George Frey - Getty Images
The USC Trojans played the Utah Utes, and that somehow failed to be overshadowed by the tragic murder of star small college running back Tim McNerney.
SENSELESS AND STUPID
Tim McNerney holds the all-time rushing record at Knoch High School in Butler, a Pennsylvania town about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh just off I-79 on the way to Erie. He was named to the Pennsylvania Class AAA all-state first team in 2008, his senior year, and after graduation the 5'10 200 pound back moved on to Washington & Jefferson College, an NCAA Division III school just a half-hour southwest of Pittsburgh. After only getting into three games and gaining 16 yards on five carries as a freshman, McNerney started every game of his career from that point on except for one game missed due to a minor injury.
He was a thousand yard rusher as a sophomore in 2010, scoring 18 touchdowns for a Presidents squad which lost two of its first three games -- both against eventual playoff participants -- before reeling off eight straight wins to complete a 9-2 season. McNerney was named to the Presidents' Athletic Conference all-conference second team. As a junior, his production slipped slightly; eight touchdowns and 850 yards echoed a slide in the program's fortunes, as the Presidents limped to a 6-4 record. Still, he repeated his selection to the conference second team.
The 2012 season was looking bright as W&J got off to a 4-1 start, the only loss being a four-point loss at home to the current ninth-ranked team in Division III, Saint John Fisher -- and that loss wasn't due to any lack of effort on McNerney's part, as the senior ran for 167 yards against one of the toughest defenses in all of Division III. Last week against Bethany, McNerney had his worst game of the season, merely running for 88 yards and a touchdown. In four games, Number Five had run for 461 yards and four scores, passing the 2,300 yard mark for his career and tallying his 30th career touchdown.
Those numbers aren't going to increase any further. Wednesday night, after an evening out with friends at a couple of local bars in Washington, McNerney and a friend were walking home after closing time when they were jumped in the parking lot of an auto repair shop at the intersection of College and Maiden Streets, right at the southwest corner of the W&J campus. McNerney's friend was able to escape, albeit with a broken nose.
McNerney wasn't. The assailants left him there, and after having been alerted by the friend, police and emergency personnel found McNerney unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital, but at 4:42am the star running back was pronounced dead.
Washington & Jefferson held a memorial vigil last night at the Burnett Center. The entire Division III community, and most especially the Presidents' Athletic Conference, has pulled together to honor McNerney's memory. The football team has chosen to carry on; this morning, they gathered at the buses behind the fieldhouse to be seen off by the student body as they hit the road for Cincinnati. They'll take on Thomas More tomorrow at 12:30 CT with heavy hearts, hoping to do their fallen friend and teammate proud.
But now, I hope you'll excuse me but I have to rant.
As of last night, there was not a single headline in any major national sports news outlet about this tragedy. Not on ESPN.com, not on CBSSports.com, not on SI.com, not on SportingNews.com. It just goes to show that if you're not on everyone's television every Saturday afternoon, you're just another victim of Abducted Pretty White Girl Syndrome. Division III is not Natalee Holloway, and thus nobody cares.
Yes, I am angry about this. I'm angry because a college football player was murdered, and the nation's unaware. Not some reserve on a team nobody's ever heard of, but a star for a team which once upon a time was a fairly major program. For chrissakes, Washington & Jefferson played California to a tie in the 1922 Rose Bowl. This should be a story. Maybe not a huge story, but it should at least be an acknowledged one. Tim McNerney deserves that much.
Worse, this isn't even the first college player murdered this year. Brandon Brown, a JUCO transfer starting his career at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, was beaten and left on life support just three weeks ago; Brown later succumbed to his injuries, and two former McPherson College players (both of whom had previously left the team) have been charged in connection with the crime. Earlier today, the scheduled October 20 game between Tabor and McPherson was cancelled in Brown's memory, but it would be naive to think potential hostilities resulting from the circumstances of Brown's death weren't in play as well. Further, players for both teams are potential witnesses in the upcoming criminal trial.
(H/T to AMS for bringing the cancellation to my attention.)
OH, YEAH, THERE WAS FOOTBALL
Turnovers, missed field goals, a colossally stupid penalty on an otherwise perfectly executed trick play, and general Pac-12 zaniness made the clash between the Utah Utes and USC Trojans a thing to behold.
Things went wack on the second play from scrimmage, when Nate Fakahafua pounced on a bad Trojan snap and lunged into the end zone to give Utah a 7-0 lead before fifty seconds had even ticked off the clock. Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, it happened again; Star Lotulelei recovered at the USC 13, and two plays later Utah was leading 14-0 just 165 seconds into the game.
