For the moment at least, it's Texas. Let's hear no arguments out of Norman, Tuscaloosa, South Bend and those other campuses with teams sporting one black eye. Texas has none, having wound up its season undefeated, the nation's only perfect record. In a last furious weekend of college football, the Longhorns scored a convincing 57-28 victory over Texas A&M as a bunch of teams rooted for a miracle. Alabama and Oklahoma crushed Auburn and Nebraska. Arkansas and Penn State edged Texas Tech and Pittsburgh. Michigan and Notre Dame were home eating turkey.
All those teams might be where Texas is today but for a single slip. Sometimes a team with one loss might have a genuine claim to No. 1 over an unbeaten team, but this is not one of those years. Oklahoma? Lost to Texas. Arkansas? Lost to Texas. Alabama? Lost to Nebraska which lost to Oklahoma which lost to Texas. Penn State? Lost to Kentucky which lost to Baylor which lost to Texas. Notre Dame? Lost to Mississippi which lost to Alabama which...well, we've been through that. Michigan? The Wolverines lost to Minnesota and, yes, the road winds back to Texas through Indiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Come bowl time, the hopefuls get one last chance, especially Notre Dame. To finish the season as national champions, the Longhorns must beat the Irish in the Cotton Bowl. If they do not, hang on. Certainly Notre Dame will start waving index fingers. The winner of Oklahoma-Arkansas in the Orange Bowl will make loud noises. And there will be cries from the Sugar Bowl, too, if Alabama wins its game against Ohio State, which beat Minnesota, which....
Two other teams that often in the past have been deeply involved in such matters met last weekend, USC knocking UCLA out of the Rose Bowl—and knocking Washington in—with a last-second field goal. The game was not for No. 1, except in Los Angeles, but these two old rivals, despite their loss-studded 1977 records, had the satisfaction of playing the most dramatic game of this dramatic weekend.
December 5, 1977
TEXAS 57, TEXAS A&M 28
On the eve of his most important game, against Texas A&M in the Hate Bowl at College Station, University of Texas Running Back Earl Campbell wants some peace. To this end, he is tactfully ridding his dorm room of myriad followers. He locks the door, takes the phone off the hook, puts a rock group on the stereo, feeds his five goldfish and one catfish, then sets about answering a query as to how he got so good: "I don't drill on trying to be the best. I just expect to be." That sentiment warms the heart of his coach, Fred Akers, who likes to tell his players, "Seldom, if ever, do you exceed your own expectations."
Earl is one of 11 kids raised by a widowed mother in a plank shack on country road 492 near Tyler, Texas. He tried to improve his lot by hustling pool, which could earn him $100 on a good night. "We're poor," says Campbell, "but we're rich in a lot of ways."
Today, Campbell's ledger shows him to be the nation's leading rusher with 1,744 yards, leading scorer with 114 points and the foremost candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Plus, he plays for this year's surprising No. 1-ranked and undefeated (11-0) team. After all, Texas was 5-5-1 in 1976 and there seemed little hope for improvement in '77. Akers, in his first year as Texas' head coach, confesses a sane man would have thought a 7-4 prediction for this season extremely optimistic.
About this time a year ago Campbell was anything but an optimist. He was hurt (a hamstring injury, which caused him to miss most of six games), fat (more than 240 pounds) and toying with the idea of quitting football. Then a youngster at Austin's Mount Olive Baptist Church gave Campbell a sign that still hangs in his room: KEEP ME GOING, LORD.
Like an avalanche working its will on saplings, Campbell has kept going, running past, around but mostly over the opposition all year. With his remarkable combination of size, speed, strength and quickness, he is almost certainly one of the great running backs in college football history. "I just decided that this year I'm not settling for one guy tackling me," says Campbell, "and I really don't intend for two of 'em to get the job done."
Later in the evening Campbell goes to a team meeting where Akers dips into his bag of psychological tricks as he exhorts his squad. After carrying on about what a good team A&M is, how emotional the game will be, how hard-hitting, how important, Akers concludes. "But, gentlemen, it does not have to be close." Prophetic, that.
In the locker room at Kyle Field before the game the next day, Longhorn defensive star Brad Shearer reminds his teammates, "Never a lazy step." And Akers, noting the Aggies' pregame, precision marching show, says, "They've already done what they do best—march, hut and holler. Now we're going out and do what we do best." He encourages players individually. An example: "Ricky Churchman, just go out there and be your normal, terrible, nasty, ornery self."
And there's a whispered conversation with Campbell:
"Earl, I really expect 170 yards out of you today."
"I'm ready," says Campbell.
