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February 20, 2008

Some programs find ways to overcome

Though hearing impaired, Ludwig van Beethoven composed symphonies that have endured for centuries.

Abe Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin, had little formal education, failed in various business ventures, yet eventually won the White House.

Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to win three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics.

All faced great obstacles and limitations, all beat the odds and all overachieved. But none faced the daunting task that the Oregon State Beavers must overcome convincing California football prospects to leave their home state and play college football in Corvallis.

Oregon State and several other schools around the country are located in areas that produce few high-caliber prospects, don't boast the greatest facilities and don't have unlimited budgets. However, some programs overachieve by consistently posting winning records, contending for championships and even beating conference rivals with far more advantages.

Using performances over the past five seasons as a guide, we looked at the college football programs that have won consistently despite facing opponents with seemingly more advantages.

Consider Boston College, which isn't located in a prime recruiting area, is in a colder climate than any of the other teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference and has high academic and admission standards. But it has at least eight victories in each of the past five seasons.

More than a dozen programs were considered for the list of most overachieving. Here are the half-dozen we chose:

  • 6. West Virginia: The state doesn't often produce top prospects, but West Virginia compensated by consistently outrecruiting archrival Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. The Mountaineers have gone 49-14 in the past five seasons, won two Big East championships outright and shared two more. Lest you think the Mountaineers were just dominating the Big East, remember they have BCS bowl victories over SEC champion Georgia in 2005 and Big 12 champion Oklahoma in '07.

  • 5. Navy: Let's be honest. Four- and five-star prospects and even three-star prospects aren't lining up to attend the service academies, which demand academic achievement and aren't steppingstones to the NFL. Yet Navy far and away the most successful of the academies over the past five seasons has enjoyed its most successful stretch since the Roger Staubach era in the early 1960s. The Midshipmen are 43-20 since 2003, which includes two bowl victories. Last season, Navy defeated Pittsburgh of the Big East and ended its 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame.

  • 4. Wake Forest: Remember the old comic-book ads with the pencil-neck geek who buffs up, then beats up the bully on the beach? That's Wake Forest, a small private school that has added some muscle. Yeah, the Demon Deacons have three losing seasons and two four-victory finishes in the past five years, but not that long ago, four wins was a pretty good year at Wake. The Deacons are 33-28 over the past five years the winningest five-year stretch in school history and have an ACC championship in '06. In addition, they have beaten Florida State each of the past two seasons. Bullies beware.

  • 3. Oregon State: First of all, the state of Oregon isn't turning out a ton of top prospects. Thus, the task is to lure California recruits north. However, they also have to keep the prospects away from the University of Oregon, which is boosted by Phil Knight's money. It's a tough sell, but somehow the Beavers have pulled it off recently. Oregon State is 39-24 and 4-0 in bowl games over the past five seasons. They also knocked off USC in '06 and have won three of the past four against Oregon.

  • 2. Boston College: We keep hearing that southern-based programs have an advantage. Yet the northern-most school in the south-heavy ACC has challenged for championships even though New England won't rival Florida when it comes to producing prospects. BC also has usurped Notre Dame as the dominant Catholic program in college football, quite an accomplishment in itself. The Eagles are 47-17 over the past five years, and they've won their bowl in each of those years. In that span, BC has non-conference victories over Penn State (twice), BYU (twice) and Notre Dame (three times).

  • 1. Boise State: Despite the fact that Idaho and its bordering states aren't recruiting hotbeds, Boise State trails only USC for most victories in the past five years. That can't just be dismissed as the Broncos being the big fish in the small pond that is the WAC. Boise State, 56-9 since 2003, has two regular-season victories over Oregon State and two more over BYU in that span and is 2-3 in bowl games. That includes a win over Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to cap an unbeaten '06 season.

    Trivia Question

    As mentioned above, USC and Boise State have exceeded 50 victories over the past five years. Seven other teams also have reached 50 victories in that span. Name them.

    Who will threaux for LSU?

    The suspension of LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux for violating team rules raises an interesting question. Who would lead the Tigers if Perrilloux was hurt or suspended during the season?

    When Perrilloux started the SEC Championship Game in place of injured Matt Flynn, Perrilloux's backup was Andrew Hatch, a transfer from Harvard who originally committed to BYU when LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton was coach there.

    Last season, Hatch played against Middle Tennessee and completed one of two passes for 9 yards.

    The most likely option is redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, a former four-star prospect who was ranked the nation's No. 7 pro-style prospect in 2007.

    Perrilloux, who has been suspended twice before, likely will be reinstated at some point, so the starting job doesn't figure to be an issue when the season starts.

    Feedback

    Here's a sampling of reader response to a recent article on top-rated prospect Terrelle Pryor's decision to delay signing a national letter of intent ("Fans still waiting for Pryor's decision," Feb. 15).

