In that great two-point conversion in the sky there will no doubt be an NCAA football playoff. Until then, however, there will only be the postseason bowl games. These attractions are a lot of fun, of course, and certainly American, but the trouble with them is that only infrequently do they help determine a true national champion. The games in the Sugar, Cotton, Orange, Gator and Rose bowls this time around are good cases in point. They resemble the interesting intersectional contests that schools for years have been scheduling in September or early October, before they get into their conference games. Each one might well turn into a rouser, diverting millions from their holiday hangovers, but none of them figure to settle anything more important than which school has the prettiest cheerleaders (see cover).
There should be a lot of gaudy offenses, to be sure, devised for such gifted players as Florida's Steve Spurrier, Purdue's Bob Griese, Georgia Tech's Lenny Snow, Syracuse's Floyd Little, SMU's Jerry Levias, Alabama's Ken Stabler and Nebraska's Harry Wilson, among many others, who will be on display for the 370,000 ticket-holders and the 50 million expected to watch on television. But only one of the five major games, the Sugar Bowl, can have any serious impact on the national scene.
In New Orleans, Alabama, the only major undefeated, untied team in America, will make a desperate effort to grab a share of the national championship smorgasbord that is spread out every season. Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide meets Nebraska, a 9-1 team and champion of the Big Eight, and, should there be any doubt about it, the Tide sought out the Cornhuskers for the very purpose of achieving a No. 1 ranking.
"Usually we pick the place," says Bryant, "but this time we picked the team. Notre Dame doesn't go to bowls, so Nebraska was the best team we could meet."
There are almost as many national championship awards as there are conferences—four notable ones, in fact. But three of them have escaped Alabama. The AP and UPI have already crowned Notre Dame, and the Hall of Fame Foundation has awarded a co-championship to the Irish and Michigan State, the two teams which played a 10-10 standoff in what was billed as the game of the century and should have encouraged someone from Kansas State, Vanderbilt or Lehigh to insist, "Two tie, all tie."
The national title still to be given out is that of the Football Writers Association of America, a sensible organization that has always waited until after the bowl games to name its winner. Should Alabama defeat Nebraska, which is no foregone conclusion, it would have a strong case. It would not only have an 11-0 record to put up against the 9-0-1 of Notre Dame and Michigan State, it would have whipped more foes who had winning records than any other team in the country—six, for example, to Notre Dame's four.
Right down to the New Orleans kickoff, The Bear is fighting every way he can for his fourth No. 1 trophy because, among other things, he says, "this is a better team than the last two of ours that won it."
Says Bryant, "We've done everything that was asked of us. So we won all our games. It was said nobody had ever beaten Tennessee, Mississippi and LSU in the same season, and we did that. We came from 10 points down against Tennessee and didn't go for a tie. We went for a win and got it."
The Tennessee game gave Bryant the opportunity to drawl one of the best remarks of his lifetime. The Tide won, all right, 11-10, at Knoxville, overtaking what was certainly the best 7-3 team in the country. But the Vols missed a field goal in the last 16 seconds from Alabama's 11-yard line. Asked later what he would have done if the ball had been booted straight, Bryant said, "Blocked it."
While the Sugar Bowl will have the most significance, the Rose Bowl on this occasion will have the least, or none. The teams that should be playing are Michigan State and UCLA, a pairing that would have as much bearing on No. 1 as Alabama-Nebraska, but instead the Pasadena sponsors were forced to be content with Purdue and USC. The Big Ten has a hypocritical rule that prevents a champion from returning to California. Which accounts for Purdue's presence. To further weaken the attraction, the Pacific Coast voted for USC, then 7-2, to be the host team over 9-1 UCLA, even though the Bruins defeated the Trojans 14-7 and even though the selectors knew that a large, unspecified number of Trojans would be ineligible to play in a bowl. Ignoring the second consideration, the Pacific Eight reasoned that Southern California had played one more conference game than UCLA and therefore was one game better. After its selection USC promptly lost to angry Notre Dame 51-0 and announced that nine players, including two starters, would not play in the bowl.
Meanwhile the Cotton Bowl has taken pride in matching two conference champions, SMU from the Southwest and Georgia from the Southeastern. But what manner of conference champions are they, really? SMU did win the title, but it lost to Arkansas 22-0 in its big test and scratched out a couple of last-minute victories over two other opponents, Texas A&M and Rice, which Arkansas thrashed 34-0 and 31-20. That the powerful Razorbacks managed to get upset by Baylor and Texas Tech with a team that should have tap-danced to a 10-0 record is one of the less fathomable mysteries of the season. The Hogs paid dearly for those blunders, missing out on any kind of bowl, but still had a very decent 8-2 record.
