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 January 1, 2004
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SCS.com Jonathan's Journal SCS.com

By: Jonathan
SouthernCollegeSports.com Editor
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Jonathan's Journal Each college football season, there are a few stories, though they may not be the biggest, that stick with you for years to come. Here are ten photos to remember from 2003....

[ Updated January 8 ]

THE 2003 COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON IN TEN PHOTOS

As a conclusion to this past college football season, another great one with a ton of excitement and plenty of memories, here's how I would sum up this past season in photos....just ten of them. Though they may not be the most important stories or about the best teams, these are the memories that will stick out, and be thought back upon, in the coming years. Many of the players mentioned below will be missed as they are departing from the collegiate ranks and moving on to the NFL.

Some of these photos allow you to remember all of the excitement brought by certain players and games to the college football season. Others remind you of hearbreak and disappointment. But they all remind you of the 2003 college football season. In no particular order, here are the ten photos of the 2003 college football season....

Miami (Ohio) QB Ben Roethlisberger Little-known or thought about prior to this season, Miami (Ohio) QB Ben Roethlisberger got his name out to the entire country in 2003. On the way to leading his Redhawks to a 13-1 record, Roethlisberger threw for almost 4,500 yards, good enough to be third best in the country. He also tossed a MAC-leading 37 touchdown passes in 2003 while also running for 3 more scores. Though he was just a junior this year, it was Roethlisberger's last season in Oxford. He announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft following the Redhawks victory over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. There is no doubt that he has left the Miami program in the best shape he could have. The 'Hawks are in the middle of a 13-game winning streak, the longest such streak in major college football. In this his final season, he took Miami to a bowl game for the first time in almost 20 years. And if you are wondering about his NFL future, don't worry for long. He joins the ranks of two former MAC quarterbacks who are doing just fine in the NFL so far. Roethlisberger and two of Marshall's former stars, Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington, are the only QBs from that conference to ever reach 11,000 career yards in total offense. Not bad company....
photo courtesy ncaafootball.net
Miami QB Brock Berlin After appearing in the national championship game for two consecutive seasons under head coach Larry Coker, one of the biggest stories of the season was the fall of Miami's dominance in college football. The Hurricanes began the season 7-0 and were flying high heading into the month of November. A road game at Big East rival Virginia Tech turned ugly as the Hokies demolished UM 31-7 to give Coker his first ever regular season loss at Miami. While most people saw the Tech game as a fluke and expected the 'Canes to take out their frustration on Tennessee, who was visiting UM the next weekend, that didn't happen. Miami dropped their second straight game, a 10-6 home decision to the Vols. Though the 'Canes would go on to win their next two games over Syracuse and Rutgers in Miami, neither game was well-played by UM. The 'Canes trailed the Orangemen 10-7 at halftime before squeaking out 10 points in the fourth quarter to win. Against Rutgers the next week, Miami was up only 6-3 at halftime before coming away with a 24-point win. Though things turned up for Miami in their last two games, the Hurricanes showed that they are not the king of college football any longer.
photo courtesy ncaafootball.net
Navy QB Craig Candeto In head coach Paul Johnson's second and QB Craig Candeto's last year in Annapolis, it was a season like the Midshipmen haven't seen in many years. After winning only two games in 2002 and none in 2001, 2003 saw Navy make its first bowl trip since 1996. Though the Midshipmen lost that game to Texas Tech in Houston, it appears that the Naval Academy may have found some of the success that they saw in the late 1970's and early 1980's when the Midshipmen went to three bowl games in four years. Navy led the entire nation in rushing offense, and that attack was orchestrated by QB Craig Candeto and RB Kyle Eckel. Both rushed for over 1,100 yards in 2003. Eckel scored 10 TDs on the season, while Candeto accounted for 23 total, seven passing and sixteen rushing. Along the way, Navy picked up some big wins to boost the team into the public's eye. The first came at home against Air Force in early October. Eckel ran for over 175 yards while Candeto threw only 6 passes all day as Navy earned a three-point win. It was much of the same story for Navy in victories later in the season over Vanderbilt, Tulane, and rival Army. With a solid foundation now set under coach Paul Johnson and this year's on-the-field success, Navy fans should expect more of the same in the coming years. It was seven years between Navy's most recent bowl trips; it shouldn't take that long to get back this time.
photo courtesy ncaafootball.net
