anyone perform under these conditions? They will be second guessed on every call.” In a statement issued Tuesday, the NFL said Seattle’s last-second touchdown pass should not have counted because Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference, ending the game with Green Bay winning. Instead, officials ruled it a touchdown, and penalties either way are not reviewable. That left it to whether Tate and Jennings both had possession of the ball. The officials said they did, but the Packers insisted Jennings had clear possession for a game-ending interception. The NFL agreed that the replay was inconclusive, upholding the touchdown and giving Seattle the victory. “The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review,” the league said in a statement. Saying there was no indisputable evidence, though, is not the same as confirming the initial call was correct. Rodgers, in a reference to referee Wayne Elliott not seeing indisputable evidence, said: “I mean, come on, Wayne. That’s embarrassing.” The Packers, one of sports’ most storied franchises, fell to 1-2. The Seahawks are 2-1. On his weekly appearance on Seattle radio station 710 KIRO-AM, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made no apologies Tuesday, saying, “The league backed it up and game over. We win.” “Golden makes an extraordinary effort. It’s a great protection. It’s a great throw. It’s a great attempt at the ball and he wins the battle,” he said. “They were right on the point looking right at it, standing right over the thing and they reviewed it. Whether they missed the push or not — obviously they missed the push in the battle for the ball — but that stuff goes on all the time.” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith posted a statement to members saying the lockout “jeopardizes your health and safety.” “This decision to remove more than 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe,” he wrote, adding, “We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you.” The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired. Unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, the league opened the season with replacements, most with experience only in lower levels of college football. Coaches and players began griping about the officials in the preseason, but the tension seemed to boil over this past weekend. Scuffles after the whistle were frequent with players appearing to test the limits of the new officials, and coaches were fined for berating them. Fans’ fascination with the finish was evident in the number who stayed with ESPN to watch the highlights on “SportsCenter” after the game: 6.5 million viewers, the most for the full-length show since records started being kept in 1990. Las Vegas oddsmakers said $300 million or more changed hands worldwide on Monday’s call. The Glantz-Culver line for the game opened favoring the Packers by 4Ω. Had the play been ruled an interception, Green Bay would have won by 5. The call also found its way into Wisconsin politics, with Republican Gov. Scott Walker tweeting for the regular officials to return. Opponents noted that he seemed to be supporting the referees union after going after public employee unions last year, though Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach added: “We’re all fans, first and foremost.” McCarthy, meanwhile, said the team needs to move past the incident and focus on Sunday’s game against New Orleans. “We’re not going to get any help,” McCarthy said. “I know this is going to be a story that everybody wants to continue to talk about. And frankly, I’m not going to act like it’s not there. This is a play that I’m sure we’ll see on TV as we move on in our lives. That’s the facts of our business.”
3 stars that don’t shine in the Ryder Cup
MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — No other trio of American golfers has qualified for more consecutive Ryder Cup teams than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. Collectively, they have won 146 official tournaments around the world, including 19 majors. That only makes their Ryder Cup record look all the more inferior. They have been the core of the U.S. team since 1997 at Valderrama, where they combined for a 3-6-1 record as the United States lost the cup. Perhaps it was a sign of what was to come. For all their individual achievement, none has a winning record in the Ryder Cup. They have been on six teams together — Woods missed in 2008 at Valhalla while recovering from knee surgery — and the only celebration they shared was that remarkable comeback at Brookline. “I would have expected and definitely wished for a much better record than that,” Furyk said Tuesday. It leads to a question that brings to mind the chicken and the egg. Do they all have losing records because they are playing on losing teams? Or does the U.S keep losing because this triumvirate has losing records? "I think it’s both,” Woods said Tuesday. “In order to win cups, you have to earn points. And we certainly have not earned points. And on top of that, Phil, Jim and myself have been put out there a lot during those years. So if we’re not earning points, it’s hard to win Ryder Cups that way.” So much has been expected. So little has been delivered. And they are running out of time to leave a lasting impression. Furyk is 42 and has gone four of the last five PGA Tour seasons without winning, though the exception was in 2010 when he won three times and was voted player of the year. Even so, he had to rely on being a captain’s pick for the first time. Mickelson, also 42, has qualified for nine straight teams dating to 1995. He will set an American record for most Ryder Cups when the matches began Friday. Even so, he narrowly qualified for the team this year. They will be leaned on heavily again at Medinah as the U.S. tries to win back the cup. They Americans, dressed in navy blue shirts, headed out for the first full day of practice under warm sunshine in the Chicago suburbs. They played fourball matches among the three groups, which was evident when Bubba Watson and his pink-shafted driver drove through a dogleg on the 440-yard 11th hole and over the gallery’s head. He still played that shot (and they won the hole). U.S. captain Davis Love III finally showed his hand — and confirmed some obvious pairings in mind — by sending out Woods and Steve Stricker, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Watson and Webb Simpson. Other pairings were Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, and Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. There were few surprises on the European side. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal had Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in one group; Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Paul Lawrie in another; and Mark Kaymer, Nicolas Colsaerts, Francesco Molinari and Peter Hanson in a third. Furyk referred to McIlroy as a “marked man” last week, and not many could argue. The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland already is a two-time major champion, with both wins by eight shots. He has established himself as No. 1 in the world without debate, and has won three of his last six tournaments against the strongest field. For so many years, Woods was that guy on the U.S. team, and that’s why his record gets so much attention. “I kind of liken it to playing premiership football, the biggest teams, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, the Chelseas, the Arsenals,” McDowell said. “Any lesser team that comes to play these guys, they have a tendency to raise their game because it’s a huge game for an underdog to play a Tiger Woods. And they get up for it. They are not expected to win. When expectation levels drop, game tends to improve. I think a guy who plays Tiger Woods, or a player of that caliber, he doesn’t expect to win, so he lets it all go and he plays out of his skin and gets the upset.” Woods, despite his 86 wins and 14 majors, has never had a winning record in the Ryder Cup. He has combined to go 6-3-0 in his last two events to raise his career record to 13-14-2. Even at the height of his game, Europe would say that he could only win five points out of the 28 points up for grabs. Woods never came close to that, which helps explain why Europe has won six of the seven Ryder Cups in which he played. “Certainly, I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for,” Woods said. “And that’s part of being a team. I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn’t do that. Hopefully, I can do that this week. And hopefully, the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling.” Mickelson began his Ryder Cup career in 1995 at Oak Hill, where he went 3-0 and privately burned that he wasn’t used more often. That turned out to be the most points Mickelson contributed in a week. Their contributions are so noticeable that Mickelson and Furyk are tied for losing the most fourball matches (eight) among American players. Furyk is 1-8-1 in fourballs, though there are pleasant Ryder Cup memories. He took down Nick Faldo in his debut at Valderrama, and it was his big win over Sergio Garcia at The Country Club in 1999 that was critical in the great American comeback. None of this bothers Love, who played on only two winning teams and had a 9-12-5 record. “Match play is just so different,” he said. “I kind of throw the Jim Furyk or the Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods record of wins and losses out. ... There’s a reason why these guys keep making teams, and I don’t look a whole lot at the record.” That speaks to what they have done in their careers. They qualified for six straight teams from 1997 through 2008 (Woods would have led the Ryder Cup standings except for being injured). Woods was a captain’s pick only once, in 2010. Mickelson has never been picked. They have shown themselves as America’s best over the last 15 years. Trouble is, Europe keeps going home with the trophy.