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Friday, November 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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College Football

Fresh starts for Bellotti's former assistants

Seattle Times college football reporter

By any measure, it's a big year for Mike Bellotti's old assistants at Oregon. In fact, they're having a much better time than Bellotti himself.

• Jeff Tedford, his old offensive coordinator now at California, is the hottest prospective name out there in college coaching.

• Dirk Koetter, Tedford's predecessor at Oregon, has Arizona State poised for a 9-2 season and the Holiday Bowl.

• Chris Petersen, Bellotti's wide receivers coach for six years, is the coordinator of unbeaten Boise State's offense, and the likely successor at BSU if Dan Hawkins leaves.

Then there's the forgotten guy. Or at least the coach some Oregon fans want to forget.

Al Borges, 49, has a front-row seat for the growing Auburn-Oklahoma, we-ought-to-be-No. 2 debate. Borges is offensive coordinator for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, and he's being cited as the difference in quarterback Jason Campbell and the blossoming of the Tigers' offense.

"I'm getting a lot of credit," said Borges over the phone this week from Auburn, "but I don't think that's really right."

It's almost as if Borges disappeared from college football a few years ago. Lured by a big salary and a two-year contract, he went from UCLA in 2001 to the last year of the Tom Holmoe regime at Cal, a program he termed "dysfunctional."

Then he hooked on at Indiana for 2002-03, not exactly a prescription for advancement.

When he got to Auburn, this is where the Tigers were: They went 8-5 in 2003 and the school administration was the object of derision for the misbegotten, failed overthrow of Tuberville. Athletic director David Housel and then-president William Walker — key word being "then" — flew to a clandestine meeting with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino with the idea of courting Petrino, even as Tuberville was still the coach.

Instead, it was Walker who resigned and Tuberville who drew sympathy, winning a contract extension and hiring Borges from Indiana. The charge was to work with Campbell, who last year was 40th nationally in pass efficiency with a modest 10-to-8 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio.

"I'm his fourth coordinator in four years," says Borges. "People say that's bad. But, in a way, he's learned so much from so many guys, his learning curve wasn't that steep.

"We kept what they did very well, which was the running game. We just wanted to add some efficiency to the passing game, which we thought would put us over the hump."

Done. Campbell is No. 4-rated nationally, his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is 15-to-4, and he averages 9.81 yards per pass, better than Jason White, Matt Leinart, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith.

The Tuberville slant has brightened the spotlight on what already would have been a big national story. But with Alabama next up, Borges knows only too well that it can all be fleeting.

Borges was Bob Toledo's offensive coordinator in 1998, when UCLA went to Miami and lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and a spot in the national-title game.

"You can't be 12-0 unless you're 11-0," he says.

The fact he was at UCLA at all rankled Oregon fans. Bellotti had hired him as his first offensive coordinator in 1995, but Borges left after a season to join UCLA. He says the Bruins had a better reputation for putting assistant coaches into jobs in the NFL, his goal at the time.

"I have never considered leaving Oregon a mistake," he says. "I consider going to Cal a mistake."

Borges says Bellotti forgave him, even interviewing him as a candidate to return after Tedford left. But Borges says Indiana's Gerry DiNardo beat him to it, and he took the bird in the hand.

"Mike Bellotti was absolutely awesome the time I coached with him," Borges says. "He never called a play, never bothered me on game plans, he was absolutely fabulous. I'm not sure I could do that."

Borges might get to find out. He says he'd be interested in becoming a head coach, and with Auburn's rise, he could get the chance.

Boiling point

Lost in Purdue's fall from the Top 10 to also-ran is the run by Yakima's Taylor Stubblefield toward the NCAA career receptions lead. Stubblefield has 295 catches and is only five behind the leader, Arnold Jackson of Louisville (1997-2000).

"It would mean a lot," Stubblefield said from the Purdue campus. "The season has been filled with ups and downs for me personally. I've just tried to keep working hard."

There's a bit of a catch. Also at 295, tied with Stubblefield, is Marshall receiver Josh Davis. But Marshall is only 5-5 with a game left against Western Michigan (1-8) and likely won't have a bowl game as Purdue will.

"I can't worry about what he does," says Stubblefield. "I just have to go out there and catch the balls I can catch."

Marshall coach Bob Pruett, at his weekly new conference, said, "We'll do what we can to help J.D."

Stubblefield, who signed in 2001, says Washington tried to get him "to make a decision too fast. I didn't want to do that and they obviously didn't like that, so they pulled their scholarship offer."

Stubblefield then chose between WSU and Purdue. He picked the Boilermakers, who had just come off a Rose Bowl appearance. The Cougars have been 34-14 in his four years with a Rose Bowl appearance of their own, while Purdue (6-4) has gone 28-20.

Still, Stubblefield says, "I'm definitely glad of the decision I made."

Notes

• Last week, the estranged father of Missouri QB Brad Smith, Phillip Smith, called Kansas City Star columnist/talk-show host Jason Whitlock and trashed Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel, saying, "He has the personality of a dill pickle." Brad Smith's running numbers are significantly down this year, and the elder Smith said, "You're making him drop back and throw 50, 60 times in a game. It's ridiculous."

• You have to think the Fiesta Bowl is pining for a BYU upset tomorrow that would keep Utah out of Tempe on Jan. 1. Unlike Texas, Utah would be a tough TV sell, and the Fiesta may already be getting Boston College, which is only No. 19 in the polls.

• Not only did Clemson (5-5) endanger a bowl bid by losing to Duke, seven Tigers were stuck on an elevator at the Durham Marriott for an hour and 40 minutes late Friday night. Maximum weight was 3,000 pounds, and 13 players (six crawled out through a hole) weighed 3,215.

• In the bizarre-stats department, North Carolina State, just 4-6, has outgained every opponent. And this: Minnesota outrushed Iowa, 337-6, and lost 29-27.

• Nebraska's (5-5) string of bowl appearances (35) and its tenure without a losing season (since 1961) will be at stake when it hosts Colorado on Nov. 26.

• Miami (7-2) could lose out on a BCS bid even if it finishes in a three-way ACC tie with Virginia Tech and Florida State and has beaten both. Tech and FSU don't play each other, so the bid would go to the team highest in the BCS.

• With people like Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops questioning ESPN's commentary on the polls, and LSU's Nick Saban also throwing rocks at the system, is it too much to ask the coaches to reveal their final poll vote? Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association surveyed coaches, and the 31-30 affirmative ballot wasn't deemed conclusive enough.

Bud Withers' Pac-10 rankings
Team Comment
1 USC (10-0) Trojans so good, may challenge Ken Jennings on "Jeopardy"
2 California (8-1) Freshman running back is Lynch-pin to future success
3 Arizona St. (8-2) Wants trophy for claiming Little Eight championship
4 UCLA (6-4) Poll reveals 17 supporters would follow team to Sun Bowl
5 Oregon St. (5-5) Bad idea, moving training table to local bar
6 Oregon (5-5) Bowl bid of no consequence, but wants Neuheisel Cup badly
7 Stanford (4-6) If Koppel weren't alum, would grill Teevens on "Nightline"
8 WSU (4-6) Last time it beat UW, Edward R. Murrow did play-by-play
9 Arizona (2-8) Where's Max Zendejas when you really need him?
10 Washington (1-9) Stadium siren now goes off upon successful handoffs
The picks for this weekend
Matchup Prediction
WSU 27, Washington 12 Cougars appear to have more playmakers left
Oregon 24, Oregon State 22 Finally, Ducks get it right
California 37, Stanford 17 But Bears clearly miss injured receivers
Last week: 3-2. Season: 41-14.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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