As for Georgia, it was awarded a co-championship although it played one less conference game than Alabama. But the Bulldogs got to count their North Carolina game in the standings, something UCLA did not get to do on the West Coast with, say, Air Force, Missouri or Rice, any one of which would have made as much sense—if any can be made of such a thing at all.
It was a season that jarred spectators' senses continually because of what it was and what it was not. Throughout the campaign high chalk, as the bettors call it, prevailed, which means that favorites came through consistently—and big. Upsets were fewer than in a dozen or so seasons past, obviously because of platooning, the substitution rule that helps the rich get richer. And even upsets that seemed to occur were not considered upsets later on. For example, Miami jolted USC 10-7 at midseason, and responsible handicappers thought it calamitous. But a few Saturdays passed, and the truth became clear: Miami was a stronger team with a better record. If, at the end, anything resembled an old-fashioned, kill-yourself upset it was Texas Tech's 21-16 sneak attack on Arkansas.
It was a season in which a wrong call by an official might have won the Heisman Trophy. Florida State hit a touchdown pass on Florida—and Steve Spurrier—in the last second, but the receiver was ruled out of bounds. He was clearly in, as films proved. Florida won, however, and remained unbeaten through seven games to keep the nation's attention focused on Spurrier.
For controversy, nothing of any recent season equaled the Notre Dame-Michigan State game. Nor has it fully subsided. The importance of the game affected both teams to the point that they were too nervous to perform at their best, but there was plenty of hard tackling and excitement. The day was spoiled in the last minute when Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock and settle for a tie instead of trying for a victory until the last gasp. Parseghian's decision had a weird effect on some of college football's political elections.
The following week Michigan State moved ahead of Notre Dame in the UPI ratings, and the Irish's comfortable lead in the AP rankings was vividly lessened. Later on Michigan State Coach Duffy Daugherty was voted Midwest Coach of the Year, over Parseghian. Considering Notre Dame's nationwide popularity, none of this would have happened if the Irish had not sat on the ball in that final minute. They would have won easily in all elections, receiving proper credit for their gallant comeback from 10 points down.
What saved Notre Dame, and its coach, was the happy circumstance of having one remaining game. And when the Irish bombed USC it lifted them safely back to the top of the wire-service rankings, though it still got them no better than another tie with the Spartans in the Hall of Fame considerations. The Hall of Fame took the more logical position that the Spartans and Notre Dame finished their seasons with identical records, and the fact that the Irish ended up a week later had no bearing on whether one was better than the other.
The season had no other controversies to approach the game at East Lansing, but there were a few bizarre tricks. A female voice, calling herself Texas Rose, went on the radio and riled up Oklahoma to the point of defeating Texas for the first time in eight years. She was, of course, an OU coed. Someone planted a homemade bomb under the turf at Iowa State, and there were rumors of a possible assassination attempt on SMU's Jerry Levias before the TCU game, but he caught a 68-yard touchdown pass anyhow and got home safely. Colorado State used a fake fumble with a pass on the end to hand Wyoming its only loss. A Washington back named Don Moore gained 221 yards against Ohio State, but two weeks later was kicked off the squad for disciplinary reasons. Paul Dietzel left Army for South Carolina, where things looked more fertile, and had a 1-9 record, and unknown Tom Cahill took over at West Point, where his record was 8-2, the best of any of the new men who took over at major schools.
It was a busy season for the trainers, as a batch of name players went down with injuries, most notably UCLA's Gary Beban, Michigan State's Bob Apisa, Notre Dame's Nick Eddy and Terry Hanratty, Georgia Tech's Kim King, Texas' Bill Bradley and North Carolina's Danny Talbott.
Although there were no surprisingly strong teams, except possibly SMU, there were many surprise stars, most of them sophomores. Among the best were Notre Dame's Hanratty and Jim Seymour, SMU's Levias, Georgia Tackle Bill Stanfill and Texas' Chris Gilbert, who rushed for 1,080 yards. Such athletes help make the incurable college fan yearn for a new season already. So, incidentally, do the bowls, scouting reports of which begin on the next page.
Ray Perkins, the All-America split end from Alabama, does not throw a football as well as he catches one. But don't be surprised if, in Alabama's rematch against Nebraska, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, you suddenly discover Perkins bellying back from the line (left), giving ground and fingering the laces on the ball Quarterback Kenny Stabler has just slipped to him on the sly. The long, arching spiral that follows may fall incomplete, but then it may not, and if some swift Alabama back like Dennis Homan catches it there will be no catching him.
