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Knocking off No. 1 not an every-school occurrence


Rice certainly is no powerhouse. It has endured coaching changes, conference hopping and seven winning seasons in the past 25. But it has one big advantage over the majority of college football.

Same with Purdue. You don't exactly think of the Boilermakers as a world beater these days, but only two other schools in history have done it more often.

Carnegie Mellon has done it. Pittsburgh hasn't.

In fact, almost a third of the current top 25 has a big fat zero in the category.

Steve Spurrier waves to the crowd after beating 'Bama. But will beating No. 1 breed success? (AP)  
Steve Spurrier waves to the crowd after beating 'Bama. But will beating No. 1 breed success? (AP)  
But when South Carolina beat Alabama on Saturday, it joined the club. It became the 45th current Division I-A school in history to beat a top-ranked team according the NCAA's Division football records book -- history being defined as since 1936, the beginning of the wire-service era. It was a game-changing day in the 117-year history of Gamecocks football. Fans celebrated. Cocky danced. Players hugged. Now they have to face another history. What does it all mean?

It means the SEC East is suddenly wide open, with Steve Spurrier threatening to re-take the throne he owned in the 1990s.

It means that Alabama had the second-biggest drop for an Associated Press No. 1 (all the way to No. 8) in 14 years.

It means South Carolina has graduated to better digs, at least rep-wise. Sixty-five teams in Division I-A -- almost 55 percent -- have never beaten a No. 1. Count the dropped programs and lower-division schools that once competed in Division I, and the list swells to more than 200.

Eight teams ranked in the AP poll this week have never done it -- Boise State, Utah, Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Air Force and West Virginia. (Iowa is 0-2-1 as a No. 1; Missouri is 0-2 as a No. 1.

It means you've got to beat the team to be the team. Forty-one of those 45 teams are concentrated in BCS leagues where they would have more of a chance to play a No. 1.

And in many ways it doesn't mean squat.

"We've got to see where it leads us," Spurrier said. "That's the key right there."

The Gamecocks are the toast of the country this week. Literally, the country. College football seems to be a competition again now that the SEC dropped out of the nation's top spot for the first time in two years. Now South Carolina has to do something with it or be relegated to the oldies bin of teams that have beaten No. 1 ...

 You probably don't know that the Heisman Trophy is named after Rice's first full-time coach. You do know that its glory days are in the past. The school's one and only win vs. No. 1 came 53 years ago against Texas A&M.

 BYU got its only No. 1 win over Miami in 1990. Its BCS bowl history is an asterisk. The Cougars' first bowl appearance was in the 1974 Fiesta, long before the bowl or the BCS were big time.

 Texas Tech is a modest 14-8 and has changed coaches since the epic last-second upset of then-No. 1 Texas in 2008.

 Purdue? It has beaten a No. 1 seven times. Only Oklahoma and Notre Dame have more wins over a top-ranked team. The most recent such win for the Boilermakers, though, was over Michigan in 1976.

Of the three first-time No. 1 beaters in the previous decade (Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas A&M) only the Wildcats (2003) won a conference title the season they beat No. 1.

Beating No. 1
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In other words, South Carolina might be on top of the world, but the likes of Alabama still rules the world of college football. With one loss it could still win another national title. A rematch with the Gamecocks in Atlanta? Oh, yeah, 'Bama would welcome that.

"The challenge of trying to win here was what excited me," said Spurrier coming off the biggest win in his six seasons at the school. "We're still trying to put the pieces together. We're certainly not there yet, but that's the challenge, to win an SEC championship. You don't anticipate how long it will take."

It has taken forever at South Carolina. The school's one and only conference title came in 1969, back in the ACC. Spurrier averaged seven victories in his first five seasons. He finally has gotten the go-to player he needed, and it wasn't a quarterback. Running back Marcus Lattimore is the nation's second-leading freshman running back. Spurrier finally squeezed something out inconsistent quarterback Stephen Garcia. Most rewarding for those of us who love watching him, the 65-year-old Ball Coach has something left in the tank. He is 3-1 against Nick Saban, and there might be more on the way. The SEC East race could come down to a Nov. 13 meeting in Gainesville.

"South Carolina doesn't beat Alabama every day," said Glen Mason, the former Kansas and Minnesota coach who tried mightily but never beat a No. 1. "It's more of a mindset or a distraction when you're the guys that are No. 1 than when you're playing No. 1. It's a burden. The only difference would be if you're No. 2 or No. 3 and if you knock them off, you'll be No. 1. But you didn't see South Carolina jump to No. 1."

Not yet. The program leads the country in blind loyalty, but little else. When Spurrier talks about the biggest wins in his career, he still remembers Duke beating Clemson in 1989.

"That," he said, "was only 21 years ago. If we can go on from here and make something happen, maybe we can say this is a big regular-season win also."

Also? Spurrier is bypassing his Florida career to connect the dots from Duke to South Carolina.

It doesn't matter this week for Bret Bielema, whose resume is, shall we say, somewhat less impressive than Spurrier's. In his fifth season as head coach, Bielema hasn't broken through against the Big Ten's big dog (0-3 against Ohio State). Wisconsin has beaten a No. 1 only three times in its history, none since 1981 (Michigan). The matchup with No. 1 Ohio State doesn't seem to be a good one for the Badgers. They haven't beaten the Buckeyes since 2004, meaning no current coach or player has a blueprint. The Badgers held the ball for almost 43 minutes last season, outgained Ohio State 2-1 and, well, blew it with two pick sixes.

Saturday could be a Gamecockian moment, then, at Camp Randall Stadium. At night. National television. Revenge in the air.

"What more do you need?" offensive coordinator Paul Chryst told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You've got Ohio State coming in. Who gives a [bleep] about last year?"

The Senator, Jim Tressel, played it bland as usual. The program's rep to some is that it doesn't win the big one. But the Buckeyes are 15-3 as a No. 1 under Tressel, all since 2006. Two of the losses, of course, are in national championship games.

"We believe there is a permanent bull's eye," Tressel said.

Mason feels another permanency -- his beating heart being yanked from his body. He played (and lost to) Nebraska's championship teams in 1994 and 1995. In his first year at Minnesota, 1997, the Gophers led at No. 1 Penn State 15-3 in the fourth quarter. That week before the game a fan stopped had him in the street telling Mason he felt sorry for him.

"Why?" Mason said.

"You're going to get killed," the fan said.

Then, the always-chatty Mason compared his Saturday -- playing in Happy Valley against Joe Paterno -- against the fan's -- cleaning out his garage.

"Is anybody famous going to come watch you clean your garage?" Mason asked. "Is it being televised?"

Properly motivated, Mason brought that attitude to Penn State. Before taking the field that day, the former guard for Woody Hayes at Ohio State changed into a jacket and tie for the first time in his career.

"Paterno may outcoach me but he's sure not going to outdress me," he said.

Penn State rallied to win 16-15. Despite winning at Happy Valley two years later and leading Minnesota to seven bowls in 10 years, Mason ended his career without beating a No. 1. In his profession, he is in the majority. His former employer is in the minority and a distant memory in this discussion. Minnesota actually has beaten a No. 1 three times; none, though, since 1977.

Got to see where it leads us? Wisconsin might agree Saturday night.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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