Oklahoma State WR Rashaun Woods Everyone knew about Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods coming into the 2003 season. That probably explains why the senior from Oklahoma City didn't have the stats many expected him to have this fall. But if there is one memory that will be left behind by the star WR, it is his seven-touchdown performance against SMU. Though he only played in the game until mid-way through the third quarter, Woods broke numerous records: national, conference, school, and personal. His seven touchdown receptions against the Mustangs broke a NCAA Division I record that had stood since 1969. He left the game with career highs in both catches (13) and yards (232). The seven TDs also set a school record for scores of any kind, while his first touchdown catch, the 30th of his career, broke both the OSU and Big XII precedents. If he didn't have the record already, he would have also broken Oklahoma State's school record for career receiving yards. Though the Big XII competition will be glad to see him go, they can't slack up for long. That's because Rashaun's little brother D'Juan will be a sophomore WR for the Cowboys in 2004. D'Juan was OSU's second-leading WR in 2003, hauling in almost 500 receiving yards. And in case that wasn't enough, Donovan Woods, a QB, will also be in the mix next year at Oklahoma State. It's becoming a Saturday family tradition in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
photo courtesy ncaafootball.net
Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons When Texas Tech lost QB Kliff Kingsbury to the NFL following the 2002 season, most expected the Red Raiders, who were led by their offense (which was led by Kingsbury), to fade back into the back half of the Big XII. But outside of Lubbock, Texas, few people had heard of another emerging star at QB. Though he would be starting for the first time as a senior, B.J. Symons was expected to do big things in his one year as leader of Texas Tech. But to fully replace a QB that threw for just over 5,000 yards and 45 TDs (and only 13 INTs) in 2002 was really too much to ask. Or was it? Not for Symons. Not only did the Houston native take the Red Raiders under his wing and lead the Big XII in passing, he led the entire nation in passing. In his 13 games leading the TT offense, Symons threw for about 700 more yards (5,800 to 5,100) and 7 more touchdowns (52 to 45) than Kingsbury did a year ago. He also scored three more touchdowns (5 to 2) rushing the ball than Kingsbury did in 2002. If that wasn't impressive enough, Symons confessed that he had been injured for more than half the season following the Red Raiders' bowl win over Navy. Though he will have reconstructive surgery on his ACL to repair an injury suffered on October 11, Symons told the Associated Press that he believes he's "got a lot of football left" in him. And unfortunately for college football fans all across the United States, we were only be able to see B.J. in the Texas Tech red for one season.
photo courtesy sports.yahoo.com
Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald After a freshman season in 2002 that saw Larry Fitzgerald lead the Big East in receiving and be the first ever true freshman to make the All-Big East First Team, much was expected out of WR Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Though he didn't start a game until mid-September in his freshman season, Fitzgerald caught 69 passes for 12 TDs (both of which led the Big East) and 1,005 yards. And if he didn't have enough momentum heading into the offseason, the freshman also had caught a TD pass in six straight games at the conclusion of the 2002 season, tying former Pitt WR Antonio Bryant's mark. Though Pitt fans hoped that streak would continue for a few games, no one imagined that the streak would last the entire regular season, taking it to a total of 18 games. Though that streak was stopped in the Continental Tire Bowl against Virginia, Fitzgerald didn't just lead the Big East in receiving this year. He led the entire country. And he didn't just barely lead the country in receiving. He had almost 200 more receiving yards, 6 more TDs, and 13 more receiving yards per game than the country's next-best WR in each category. Even though he was just a sophomore this season, it may have been Fitzgerald's last in a Pitt uniform. He may decide to petition the NFL for an early entry into April's draft. If he doesn't come back, he will always be remembered as one of college football's best WRs ever.
photo courtesy sports.yahoo.com
Former Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich Following a 9-3 regular season record, the University of Nebraska fired head coach Frank Solich. Though the Cornhuskers had struggled against tough competition in the last two seasons, many were shocked that NU would terminate a coach that had won more than 75% of his games while at that school. Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson stated that his decision was "not one determined by wins and losses" but one made in an effort to keep Nebraska football from gravitating "to a level of mediocrity." Though it is obvious that the past two seasons have not been up the level of expectations in Lincoln, Frank Solich was named the Big XII Coach of the Year in both 1999 and 2001, won the conference championship in 1999, and played for the national title in 2001. At the press conference in which the Solich firing was announced, Pederson also said that a national search would begin immediately to find a new coach. That was to be expected since no one, not even Nebraska, would fire a head coach who won over 75% of his games and went 9-3 in his final season without some big-time names on their candidate list. However, several of their top choices, including Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, have publicly announced that they will remain at their current jobs, leaving college football fans nationwide even more dumbfounded at the NU decision. For more on this issue, check out the December 18 issue of Jonathan's Journal.