Trick, totally unexpected plays like this one—and those diagramed on the following pages—were not responsible for putting Alabama or the other teams in the bowls, but they were used during the fall and could be trotted out again to decide the holiday-season games.
Last year Alabama won the national championship, its third in five years, by beating Nebraska 39-28 in the Orange Bowl, and the tackle-eligible play Alabama Coach Bear Bryant put in especially for the Cornhuskers that night was almost as dazzling as his team's outrageous speed. The Sugar Bowl, Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney kiddingly suggested, should bar the tackle-eligible play. Even if it did, Bryant would come up with something new—maybe even Homan passing to Perkins as a switch. But basically he will again rely on speed and agility to beat the hulking, slower Cornhuskers. Bryant will also have his boys convinced that only Nebraska stands between them and another national title, which means the Tide probably will play its best game of the season.
Some game, too. Perkins has broken many receiving records and together with Homan, the wingback, has made Stabler's third-down pass for the first and 10 as certain a play as there is in the game today. Not that there isn't any running. Fullback Les Kelley and Tailbacks Ed Morgan and Frank Canterbury have taken turns whacking through the line behind All-America Tackle Cecil Dowdy, who, only 206, has led a charge up front that has had the other teams flagging and bewildered at the finish.
On defense, however, is where this Tide really surges. Ten opponents have scored a smashing 37 points on Tackles John Sullivan, 192, and Richard Cole, 196, and Linebackers Bob Childs, 186, and Mike Hall, 210. After Mississippi State somehow wrested 14 points from Alabama in the sixth game, the team got so mad it shut out LSU, South Carolina, Southern Mississippi and Auburn in succession. Alabama will go into the Sugar Bowl game unscored upon in 16 consecutive quarters.
The lead feet of Nebraska stuck out ominously throughout the loss to Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day, and even though the Sooners are quick, they are not Alabama-quick. Nebraska particularly lacks speed where it needs it most—at fullback. Last year Devaney had a fast-starting fullback in Frankie Solich, the 158-pounder. But with 220-pound Pete Tatman, a step slower, now in his place, Nebraska is not what it used to be. Its longest touchdown from scrimmage this season was a 27-yard run by Bob Churchich, a quarterback in high-topped shoes. The rest of the Cornhusker runners, 219-pound Ben Gregory and 212-pound Harry Wilson, get their share of yardage through sheer strength, but they carry the ball with all the finesse of a guard. The resulting fumbles cost Nebraska two sure touchdowns against Iowa State, one each against Utah State and Kansas and set up other scores for the Jayhawks and Colorado.
Alabama, which almost never makes a mistake, eats up teams that do. The Tide should win handily, and if it starts to really roll, low-scoring Nebraska may never get a chance to use what became its most explosive play of the year, a blocked punt (right).
Until Georgia proved him to be only human, Quarterback Steve Spurrier had some people—even his own teammates—believing in Florida. Last September the Gators had been picked to win no more than half their games, but Spurrier led his team to seven straight wins by stirring his linemen to give him the extra second he needed to get the ball away. And when the opponent had the ball, Gator defenders battled just as hard to get it back so that the Heisman Trophy winner could throw again. It was not Spurrier and the line alone, however. Three new stars blossomed among the Gators: Larry Smith, a sophomore tailback, led the SEC in rushing and scoring, while Richard Trapp (right) and Paul Ewaldsen filled in nicely for Charles Casey, last year's All-America. But then Georgia snapped the win streak by controlling the ball and getting to Spurrier occasionally, just as Miami did later and as Georgia Tech will do Jan. 2.
Coach Bobby Dodd's "new look" Yellow Jackets have the roughest, toughest defense in their history, one that carried them to nine straight victories before that old spoiler, Georgia, showed that it was even tougher. The secret to Tech's success is the "Tech Wrecker," or rover back, Giles Smith, a converted fullback who has the knack of coming up with the big defensive play game after game, as do his partners, Linebackers Billy Schroer and W. J. Blane and Defensive Backs Bill Eastman and Sammy Burke. Players like these are expert at buying Tech the field position it needs to send Quarterback Kim King and backs Lenny Snow and Craig Baynham on offensive spectaculars. Tech's only major trouble has been its inability to move the ball up the middle—but then, Florida's middle is not Georgia's.
