Football season was filled with special plays, oddball bounces

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Polls, bowls, and touchdown plays may dominate the headlines, but there are many interesting, if less publicized, facets - from exceptional plays and players to oddall bounces and developments - that have given the 1986 college football season a special texture. Following are some that stand out to this writer. Most versatile players: Holy Cross's Gordie Lockbaum garnered most of the accolades for doing a little of everything (rushing, pass receiving, kick returns, defense), but at least two other athletes - Purdue's Ron Woodson and Rice's Quentis Roper - deserve mention. Woodson, an All-American defensive back, got a chance to play both ways in the season finale against Indiana and rushed for 97 yards. Roper, a quarterback, became the Southwest Conference's all-time kickoff return leader with 795 yards on 34 runbacks.

Best long-distance effort: Field-length scoring plays are rare, but Titus Dixon of Troy State (Ala.) came within a yard of producing a pair in successive games. Against Nicholls State, he was on the receiving end of a 99-yard touchdown pass play. The next week against Livingston he ran back a kickoff 100 yards.

Humblest hero: Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who, after winning the Heisman Trophy, said he would have voted for teammate Alonzo Highsmith. That was high praise for the senior fullback, who rushed for only 462 yards. But Highsmith is a devastating blocker who clears the way for other runners and helps give Testaverde the protection he needs to make the passing game click.

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Best long-shot campaign: Before Paul Palmer, Temple's most famous running back was Bill Cosby, which explains why the school's publicists strove so mightily to gain Palmer Heisman Trophy consideration. They had the gifted tailback pose with Arnold Palmer (no relation) and produced a 16-page comic book featuring Paul's running adventures. The effort paid off, as the Owl star finished second to Testaverde in the voting. Of course, winning the major-college rushing title and breaking the record for yards in four consecutive games didn't hurt.

Best academic record: Hats off to Virginia, which plays a respectable brand of major-college football, and with serious students. The Cavaliers (3-8) make up for any athletic shortcomings with a strong record in the classroom, where they earned the College Football Association's Academic Achievement Award for the second straight year. The association, an alliance of many big-time football schools (not including those in the Big Ten and Pacific-10 Conferences), presents the award to the member school having the highest percentage of graduating players. Virginia graduated 88.8 percent of financially aided athletes within five years of their 1980 enrollment.

Smallest big-impact players: Texas Tech's Tyrone Thurman, tiniest player in the major-college ranks at 5 ft. 3 in. and 130 lbs., became the first player in 17 years to score on a punt return against Texas, scooting 96 yards. At Colorado, freshman Jeff Campbell, a 5-9, 155-lb. walk-on, quickly won an athletic scholarship after displaying his wares. In the opener, he scampered 17 yards through Colorado State's defense for a touchdown on his first carry. Later he went 39 yards on another end-around in the Buffaloes' shocking upset of Nebraska.

Most inspirational season: Holy Cross, regrouping after the suicide of coach Rick Carter last winter, won the inaugural championship of the Ivy-like Colonial League. Led by new coach Mark Duffner and versatile Heisman Trophy candidate Gordie Lockbaum, the Crusaders went 10-1 overall, losing only to much larger Bay State rival Boston College.

Longest awaited award: Despite many excellent teams, and numerous outstanding athletes (Joe Namath, Lee Roy Jordan, John Hannah, Johnny Musso), Alabama had never had a major individual award winner. Linebacker Cornelius Bennett ended the drought when named the recipient of the Vince Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman.

Most poorly-timed commercial: Trying to slip in an advertisment during a late-game timeout backfired on CBS, which missed Notre Dame's game-winning field goal against Southern Cal. By the time CBS returned to the action, the last two seconds had ticked off the clock and Notre Dame players were celebrating the 38-37 victory. John Carney's 19-yard kick, of course, was shown on replay, but that was small consolation to viewers.

Oddest reception: Kevin Sweeney, who collected more than six miles in passing yardage during four years at Fresno State, completed his last regular-season pass to himself. In setting a new major-college career passing mark, with 10,623 yards, Sweeney alertly picked up the final 13 on his own after gathering in a throw that bounced off an opponent's helmet. The Fresno quarterback is the latest player to hold one of the most regularly broken records in the books. Ten players, including Doug Flutie and Jim McMahon, have claimed the prolific passer title during the last 20 seasons.

Most bizarre coaching absences: The expression ``booted upstairs'' took on new meaning in the Clemson-Maryland game when both head coaches were forced to work at the press-box level. Clemson's Danny Ford was barred from the sidelines as punishment for a nationally televised blowup after last year's Maryland game, Ross for grabbing an official after his Terrapins lost to North Carolina this season. The penalties turned out to be offsetting as the teams tied, 17-17.

Most mystified rival: Arizona State when it faces Arizona. The Wildcats, who have won the last five meetings, kept A-State out of the Rose Bowl last year, and ruined an undefeated '86 season.

Most agonizing penalty: An offside call against South Carolina that gave North Carolina State one final play after time expired. Quarterback Erik Kramer capitalized on the new life by hurling a game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass.

Worst rub-it-in call: Leading Missouri, 34-14, with five seconds left, Iowa State called timeout to set up a 25-yard field goal. The unsporting act grew out of bad feelings between the rival coaches.

Most defiant band: Even after receiving a warning at halftime about drowning out Texas A&M's signals, Southern Methodist's band played on, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game.

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