Monday, November 20, 2006

Rough Weekend On The Road For Unbeaten Football Teams

In one of his most famous songs, Willie Nelson proclaims, “I can’t wait to get on the road again.” Because he is Willie Nelson, he was probably stoned when he first uttered those words. Players from Michigan, Rutgers, and Indianapolis certainly think so. This past weekend, the road was a nasty place for undefeated football teams.

Saturday in Columbus, second-ranked Michigan fell 42-39 in a showdown with #1 Ohio State. Every matchup between the Buckeyes and Wolverines is hugely anticipated, but the buildup for this game was off the charts. Friday’s death of Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler made the occasion even more emotional. After the game, Bo’s spirit reportedly received a wedgie from the ghost of Woody Hayes.

In addition to those two icons, there was another presence from beyond this world in Ohio Stadium. At least that’s what the Wolverines would tell you about OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who gave them fits for the third straight year. Smith threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns while ending the Heisman Trophy race. Fans of the X-Men movies love to watch Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Much to his chagrin, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr will tell you that there is also a Buckeye superhero.

Amazingly, the Wolverines want another crack at Smith, and they might get it in the BCS national championship game. Michigan remained #2 in the BCS rankings, although USC has a good chance of jumping into that spot with wins over Notre Dame and UCLA. For once, UM supporters will eagerly root for the Fighting Irish, who were routed by the Wolverines in September. There is hope for fans in Ann Arbor, since they’re depending on a loss by the Men of Troy – not the man named Troy.

Rutgers also exited the state of Ohio in defeat after entering with a perfect record. Cincinnati trounced the seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights 30-11. The visitors from New Jersey had been the darlings of college football, entering the top 10 last week for the first time since the AP poll began in 1936. In another 70 years, they might even crack the top 5.

The Bearcats’ upset continued the Big East’s “Pay it Forward” theme for historic, program-building victories this month. On November 2, host Louisville knocked off #3 West Virginia. A week later, the Cardinals were the third-ranked unbeaten visitors, falling to Rutgers. Then the Scarlet Knights did their part in Nippert Stadium on Saturday. However, the chain apparently will break as Cincinnati visits Connecticut next weekend. Voters inexplicably left the 6-5 Bearcats out of the top 10, so Cincy is under no obligation to lose to the Huskies.

Sunday was no easier on unbeaten visitors, as the Indianapolis Colts fell 21-14 to the Cowboys in Dallas. The Colts had already won tough road games against the Giants, Jets, Broncos, and Patriots. Indy seemed particularly prepared for this trip, since the team features a tight end named Dallas. Late in the third quarter, Dallas Clark gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with a touchdown reception from Peyton Manning. However, the Cowboys compensated in the fourth quarter with two touchdown runs from Indianapolis Barber, better known as Marion.

The result left no NFL teams undefeated, further cementing the legacy of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. For at least one more year, those 17-0 Dolphins will remain the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. As they enjoyed their customary champagne Sunday night, they surely toasted Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 19 of 23 passes in his first home start. The Dolphins differed in that respect from the Cowboy coaches, since Terrell Owens is the one who drives them to drink.

Like Ohio State, Boise State managed to remain undefeated by staying at home. Even without injured star Ian Johnson, the Broncos routed Utah State 49-10 on the blue turf to go to 11-0. However, they are hoping that the road spell wears off before next weekend as they travel to 8-3 Nevada. Otherwise, coach Chris Petersen will understand how Tony Dungy felt on the Colts’ sideline on Sunday. One bid for perfection was dashed by Romo. Another would end in Reno.