Silas Redd scored on a three-yard run midway through the quarter, and Andre Heidari added a 32-yard field goal early in the second to get USC back within four, but four minutes later Devonte Christopher snagged an 18-yard catch from Jon Hays to give Utah a 21-10 lead. And then Matt Barkley went to work with two TD passes in the next four and a half minutes to put the Trojans on top; a Dallin Rogers fumble following a catch on the play following the kickoff after the first of those touchdowns led to the second. As the half came to a close, Utah seemingly scored to regain the lead on a wacky 44-yard reverse-and-throwback pass play, but it was called back on an ineligible man downfield penalty. Coleman Peterson's 48-yard field goal attempt with eight seconds left in the half fell short, and the Trojans carried a 24-21 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter was uneventful, with only one drive even threatening; Heidari missed a 40-yarder midway through the quarter, then missed a 44-yard try just after the teams swapped ends. After that miss, Utah went three-and-out, and that's when the game turned. Barkley immediately hit Marqise Lee for an 83-yard score; a few plays pater Nickell Robey went pick-six on Hays, and suddenly the Trojans were running away with it. Kelvin York scored for the Utes on a five-yard run with less than a minute to go to make it 38-28, but USC recovered the ensuing onside kick and that was that.
Postgame reaction from ParagonSC and quick observations from Trevor Wong, both at Conquest Chronicles.
Elsewhere, Arkansas State had little difficulty knocking off Florida International, achieving a workmanlike 34-20 win. Statistically, the teams weren't separated by that much, but the Red Wolves won the turnover battle 2-0, and oh hey, they won by two touchdowns. This was not coincidental. Late in the second quarter, E.J. Hilliard was picked off by Sterling Young, who returned the ball to the FIU seven yard line; three plays later, Arkansas State was in the end zone. Midway through the third Loranzo Hammonds was picked off by Qushaun Lee, and it took the Red Wolves four plays to turn that one into seven. Voila. That put Arkansas State up by 17, and it was effectively game over when FIU was held to a field goal on their next possession and on the second play after the kickoff Rocky Hayes rambled 73 yards to put the Red Wolves on FIU's four yard line. David Oku scored on the next play, and Arkansas State led by 21 with 14:37 to go.
Central Florida started horribly, but after the first quarter the Knights completely dominated East Carolina, pulling away for a 40-20 win in Orlando. The main difference was on the ground; UCF held the Pirates to 64 yards rushing, which was exactly as many yards as Quincy McDuffie had on his third-quarter touchdown reception for the Knights, which broke open what was at the time a 23-20 contest.
At 6pm CT, the Syracuse Orange people things host the Pitt Panthers in a pivotal ACC Big East game on ESPN. Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo look to continue their surprising run atop the Big Sky with a visit to Johnelle's spurned alma mater, winless Weber State. That one's available free online via AmericaOne/Big Sky Network at 7pm. Finally, if you didn't get enough of the state of Utah tonight you can double your pleasure tomorrow. The Utah State Aggies visit the BYU Cougars immediately after the Pitt/Syracuse game on ESPN.
SATURDAY TELEVISUAL ENTERTAINMENT THINGS
The morning shift kicks off with Kansas at Kansas State on FX at 11am, and of course this means none of us will be watching... well, it doesn't matter, because every morning game sucks. The afternoon flight features LSU at Florida on CBS, Oklahoma at Texas Tech on ABC (or on ESPN2 if you're somewhere B1Gish), Iowa State at TCU on various regional FOXes, all at 2:30. Arizona at Stanford is on Big FOX at 2, while Michigan at Purdue is on BTN at 3. THe evening is jam-packed with relevance. West Virginia at Texas on FOX and Georgia at South Carolina on ESPN are at 6, Miami (FL) at Notre Dame is on NBC at 6:30, and Nebraska visits Ohio State at 7 on ABC. There are only two late shift games -- Washington at Oregon on ESPN at 9:30 and UCLA at California at 9 on the Pac 12 Network which nobody gets.
As always, I've whipped up a Google Doc spreadsheet with the entire TV grid for Saturday.
THOSE OTHER GUYS
Once again, I have failed to properly pimp myself out for the week. Here, then, find the week five recaps for FCS, D-II, D-III, and NAIA. Also, some drivel related to fixing computer ranking systems so that margin of victory can be fairly used without promoting dickishness.