No one will ever know how good Georgia was this year, even after it has beaten SMU in the Cotton Bowl. In winning nine of 10 games the Bulldogs met four bowl teams. They defeated three of them—Ole Miss, Florida and Georgia Tech—and lost by a point to Miami. The other six wins came over opponents too much in the class of SMU to give the Mustangs any comfort when the teams meet Dec. 31. Georgia is deep, strong and rough ("I'd rather play Alabama anytime," says Auburn's Shug Jordan), and its defensive tackles, 230-pound Jim Patton and Bill Stanfill, 240, are among the best anywhere at forcing offensive bobbles that can give the ball to the Bulldogs in game-breaking field position. Vince Dooley coaches a highly disciplined attack, built around hard-running Kent Lawrence, a 9.5 tailback, Fullbacks Ronnie Jenkins and Brad Johnson. One coach, scouting the Bulldogs, said: "They may start a game with unusual stuff [below], but when it doesn't work they go right back to what they do best—block, tackle and hurt—and, oh, how they hurt!"
"But the fourth quarter belongs to us," boasts SMU, and up to now it usually has. The Mustangs pulled out three of their eight wins with 18 seconds or less remaining, moving the ball best when the pressure was worst. Three of every four SMU plays come off threatening pass-run options by Quarterbacks Mac White and Mike Livingston, but Split End Jerry Levias is the real reason the Ponies have averaged 20 points a game. Levias scores every fifth time he gets the football, running back punts and kickoffs, catching passes and throwing or running from the old end-around. Invariably he has been involved in SMU's biggest plays (right), and Georgia will try to keep the ball away from him. All-America Middle Guard John LaGrone and a good defensive line will be out to get it back, but quicker Georgia should handle slower SMU fairly easily.
Close your eyes. Think of the past and of all that Rose Bowl glory. Now open them. Do you see Purdue playing Southern Cal on Jan. 2? It is true, but maybe because nothing at all hinges on the outcome of this game it will be a good one. For the Boilermakers, at least, it is bound to be a lot of fun, because winter has never found them any farther west than Lafayette. For the Trojans there is the consolation that they, for a change, are in the Rose Bowl and UCLA or Oregon is not.
Leading Purdue through L. A. International Airport, Hollywood and Disneyland and into the game will be Quarterback Bob Griese, second only to Steve Spurrier in one-man productions. Griese, who gets the ball away faster than any other college passer, also punts, kicks off, kicks extra points, kicks field goals and runs with the ball like a halfback. "Without Bob, well, we just wouldn't be here," says Purdue Coach Jack Mollenkopf in the sharpest analysis of his team made in the last three years.
The NCAA stripped USC of two of its best players and seven others, and although Coach Johnny McKay says he expected to lose them all along, their departure does not make the Trojans, who lost three games during the year, any stronger. The biggest loss was Ron Drake, the team's best receiver, whom Quarterback Troy Winslow liked to hit with short, eight- to 10-yarders. Now Winslow will go to Halfback Rod Sherman. A precision runner and pass catcher, Sherman will also line up at tailback and throw the 29 Pitch Pass (below), which, in addition to an element of surprise, puts extreme pressure on the left defensive halfback. No play, however, will work often enough to pull the Trojans through against the Griese kid's stuff.
Tennessee, winner of seven games and the loser of three others by a total of 11 points, is the first team ever to come out of Knoxville with proficient, pro-like passing. Considering the caliber of the teams the Volunteers threw against all year, Syracuse is in deep, deep trouble. Its only two losses came at the hands of two other passers—Baylor's Terry Southall and UCLA's Gary Beban. All-America Halfback Floyd Little, Fullback Larry Csonka and the customarily bruising Syracuse line play brought the Orange back on an eight-game win streak, but, significantly, none of the victories was achieved against teams that threw well.
On his good days, Tennessee Quarterback Dewey Warren ranks among the best passers around, and few have better receivers. Split End Johnny Mills holds every important Tennessee receiving record, Wingback Richmond Flowers, the sophomore hurdler, gets more dangerous every game, and although Tight End Austin Denney has caught only 21 passes this year, seven have gone for touchdowns.
Defensively, the Vols are not particularly large, but, led by Linebacker Paul Naumoff, they gang-tackle and pursue in the Southeastern manner, which is to say, few teams in the country defend better. Their main task on New Year's Eve—containing Little while watching for Csonka's belts up the middle and the possibility of a pass off a fake kick (above)—is made easier by the fact that Syracuse does not have a passing attack of its own. Quarterback Rick Cassata, who took over halfway through the season, has completed only 41 passes for 472 yards, and not one was thrown in the face of the kind of rush he will see from the Volunteers. Down all season, eastern football should take another hiding.
PITCHOUT TO TRAPP