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October 3, 2007

Extra effort at goal line not worth the risk

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Previous notebooks
Sept. 26: Freshmen under fire
Sept. 19: Big Ten blues
Sept. 12: Texas takes steps

When victory is within reach, recent occurrences indicate the smart move is not to reach for it.

Extending the football over the goal line – rather than carrying it – has become a trendy move. In at least two instances this season, it has proved to be a costly move.

Fresno State was on the verge of upsetting Texas A&M on Sept. 8, but wide receiver Marlon Moore fumbled into the end zone when trying to extend the football over the goal line.

The Bulldogs maintained possession because of an Aggies penalty, and eventually kicked a field goal. If not for the fumble, though, they would have had first-and-goal at the 1 in overtime. Instead, they lost in triple overtime.

Last week, Oregon wide receiver Cameron Colvin fumbled out of the end zone in the final seconds while trying to reach the ball over the goal line. That prevented the Ducks from forcing overtime in a 31-24 loss.

In 2004, Texas quarterback Vince Young had the ball slapped away as he tried to reach over the goal line just before halftime against Texas A&M. The Aggies returned the fumble for a touchdown, but the play wasn't magnified because the Longhorns came back in the second half and won.

Of course, there are numerous incidents in which a player scored by extending the football over the goal line, but is the reward worth the risk?

Some coaches don't think so.

"We discourage it because maybe two or three times out of 10, what happens is the ball is knocked out or is dropped," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "I'd prefer they keep it tucked unless it's a fourth-down situation."

California coach Jeff Tedford agreed.

"We try to discourage our guys from doing that, especially up in the middle where guys are trying to reach the ball over the goal line," he said. "We talk about that quite often. I'm sure the guy from Oregon felt he had a chance to make a touchdown.

"Sometimes, it's high risk, high reward, but we try to discourage our players from doing that."

So, if touchdowns are being fumbled away and coaches are discouraging it, why do players keep doing it?

"I think at times players react and do it," Gundy said. "My personal opinion is college players do it because players in the NFL do it.

"The players do something in a moment that happens really fast. We do talk about it and try to communicate to them the importance of taking care of the football, but they're just reacting."

That creates a conundrum of sorts. Coaches stress the value of intelligent decisions – but they also want players to react and trust their instincts. And it's hard to criticize a player for trying to score.

Still, if more potential touchdowns are fumbled away, perhaps players will take notice, forfeit personal glory, stop trying to extend the ball into the end zone and be content to let a teammate score on the next play.

But that might be a reach.

Trivia question

California climbed to No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll. When was the last time the Bears were ranked higher than third? (Answer at the end of the column.)

"Ben" there before

It's doubtful anyone is more excited about Cincinnati's 5-0 start and subsequent top-25 ranking than Bearcats quarterback Ben Mauk.

Mauk opened last season as Wake Forest's starting quarterback. But he broke his arm in the first game and could only watch as the Demon Deacons became one of the nation's greatest surprises and won the ACC championship for the first time since 1970.

Having lost his starting job to Riley Skinner, Mauk - an Ohio native - transferred to Cincinnati and is experiencing a déjà vu of sorts. This time, though, he's not just watching.

"They are very similar situations," Mauk said. "Both schools are dominant basketball powerhouses. Wake Forest is slowly switching to a football school, and Cincinnati is doing the same.

"Last year it was devastating not to be out there, but at the same time it was exciting that the team had the kind of season it wasn't expected to have. We have the same situation here. We set the bar high and didn't listen to others' expectations."

Mauk said the Bearcats, who haven't beaten a team that has a winning record, now are trying to turn a deaf ear to all the praise.

"We're trying to downplay all the excitement of being ranked where we are," he said. "We still have seven games to go, so we're taking it week by week.

"But there is an excitement about Cincinnati football in the city and the state. We're showing there's another BCS team in the state of Ohio other than Ohio State. But we're not going to rest on our laurels."

This weekend, the Bearcats play at Rutgers (3-1) in their Big East Conference opener.

"Each game counts as one, whether you're playing Rutgers or Southeast Missouri State," Mauk said. "We're just taking another game on our schedule and have another week to prepare."

That's a simple approach — but it worked for Wake Forest last season.

History lesson

Texas set a dubious record in last week's 41-21 loss to Kansas State. The Longhorns allowed touchdowns on an 89-yard punt return by Jordy Nelson, an 85-yard kickoff return by James Johnson and a 41-yard interception return by Ian Campbell.

