This is a season without mercy in college football. Just ask North Carolina State coach Mike O'Cain, who was torched for 77 points by Florida State. Or Arizona State's Bruce Snyder, who surrendered 63 to Nebraska -- in the first half. Or Temple's Ron Dickerson, who was shredded for 66 by Penn State.
But don't ask Gene McDowell, coach at the University of Central Florida, which plays sacrificial lamb to Florida State's point-a-minute Seminoles tomorrow in Tallahassee.
"The best thing a coach can do when you're on the losing end of that kind of score is keep your mouth shut," McDowell said, "and hope you provide better opposition next time."
If the Seminoles could beat N.C. State by 60 last week, what numbers might they hang on the Division I-AA Knights from Orlando?
In a year when the NCAA is cracking down on excessive celebration and taunting, coaches are running up exorbitant scores. The top seven teams in the Associated Press poll averaged 63 points last week and won by an average of 45. Florida State has scored 192 points in 180 minutes.
In a season when breaking the bank is the rage, the gap between Division I-A powerhouses and mere mortals appears to be widening. That doesn't deter McDowell, whose mission this week is to gain some national publicity for UCF ("That's what we want to be known as") and prepare for next season's jump to Division I-A.
"All of us don't have that notoriety; we're not in the top three," McDowell said. "But we aspire to get there. When you play a game like this, you run the risk you may get beat, and you may get beat badly. But if you don't play great teams, no way you can beat them."
McDowell isn't counting on mercy, either, even though he spent nine years on Bobby Bowden's Florida State staff. He has a big-time quarterback in 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman Daunte Culpepper, who's being compared to Steve McNair of Alcorn State. And, by his own estimation, McDowell has "three or four great players" on either side of the ball.
Still, McDowell suggested that the Seminoles' offensive line runs faster than his receivers, that Bowden's third team is "as good as our first team," and that this year's Florida State team is more talented than the national champion of two years ago.
"We're a gross underdog," McDowell said, "but it does us good to play that game. Our approach is, maybe we can do better than what they've seen this season. We may go up there and play well."
And lose by 50.
The Big Blush
Illinois coach Lou Tepper, at the other end of the blowout spectrum with a 9-7 win over Arizona, said he was appalled when he saw last week's scores.
"A couple things jumped out at me," Tepper said. "One was, what are we doing here? The immediate thought is we're running up scores to impress pollsters. The other thought was, those guys are so removed from being on the short end of that stick, they can't remember what it's like going back home 77-to-5 or -6 and having your heart ripped out. I have a problem with it."
Because of the emphasis on the polls, Tepper said he prefers a ranking that weighs strength of schedule.
* Tomorrow will be a red-letter day for the Southwest Conference, and unless No. 3 Texas A&M; beats No. 7 Colorado in Boulder, it may be the dying league's last. If the Aggies lose, they stand no chance of getting into the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2. And they know it. "It's got national championship written all over -- for us, for them," said A&M; defensive back Ray Mickens.
* Texas Tech fans in Lubbock have taken to tossing tortillas onto the field during games. Threatened with 15-yard penalties, the Red Raiders got a warning in last week's 41-14 win over Missouri after one tortilla landed inches in front of a linesman.
* Penn State's Joe Paterno started the season with a shortage of tailbacks behind starter Mike Archie. Now, Stephen Pitts is nearly recovered from a stress fracture in his foot, transplanted freshman linebacker Curtis Enis ran for 132 yards in the second half against Temple, and Paterno said this week he will include Ambrose Fletcher in his plans "until something else happens." Fletcher has been in limbo since being charged with larceny by extortion in Connecticut.
* The SEC and the Pac-10 both have five teams in the Top 25.