    ***

    In the recent article concerning Pryor not wanting to choose a team, you indicate, "But if a heralded prospect chooses to go over to the 'Dark Side,' it's like a punch in the gut and hurts almost as much as a four-game losing streak.' What if he should choose to play basketball? What if there may be other implications at this time we do not see?

    I am so proud of him, including those who are willing to lead him to the light. To help him see by good counseling, not to be led by any our side force.

    Never forget where you are from when choosing where you are going; you may forget the way.

    Stan, residence not included

    ***

    If Pryor were smart, he would attend Northwestern.

    Think about it; He could be a starter on both the football and basketball teams. He has the potential to be a legendary impact player at Northwestern an all-time great. And Pat Fitzgerald just brought in a bunch of huge o-linemen and no quarterback. He could redshirt one year for football while the linemen mature perhaps playing only basketball his freshman year.

    Being a starter at Ohio State or Michigan would be special, but leading Northwestern to unprecedented greatness would set him apart forever in college football lore.

    More important, he could major in the communications in the country's best journalism school and set himself up for a multi-decade career in sports broadcasting after his pro career. As Bo Jackson proved, football stars are just one hit away from career-ending injury. And playing at Northwestern, he is in the cradle of one of the largest media markets in the country.

    Either way, he will be prepared to go to the next level of competition. And he will be able to showcase his talents on TV against the Ohio States and Michigans of the Big Ten.

    I hope someone close talks some sense to him. Call Fitzgerald and take a trip to Evanston.

    Scott in San Diego

    ***

    I read the Terrelle Pryor article in your mailbag with great interest. I know there are those, especially at OSU (Overrated State University) and UM (Unbelievably Moronic) who think Terrelle has only to choose between them, but I hope he stays at home at Penn State. (Yeah, I'm an alum).

    JoePa is coming to the end of his career, and Terrelle has an opportunity to put an exclamation point on that career by winning a national championship for State and building his own legacy as a phenomenal college quarterback. At Ohio State and Michigan, he'd just be one of many.

    I respect Terrelle for taking his time and deciding his future on his terms. It's his life and his future at stake, no matter where he goes. I think it shows he's a thoughtful, mature young man who is ignoring all the hype and trying to make a solid, sensible choice. I don't think ego has anything to do with it.

    Doug in Pennsylvania

    ***

    For whatever reason he didn't sign, Pryor's decision likely is a bad sign. Choosing a school isn't that big a deal. No matter what school a highly talented player chooses, even if it's Lehigh Valley College, he'll be a star, the school will do well and the player will sign a high-dollar pro contract.

    But Pryor didn't choose. In my opinion that's a red flag a sign that the limelight has warped his personality in some way and he'll likely be another highly touted bust.

    If I'm a coach and I see a star player act skittish when's he's the center of attention and under pressure, I'd want a face-to-face (meeting) with him to check him out mentally. And if I couldn't have that, I might pass on him. I sure wouldn't wait around for him to choose.

    More and more, these so-called superstars turn out to be more trouble than they're worth. After all, this is just college ball. Colleges are schools. Rabid alumni and psychotic fans (like me) can think football is more important than academics and personal growth, but it's not. So I'd say forget about Pryor. He's probably damaged goods.

    Andy in Lake Worth, Fla.

    Quick hitters

  • The Notre Dame-Baylor game in 2012 originally was proposed to be played in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but it has been moved to the Louisiana Superdome.
  • Ball State coach Brady Hoke will receive a $240,000 raise and incentives, provided he remains with the university through the 2010 season.

  • Oklahoma State has extended coach Mike Gundy's contract through 2013. The Cowboys have made back-to-back bowl appearances under Gundy.

  • Students at Texas State University voted to raise activity fees to help finance a move to Division I-A. Texas State, located in San Marcos, currently plays in the Division I-AA Southland Conference.

  • Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt completed his coaching staff by hiring linebackers coach Joe Tumpkin away from UCF, where he had been for about a month. Tumpkin coached the past three seasons at SMU under Phil Bennett, who recently was hired as Pitt's defensive coordinator. Tumpkin replaces Charlie Partridge, who left to become an assistant at Wisconsin.

  • Penn State cornerback Knowledge Timmons, who was in danger of being suspended from school because of his part in an on-campus fight, instead received probation after a Judicial Affairs hearing. He cannot live on campus.

  • Alabama redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jeremy Elder was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery Sunday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register reported that in a deposition filed Tuesday in court, Elder admitted to robbing two students at gunpoint Saturday night. Elder, from the Atlanta suburb of College Park, has been suspended indefinitely from all football-related activities.

    Trivia answer

    The other seven teams to post at least 50 victories in the past five seasons are LSU (56-10), Texas (54-10), Oklahoma (54-13), Ohio State (52-11), Georgia (51-14), Auburn (50-14) and Virginia Tech (50-16).

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



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