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Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006 | I could tell you what a big weekend it was in San Diego sports and you would no doubt recall Sunday night’s Padres/Chargers double-header.

The Padres began play at 5:05 p.m. in St. Louis against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. It turned out to be the fourth and final game of the series when the Padres lost, 6-2.

The Chargers began play at 5:15 at Qualcomm Stadium against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers before a NBC’s national television audience. The Chargers’ 23-13 win not only reaffirmed them as contenders for the AFC West title but established they have what it takes to win big games and possibly advance deep into the playoffs.

They also silenced those obnoxious Pittsburgh fans, most of them Pittsburghers who’ve relocated in San Diego or Southern California. They infiltrated Qualcomm and waved their Terrible Towel.

Memo to all Steelers fans who’ve lived in San Diego five years or more: Go back to Pittsburgh if you love the Steelers so much so you can go to all the games. One reason San Diego is such a good sports town is so many of us are from the East or Midwest and have after a few years adopted San Diego and its professional teams – continuing to cheer for your college alma mater is acceptable – while balancing our passion for sports with our knowledge of the game.

But if you only watched the Padres and Chargers, you might have missed more San Diego sports, in particular what the team of a former Chargers quarterback – who is from the Midwest, by the way – is accomplishing this year.

Jim Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL as a first-round draft pick out of Michigan, including two with the Chargers (1999-2000). His University of San Diego football team played at home Saturday night and routed Butler 56-3 in a Pioneer Football League game at Torero Stadium.

Harbaugh, in his third year at the school, has USD navigating uncharted water as the Toreros have climbed into the Division I-AA national top 25 for the first time in school history. After Saturday’s 12th straight win, the Toreros have climbed to No. 21 in The Sports Network poll, the most recognized poll for Division I-AA; No. 19 in College Sporting News; and No. 11 Don Hansen’s Football Gazette.

Among mid-major schools in Division I-AA, USD remains No. 1 by The Sports Network as it has been all season after winning the mythical national title last year as the No. 1 team. USD is considered a mid-major school in football because it doesn’t award athletic scholarships.

But the Toreros now are enjoying the once improbable prospect of earning an at-large entry into the Division I-AA playoffs. That would mean they’re competing with schools such as Cal Poly – a Division I-AA quarterfinalist last year ranked No. 4 this season and playing at San Diego State on Oct. 28 – that offer as many as 63 scholarships.

There are 16 teams in the Division I-AA field, with eight automatic berths and eight at-large berths. USD hopes to climb into the Top 16 of the NCAA power rankings for the Division I-AA playoff seeding. Last week they were No. 22 in an unofficial Grid Power Index.

In fact, the Toreros are playing so well, they may have a conflict with their final regular season game on Nov. 25 at UC Davis. That’s because the Division I-AA playoffs begin Nov. 25.

If the Toreros keep winning, they also would qualify for the Gridiron Classic, a bowl game scheduled for Nov. 18 between the PFL and Northeast Conference champions. That would mean a post-season game before the playoffs.

“We’re in communication with all the athletic directors and conference commissioners involved,” USD athletic director Ky Snyder said. “It’s a little early, and we have to see how this all plays out, so I don’t want to jinx us. But we believe there are enough options available.”

USD can’t be faulted for the scheduling conflict. The odds of a mid-major Division I-AA school being invited into the Division I-AA playoffs may be longer than the odds of a non-Bowl Championship Series school being invited to a BCS bowl game. It’s only happened once, with Utah in 2004.

The Gridiron Classic would be the Toreros’ reward if the Division I-AA playoffs remain and an unrealistic goal. The game with UC Davis – which is ineligible for the playoffs while making the transition from Division II to Division I-AA – was an opportunity for the Toreros to measure themselves against a scholarship school that defeated Stanford last year.

“Everybody has said, ‘If you get in, you’re going to play.’ “Snyder said.”That’s the way I would feel about it if another school were in this situation with us.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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