Every Underdog Has Its Day

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008

When Bowling Green knocked off then-No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday, Buffalo Coach Turner Gill wanted to believe that would help his team's chances tomorrow against the humbled Panthers. Gill wanted to think that his team could model itself after the Falcons, who forced four turnovers in becoming the first Mid-American Conference team to win in Pittsburgh.

But like most other coaches whose teams will face Week 1 upset victims or near-victims, Gill understands that one upset typically is not followed by another and that teams such as Buffalo are often ill suited to continue misfortunes of programs such as Pittsburgh. Most of all, Gill understands why playing a BCS conference opponent the week after it has been embarrassed on a national scale is far from an advantageous position.

Pittsburgh may have fallen out of the rankings, its coach may be under heavy fire and its once promising season already may be on the brink of disintegration, but the Panthers' vulnerability is measured, just like Gill's optimism.

"It gives us a little more confidence," said Gill, whose team won its season opener, 42-17, over Texas-El Paso. "But we're not in the best situation to play [Pittsburgh] at all. They'll be more focused. Hopefully, they can hold off one more week."

A number of coaches contacted for this story agreed that playing on the road against an opponent with superior size and depth -- not to mention name recognition -- does not become any less of a disadvantage when that opponent is coming off a loss.

According to Furman Coach Bobby Lamb, it might create an even more ominous environment than usual for the visiting team. His Paladins will travel 235 miles from Greenville, S.C., to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech tomorrow. Much like Pittsburgh, the Hokies have been in a sour mood since falling to East Carolina last Saturday and plummeting out of the national polls.

"We just hope the hurricane [Hanna] beats us up there so maybe they'll cancel the game," Lamb said. "We're going into a situation where they're not very happy."

While they continue to intimidate, several big-name programs unexpectedly have started the season 0-1, sufficiently exposing their weaknesses for their second opponents.

Michigan, another renowned program off to a discouraging start, fell at home in its season opener for the second consecutive season. New coach Rich Rodriguez watched his newly installed spread offense stumble in a 25-23 loss to Utah, and his team's quarterback situation remains unsettled.

Despite numerous shortcomings that were evident in Michigan's loss, Coach Shane Montgomery of Miami (Ohio) said reviewing the tape of the opener offered little comfort. The Wolverines' defense allowed just three points in the second half, and the offense seemed to get more in sync as the game progressed, according to Montgomery.

"They're a lot like us; we struggled in our first game, too," said Montgomery, whose team dropped a 34-13 decision to Vanderbilt in its opener and will play at Michigan tomorrow.

That Montgomery feels comfortable putting his team (winner of zero national titles) on a comparable plane with Michigan (winner of 11 national titles) would seem to speak to the encouragement wrought by the Wolverines' flaws. Alas, "even though they struggled," Montgomery said, "we know they're still Michigan."

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