Texas has been playing football since 1893 and that's the first time that has happened. In fact, before last week, Texas had never allowed touchdowns on a kickoff, punt and interception return in the same season.

NFF adds eight to Board

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots Chairman & CEO Robert Kraft are among eight new members of The National Football Foundation Board of Directors.

Jones, Kraft, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, ThinkEquity Partners CEO Michael Moe, UnderArmour Inc. Chairman/CEO Kevin Plank and former Texas secretary of state Roger Williams also were named last week to join the other 36 members of the board.

The NFF has several functions, including the establishment of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., distributing more than $1 million in scholarships and sponsoring coaching clinics, leadership conferences, awards banquets and free physicals for high school student-athletes.

Quick hitters

  • Notre Dame's game against UCLA on Saturday marks the first time the Irish have played in the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1925, when Knute Rockne's team that featured the Four Horsemen defeated Stanford 27-10. That was the first bowl game in Irish history; it also was the last until the 1970 Cotton Bowl.

  • West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who was knocked out of last week's 21-13 loss to USF late in the second quarter with a bruised quadriceps, remains day to day. Whether he starts Saturday against Syracuse will be a game-time decision. If he can't play, Jarrett Brown will start.

  • Actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has given a $1 million gift to the Miami athletic department. Johnson was a defensive lineman for the Hurricanes in the early 1990s.

  • The struggles of Michigan kicker Jason Gingell, who has converted just 3-of-9 field-goal attempts, have caused coaches to search for a new kicker. K.C. Lopata has been given a chance to earn the job this week.

  • Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Saturday's game against Northwestern is pivotal. That opinion is based on the past two seasons, when the Spartans collapsed after their first loss. Michigan State suffered its first loss of the season last week against Wisconsin.

  • Northwestern tailback Tyrell Sutton isn't expected to play this week because of a high ankle sprain; he may end up taking a medical redshirt and sitting out the rest of the season.

  • Stanford quarterback T.C. Ostrander will miss Saturday's game at USC as a precautionary measure after suffering a seizure Sunday. Sophomore Tavita Pritchard will start instead.

  • Arizona State, which plays at Washington State on Saturday, is hoping for its first 6-0 start since 1996, when the Sun Devils won the Pac-10 behind Jake Plummer.

  • Though still wearing a cast on his fractured left wrist, Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander said he expects to play against Nebraska on Saturday. Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said that would depend on whether Alexander could catch the ball in practice. Pinkel later acknowledged Alexander has caught the ball "very, very well."

  • An off week comes at the right time for California, which has several injuries. Quarterback Nate Longshore suffered a sprained ankle against Oregon last week, but coach Jeff Tedford said he expects Longshore to be ready to face Oregon State on Oct. 13. Cal also expects to get linebacker Zack Follett (neck stinger) and fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou (partially torn MCL) back for that game.

  • Washington's secondary gets a needed boost with the return of cornerback Jordan Murchison, who has been reinstated after serving a suspension for legal issues that included misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and harassment in a domestic-violence case. The Huskies need depth after free safety Jason Wells suffered a knee injury last Saturday that figures to keep him out of the lineup indefinitely.

  • Embattled Washington State coach Bill Doba, under pressure after managing just a 27-25 record in 4½ seasons, said he will not resign. Doba, 67, is under contract through the 2009 season.

  • USC figures to be without two offensive line starters – center Kristofer O'Dowd (dislocated kneecap) and guard Chilo Rachal (sprained MCL) – for at least three weeks. The Trojans also have lost wide receiver Travon Patterson, who will have season-ending surgery on his big toe. The injuries appear to have come at an advantageous time, as USC's next three opponents – Stanford, Arizona and Notre Dame – are a combined 3-11.

  • Michigan may have to forfeit its 14-9 victory over Penn State on Sept. 22 because freshman safety Artis Chambers was ineligible under the Big Ten's freshman rules.

  • Even though Georgia rushed for more than 300 yards in last week's victory over Ole Miss, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt didn't shower the offensive line with praise. "I don't know if our line blocked for 300 and something yards," he said, giving credit to tailbacks for breaking tackles and making sharp cuts.

    Trivia answer

    Cal was ranked No. 1 after four games in 1951, but dropped to ninth after losing 21-14 to USC.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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