photo courtesy journalstar.com
NC State QB Philip Rivers Philip Rivers was not only the greatest QB in NC State history; he might be the best QB in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. First looking at just his stats from this past season, the senior from Athens, Alabama threw for the second-most yards in the country this season, behind only B.J. Symons of Texas Tech. His 72% completion percentage this season was tops in the nation, and only five QBs threw for more touchdowns than did Rivers. His TD to interception ratio in 2003 was nearly 5:1. But the reason Rivers was so special was not because of 2003 but because of the four years he started for Chuck Amato's NC State football team. He started all 49 of his games as a member of the Wolfpack and started his career with a bang. In his true freshman season, Rivers was named the ACC Rookie of the Year, set seven NCSU passing records, was chosen as ACC Rookie of the Week a conference-record eight times, and was an Academic All-ACC player. His QB rating improved with each year at NC State, and by the time he was done tearing opponents apart, Philip Rivers had set the ACC's career passing and and total offense records. As if they had a choice, the ACC named Rivers the Player of the Year following this past season, his last in Raleigh. College football fans everywhere, though maybe not those in the ACC who had to face Rivers four times, will miss the QB's awkward delivery of the football, though NFL scouts will surely glad to get a closer look at him.
photo courtesy sports.yahoo.com
TCU Just Missed Out on the BCS The TCU Horned Frogs were on the verge of becoming the first-ever team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl game until they lost in late November. TCU went into Hattiesburg, Mississippi with a number eight ranking in the BCS poll but came away with a heart-wrenching defeat, ending any chance the Frogs had of earning an at-large bid to one of the four Bowl Championship Series bowls. Though they were down as much as 31-6 at one point in the fourth quarter, the Frogs rallied back and scored three touchdowns in five minutes to get within three points at 31-28. What made that comeback even more miraculous was the fact that TCU recovered two consecutive onsides kicks to score the final two of their touchdowns and keep their dream alive. Southern Miss took over the ball with a little less than seven minutes remaining in the game and drove down the field to kick a field goal. Still down only six points, the Frogs took over on offense but committed their second fumble and fourth turnover of the game. The Golden Eagles sealed the deal with a touchdown-scoring drive to take a 40-28 lead and guarantee themselves a share of the CUSA title. Once looking like a promising shot for BCS-hopefuls all across the country, that Thursday night loss at Southern Miss not only cost TCU a shot at the BCS, but it also allowed USM to finish the season first in CUSA. Though many experts felt that TCU's strength of schedule was not great enough for a BCS appearance, the Frogs came as close as any team in recent years to earning a BCS berth. If they had not dropped that decision in Hattiesburg, it is likely that TCU would have become college football's first-ever team from a non-BCS conference to play in one of the four BCS bowls.
photo courtesy ncaafootball.net
USC / LSU National Champs For the first time since the BCS took over college football in the late 1990's, there was a split national championship in 2003. Going into the bowl season, Southern Cal was ranked first in both the ESPN Coaches' and AP Polls, while the BCS ranked Oklahoma number one and LSU number two. Both LSU and Southern Cal proved themselves worthy of claiming a national championship with their bowl performances. The Trojans took on Big Ten champion Michigan in the Rose Bowl and dismantled the Wolverines. Though they only won the game by two touchdowns, it was obvious that USC was a giant leap ahead of UM. According to the BCS, America's top two teams took the field in New Orleans' Sugar Bowl. LSU took a 21-7 lead, gave up a fourth-quarter touchdown, and hung on late for a win that gave the Tigers the BCS national title. When the ESPN Coaches' Poll came out on Monday, almost every one of the voting coaches chose LSU as their national champion. But the AP Poll told a different story as almost 75% of the voting writers chose Southern Cal as their national champion. Both teams will have trophies to display for their accomplishments in 2003. And both teams accomplished so much this season that an argument as to which one is better could go on for days. But the worst part about the whole process is that the BCS was brought about to prevent just this sort of thing...and again we are left with co-national champions. Though the argument for a college football playoff has existed for many years, this was a clear signal to the college football gods that there is room for a playoff in NCAA football. If they don't get the message now, they may never get it.
photos courtesy lsusports.net and sports.yahoo.com
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