College Football '94: A Look Back
Midnight games, surprise resignations, odd matchups, and more spiced the season
BOSTON — WITH the exception of the bowl games, college football's 1994 season is in the books. The last bit of business was completed on Saturday, when the Downtown Athletic Club in New York awarded its annual best-player trophy - the Heisman - to running back Rashaan Salaam, a junior at the University of Colorado.
Salaam came out of LaJolla (Calif.) Country Day School, where his mother, concerned about San Diego's inner-city life, enrolled him.
This season he became only the fourth player in college history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, while racking up a nation-leading average of 186.8 yards a game.
Salaam easily outpolled Penn State runner Ki-Jana Carter and Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair, who sought to become the first player from a I-AA school to win, in balloting by media members.
A random sampling of other notable developments during the '94 campaign follows:
Most peculiar game time: Central Missouri State hosted Upper Iowa University Sept. 2 in Warrensburg, Mo., in a game that kicked off at 12:01 a.m. The odd starting time was an effort to do something fun and different to open the season, much as college basketball teams do in beginning preseason practice with a midnight workout. The game, won 46-0 by Central Missouri, which had prepared by holding 11:30 p.m. practices, was billed as ``Late Night With the Lettermen.'' Attendance was 8,000, about 5,000 above average.
Craziest conference race: The lame-duck Southwest Conference, slated to close its doors in 1996, saw Baylor, Rice, Texas, Texas Christian, and Texas Tech finish as co-champions with identical 4-3 marks. All five were 2-2 against each other and each lost to Texas A&M, which somehow was tied by lowly Southern Methodist. A&M is clearly the league's best team, yet it is on probation and ineligible for the conference championship and the Cotton Bowl berth that goes with it. Texas Tech will go instead, because the tie-breaking ``last appearance rule'' calls for teams that have appeared more recently to yield to the one absent the longest. Tech heads to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1939, when it played in the now-defunct Border Conference.
Most shocking game-ending play: The University of Colorado completed a ``prayer'' 64-yard touchdown pass in the last seconds to pull out a stunning 27-26 road win over Michigan in late September. The ball, thrown by quarterback Kordell Stewart, traveled 73 yards in the air and descended into a clump of six players, where Michael Westbrook caught it after the ball was first batted by a teammate.
For many, the completion stirred memories of ``The Pass,'' the game-ending, desperation heave that gave Boston College a victory over Miami in 1984 and clinched the Heisman Trophy for B.C. quarterback Doug Flutie.
Best too-little-too-late effort: Quarterback Jason Davis of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas set a national one-quarter record with 347 passing yards in the fourth quarter against Idaho, and Rebel Randy Gatewood set a National Collegiate Athletic Association mark with 23 total receptions, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
Despite these heroics, UNLV came up short in its comeback bid and was hung with an embarrassing 48-38 loss to a lower-division (I-AA) school.
Most surprising resignation: To the astonishment of people connected with the highly successful University of Colorado football program, coach Bill McCartney stepped to the microphone after a Nov. 19 Colorado victory over Iowa State and announced he was bowing out. McCartney is more than a decade from normal retirement age and doesn't rule out future coaching possibilities. ``I've been here 13 years. It's time,'' he said in explaining his decision.
Most downbeat departure: Bill Walsh, who returned to coach at Stanford after leading the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl victories, resigned after two straight losing seasons.
Most unusual bowl matchup: Penn State versus Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 2. Penn State, 11-0, shoved aside the rest of the Big Ten in its first season in the conference and could win the national title (No. 1 in the polls) if Nebraska, which has lost the last three Orange Bowls, slips again.
Oregon, meanwhile, is a total Cinderella. Picked to finish near the bottom of the Pacific 10 Conference, the 12th-ranked Ducks won eight of their last nine games for their first league crown and first Rose Bowl trip in 37 years.
Most debatable coaching decision: Had Alabama beaten or tied Florida, it might be in the running for its second national title in three years. Instead, Alabama coach Gene Stallings elected to kick an extra point rather than go for two with his team up 22-17. He said he didn't want two field goals to beat him. Instead, a Florida extra point did the trick, 24-23.
Oddest scoring sequence: Norfolk (Va.) State University beat Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University, 50-48, with a two-point conversion. Norfolk had tried and failed to kick an extra point after its first touchdown. Then it missed on six straight two-point attempts before succeeding after its eighth and final touchdown.
Most unfortunate timing: In this, college football's 125th anniversary season, one needed an appointment to view the game's artifacts. Why? Because the College Football Hall of Fame's collection is temporarily in shipping crates while awaiting construction of a new facility in South Bend, Ind. The previous hall, located in Kings Island, Ohio, closed in 1992.