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THE BEST - AND WORST - OF 1996 SEASON

Published: Saturday, Dec. 7 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Time for a short break from college football '96, which has already featured a regular season that started early, ended late and worked overtime nearly every Saturday.

Before moving into the bowl portion of the program - the Independence Bowl is less than two weeks away! - it's a good time to reflect on what's already happened.- BEST EFFORT IN BIG GAME: Danny Wuerffel (Florida), vs. Tennessee (Sept. 21). Wuerffel threw four TD passes before the game was 20 minutes old as the Gators beat the Vols 35-29. The win moved the Gators into the No. 1 ranking.

Runner-up: Warrick Dunn (Florida State), vs. Florida (Nov. 30). Dunn ran for a career-best 185 yards as the Seminoles completed a perfect season with a 24-21 win and replaced the Gators at No. 1.

- BIGGEST UPSET: Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0 (Sept. 21). The Sun Devils' shocking win - they were 231/2-point underdogs - over the two-time defending national champs propelled them to a perfect season, No. 2 ranking, Rose Bowl game against No. 5 Ohio State and a chance at a first national title.

Runners-up: Wake Forest 28, Northwestern 27 (Sept. 7); Southwestern Louisiana 29, Texas A&M 22 (Sept. 14); Oklahoma 30, Texas 27 OT (Oct. 12).

- COSTLIEST DEFEAT: USC 27, Notre Dame 20, OT (Nov. 30). The season-ending loss cost the Irish (8-3) an $8.5 million payday at the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish are expected to be home for the holidays.

Runner-up: Virginia 20, North Carolina 17 (Nov. 16). The Tar Heels (9-2) lost an $8 million-plus bowl alliance payday, but settle for $1.5 million in the Gator Bowl.

- FINANCIAL WINDFALL: Virginia Tech, up $7 million. When Miami upset Syracuse 38-31 last Saturday to create a three-way tie in the Big East, the Hokies got a bowl alliance nod based on highest poll ranking. With it comes an $8.5 million payoff in the Orange Bowl instead of $1.5 million in the Gator Bowl.

- ASTOUNDING CONCLUSIONS: Northwestern 34, Wisconsin 30 (Oct. 19). With the Badgers ahead 30-27, Ron Dayne fumbled with 49 seconds left, the Wildcats recovered and Steve Schnur threw a 20-yard, game winning TD pass to D'Wayne Bates with 37 seconds left. Said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez: "I didn't think about taking a knee."

Runners-up: Miami 10, West Virginia 7 (Oct. 26). Miami's Tremain Mack blocked a punt with 29 seconds left and Nathaniel Brooks returned it 20 yards for a TD.

- GUTSIEST CALL: Arizona coach Dick Tomey, in a 56-55, four OT loss to California (Nov. 2). Tomey's Wildcats failed on a 2-point conversion try after scoring in the fourth OT. An extra point would have sent the game to a fifth OT session. "I've never been a genius, and nobody's ever accused me of being stupid," Tomey said. "I was just trying to find a way to win the damn game."

Runner-up: West Virginia 10, East Carolina 9 (Sept. 14). Coach Steve Logan's Pirates failed on a 2-point conversion with 22 seconds left. An extra point would have forced OT.

- WHAT ELSE IS NEW?: Michigan 13, Ohio State 9 (Nov. 23). For the second year in a row, the Buckeyes needed a win over the Wolverines for a perfect season and shot at the national title. Last year, Michigan won 34-23.

- SENSATIONAL SEASON: Columbia (8-2). The Lions finished second in the Ivy League with their first eight-win season since 1945.

- BEST COMEBACK: Arizona State 42, UCLA 34 (Oct. 12). With 10:38 left and the Sun Devils trailing by 13 points, Jake Plummer ran for one score, threw for a second and ran for a third.

Runner-up: Northwestern 17, Michigan 16 (Oct. 5).

- BIGGEST COACHING CHANGE: Lou Holtz at Notre Dame (replaced by defensive coordinator Bob Davie.

Runners-up: Gene Stallings resigned at Alabama; Carm Cozza retired at Yale.

- BIGGEST ROUTS: Ohio State 72, Pittsburgh 0 (Sept. 21). Runners-up: Nebraska 73, Oklahoma 21 (Nov. 2); Florida 65, Kentucky 0 (Sept. 28).

- REVENGE: Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0 (Sept. 21). Last year, the Huskers beat the Sun Devils 77-28.

Runner-up: Akron 10, Miami (Ohio) 7. Last year, it was Miami 65-0.

- BIGGEST SURPRISES: Arizona State (11-0), Navy (8-2), Army (9-1) and Houston (7-4). Army played Navy on Saturday for a berth in the Independence Bowl.

- BIGGEST BUSTS: Notre Dame (8-3), Southern California (6-6), Texas A&M (6-6) and Kansas (4-7).

- LONGEST OT's: California 56, Arizona 55 (Nov. 2) and Georgia 56, Auburn 49 (Nov. 16) each went four overtime sessions.

- MISLEADING OT: Arizona State 48, USC 35, 2OTs (Oct. 19) Terry Battle ran for a score in the second OT and Courtney Jackson returned a USC fumble 85 yards for a score on the Trojans' ensuing possession for a 13-point win.

- WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR: Tim Couch (Kentucky). One of the most heralded college freshmen ever, Couch had a rough first season, completing 32-of-84 passes for 276 yards, one TD and one interception backing up Billy Jack Haskins. He gets a new coach next year, with Hal Mumme replacing Bill Curry.

- TOP MILESTONE: Iowa State's Troy Davis became the first NCAA player to rush for 2,000 yards in two seasons. Runner-up: Wyoming's Marcus Harris, who has the NCAA record for career receiving yardage at 4,400 - before Saturday's WAC title game against BYU.

- WINLESS: Only Duke, at 0-11.

AWARDS RECAP: Winners of some of college football's awards include:

Orlando Pace (Ohio State) - Lombardi Award (top lineman).

Byron Hanspard (Texas Tech) - Doak Walker Award (running back).

Danny Wuerffel (Florida) - Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award; Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award.

Marc Primanti (North Carolina State) - Lou Groza Award (kicker)

Tregnel Thomas (Delta State) - Conerly Trophy (Mississippi's top college player).

Finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award are cornerbacks Dre' Bly (North Carolina), Chris Canty (Kansas State) and Charles Woodson (Michigan). The winner is announced Dec. 12.

Finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II's top college player) are Jarrett Anderson (Truman State), quarterback Lance Funderburk (Valdosta State) and quarterback Damian Poalucci (East Stroudsburg State).

FACTS & FIGURES: When Florida State defeated Florida 24-21 last Saturday, it marked the 101st time the No. 1 team was beaten since The Associated Press began its rankings in 1936. The 100th occurred on Sept. 21 - Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0.

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