Fresno State's players emerged from the locker room Saturday night in Ruston, La., with the same brashness that allowed them to declare they would finish the regular season undefeated and earn a Bowl Championship Series berth. But when the team ran through the pregame drills of host Louisiana Tech -- inciting a brawl that police had to help break up -- they merely provoked the host Bulldogs.
"That was probably the worst thing they could have done," said Ryan Moats, Louisiana Tech's junior running back.
In the middle of the melee, Moats felt someone tug on him. It wasn't a Fresno State player, it was a Louisiana Tech assistant coach, trying to pull Moats to safety. The message was clear: Other folks can decide this fight. We need you for the game.
Moats rushed for 236 yards on 34 carries and scored all four of the Bulldogs' touchdowns -- including the game-winner with 3 minutes 20 seconds left -- to give Louisiana Tech a 28-21 victory and ensure that the phrases "Fresno State" and "BCS bowl" won't appear in the same sentence for the rest of the season.
"Everybody knows about Fresno State," Moats said yesterday. "You know how they don't respect anybody. They just don't show no respect for anybody. My teammates wouldn't have it."
Now, it is Moats who is earning respect. He averages 185.6 rushing yards per game, second in the nation. Now that Fresno State is out of the picture, Louisiana Tech (3-2) may battle No. 19 Boise State -- which also thinks it is capable of earning a BCS bid -- for the Western Athletic Conference championship. The Bulldogs' losses came at Tennessee and at Miami, and Moats will lead them at No. 6 Auburn this week.
All this for a kid who grew up in Dallas yet wasn't offered a scholarship by any of the big Texas schools -- not to mention a kid who once was told he wouldn't play football again. Moats suffered a staph infection in his leg as a sophomore in high school, a condition that required surgery. Doctors told him that his leg wouldn't regain enough strength for him to play football again.
Moats, though, went right to work on rehabilitation, and returned to run for 1,500 yards as a junior and 2,700 yards as a senior. Texas Tech and Texas A&M showed some interest, but because he is only about 5 feet 8, there was no scholarship.
"At first, that was my goal, to show that I could be an every-down back -- not just Texas Tech and Texas A&M, but show Louisiana Tech," Moats said. "At first, I was angry, and I wanted to get revenge. But that became the smallest thing. Now, winning the WAC championship is all that matters. . . . I really didn't expect this."
Big Plans for Big Ten
One of the most interesting conference races looks to be the one in the Big Ten, in which two teams could end up unbeaten. Tenth-ranked Purdue (4-0) must face Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, but the Boilermakers have those games at home. No. 13 Minnesota (5-0) faces its biggest test Saturday at Michigan. If the Golden Gophers are going to win their first Big Ten title since 1967, they will have to overcome a schedule in which four of their last six games are on the road, including dates at Michigan State and Wisconsin.
But Purdue and Minnesota don't play each other. So think some crazy thoughts for a moment. What if the top two teams in the BCS poll were both from the same conference? And how weird would it be if neither of the two best teams in the Big Ten went to the Rose Bowl, but met for the national title in the Orange Bowl? This involves, at least, the champions of the Big 12, ACC, Pacific-10 and Southeastern Conference all losing at least one game, but it is interesting to think about.
A Weird One
Here's one you may have missed: San Jose State 70, Rice 63, the highest-scoring, non-overtime Division I-A game in history. The teams combined for 19 touchdowns, the last of which was a 28-yard interception return by San Jose State's Brian Nunez with 2:18 remaining to break a tie at 63.
"I haven't slept all night because of the adrenaline and exhaustion from that game," Spartans Coach Fitz Hill said yesterday.
There were almost too many oddities to keep track. Rice ran 100 plays, compiled 634 yards (570 on the ground), had three rushers gain over 120 yards, held the ball for more than 42 minutes -- and lost. San Jose State quarterback Dale Rogers, whose team trailed 34-7 in the second quarter, threw for 359 yards on just 10 completions.
The game had such an odd flow that Hill went for one fourth down on his own side of the field because he knew the Spartans couldn't stop the Owls. He said he thought about an onside kick with eight minutes left because he figured it might be the only way to get the ball back.
"When you look at the way the game was going," Hill said, "all the conventional rules of college football did not apply."