© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Willis McGahee's decision on whether to return to Miami has been made for him -- in the worst possible way.
McGahee tore three ligaments in his left knee against Ohio State Friday night in the Fiesta Bowl and is scheduled for reconstructive surgery today.
The injury will prevent the sophomore, who ran for a school-record 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns this season and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker and Walter Camp awards, from entering the NFL draft. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound Miami native was widely projected to be the first running back taken in April.
"That's more tragic than losing the national title," offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "That kid is so tough and meant so much to our team. To be so close to the end of the game. He was really starting to crank when he got hurt. Those things happen. He's got to be devastated. You just imagine what's going through his head."
The injury to McGahee, who became the starter when Frank Gore tore ligaments in his knee during spring practice, occurred with 11:39 left in the fourth quarter, when he took a screen pass from Ken Dorsey on third and 10 from the Ohio State 35 and was hit by Will Allen for a 2-yard loss. McGahee, who carried eight times for 42 yards after halftime, including a 9-yard touchdown run that cut Ohio State's lead to 17-14 with about two minutes left in the third quarter, had to be helped from the field and was in severe pain for much of the night, coaches said. He totaled 20 carries for 67 yards.
Gore began running five months after his injury but hasn't returned to full-contact practice. He spent last week acting as Ohio State's Maurice Clarett in practice. McGahee has nearly eight months before Miami's season opener at Louisiana Tech.
"He'll come back," running backs coach Don Soldinger said. "He's that type of guy, a competitor, a hard worker. I've seen it over and over again. If he stays positive and works hard -- he's down in the dumps right now -- he'll come back. He has an unbelievable work ethic combined with tremendous talent. You can't go wrong that way."
PARTING SHOTS: Secondary coach Mark Stoops had a few choice words for Terry Porter, the field judge who ruled that Miami freshman cornerback Glenn Sharpe interfered with intended receiver Chris Gamble on the fourth-down pass that fell to the ground in the end zone, setting up Ohio State's tying touchdown.
"I really thought that game was over," Stoops told ESPN.com. "Just like everybody else. And there's not another official in the history of the game that would make that call."
Stoops added, "We were blitzing. I didn't want them to catch a little slant or a little hitch. I told them to get in the receiver's face because there's not an official that's going to make that call. They'd been letting us play all day, so let us play. ... A couple of plays before, they pushed off to create some separation, so if you're going to let us play, well let us play. I want to see the replay, and if that's as bad a call as I think it was, something ought to be done. That was a joke. That's all I can really say."
In the past two years, according to ESPN.com, the Big 12 has issued at least two letters of apology after games in which Porter, part of that conference's officiating crew, has made controversial calls.
RATINGS: The game drew the highest television rating since the Bowl Championship Series started pairing the top teams for the national title after the 1998 season. ABC reported an 18.6 rating, a 30.7 percent jump from last year's national championship, when Miami routed Nebraska 37-14 in the Rose Bowl. The ratings were measured in the country's 55 largest markets. Nationwide ratings will be released Monday. The rating peaked during the final half-hour at 22.3. The four highest-rated markets were in Ohio: Columbus (52.1), Cleveland (42.7), Dayton (38.5) and Cincinnati (33.6). West Palm Beach was seventh (26.1), Orlando was 10th (25.2) and Miami was tied with Atlanta for 11th (25.0).