Which proved to be an understatement. Texas ripped up the Aggies 57-28 in a game not nearly that close. Campbell mashed Aggie defenders for 222 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and caught a 60-yard touchdown pass in his best game. The victory gave Texas the Southwest Conference title and the right to play Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
The Aggies stirred brief hopes when they took the opening kickoff and, fueled by 20 yards in penalties, got a touchdown on a seven-yard scamper by the fleet Curtis Dickey. That and a dazzling 60-yard kickoff return, also by Dickey, just about summed up A&M's day.
With 4:47 to go in the first quarter, the Horns hooked 'em with their first of eight touchdowns. Quarterback Randy McEachern sending three receivers to the right, running to the right, then arching a long pass down the left sideline to Campbell, who was alone behind the A&M defenders and romped in for the touchdown. The scoring play covered 60 yards. A couple of minutes later Campbell leaped four yards for another touchdown. Then Johnny (Ham) Jones, one of those rare backs who love to block, got a chance to carry and tallied on a five-yard run. McEachern, a third stringer at the start of the year, then connected on two touchdown passes to Split End Alfred Jackson.
At the intermission Campbell yelled. "How bad do we want it?" The roar that went up in the dressing room indicated that the Longhorns wanted it something awful. So Texas look the second-half kickoff on its 20 and proceeded on a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive like this: Campbell for 0, Campbell for 10, Campbell for five, Campbell for 59, Campbell for six. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, after A&M had threatened by scoring twice and pulling up to trail by only 40-28, Campbell rambled 23 yards for another touchdown with some more Akers words ringing in his ears: "Show 'em how far they have to go to be Southwest Conference champs." The final Texas points came on McEachern's fourth touchdown pass—which tied a 62-year-old school record for one game—to Johnny (Lam) Jones for 37 yards and a 48-yard field goal by Steve McMichael, filling in for the injured Russell Erxleben.
The Aggie scores included two one-yard plunges by George Woodard, who had a generally miserable day with only 81 yards in 25 tries, and an eight-yard run by Quarterback David Walker, who had conceded before the game, "We do wonder if we're going to stop Campbell, and if so, how." Aggie Linebacker Kevin Monk said there's only one way to bring down Earl. "Grab, hold on and hope for help." One of Campbell's colleagues, Cornerback Glenn Blackwood, marvels, "I've never seen a guy who wants that extra half yard so badly. Every time."
On the bus rolling back to Austin, Campbell says, "I have to be honest. I am pretty well satisfied with my performance." Which shows what happens when a fellow exceeds his own expectations.
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
OKLAHOMA 38, NEBRASKA 7
"It's a battle for the river or the beach," Barry Switzer was saying before the start of the Oklahoma-Nebraska game, the Big Eight's version of a heavyweight championship fight. The beach is in Miami, where the winner would get to play Arkansas in the Orange Bowl; the river is the Mississippi, which flows past Memphis, home of the Liberty Bowl. The loser would go there to face North Carolina. Neither Switzer nor his counterpart at Nebraska, Coach Tom Osborne, wanted any part of the river. Especially Switzer who, since taking over as Sooner head coach in 1973, had never lost to the Cornhuskers. In fact, it's never been close. Oklahoma has won by 14 points or more each time.
"You don't dominate a school like Nebraska," says Switzer. "The program is too good to be dominated." Then, on Friday afternoon before a crowd of 71,184 in Norman, his marvelously quick Sooners went out and did just that, throttling Nebraska, 38-7.
On defense they took Nebraska's I. M. Hipp, who had been averaging well over 100 yards a game, and locked him in a closet, holding him to 33 yards. The Oklahoma offense was surprising in that it was virtually fumble-free and at the same time predictable in that it was its usual relentless self, battering out 453 yards and 27 first downs. Quarterback Thomas Lott rushed for 143 yards, Halfback Elvis Peacock for 123.
"It was the offense that made us look so good," said Oklahoma defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell later. "It kept us off the field." Indeed, not once did Nebraska begin a drive in Oklahoma territory.
The first time Nebraska got the ball it was forced to punt. No damage. The second time it had a pass intercepted. Still no damage. The third time it fumbled. School was out. Starting from their 35, the Sooners launched a nine-play scoring drive, Peacock going over from the two. On Oklahoma's next possession, Lott directed a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown march that ended with Peacock blasting over from a yard out. Oklahoma 14-0.
"When we fell behind that early," Osborne noted afterward, "we were taken out of what we wanted to do."
Which was run the ball. What they had to do was pass. Quarterback Tom Sorley shuffled a screen pass to I-back Rick Berns for a 10-yard gain, then hit Tight End Ken Spaeth cutting across the middle for 11 yards and into Sooner territory. Two plays later Sorley passed to Wingback Kenny Brown for 36 yards to the two, from where Berns bulled in to make it 14-7. A ball game.
But not for long. Taking the kickoff, the Sooners practically fled down the field. Lott twice fed Fullback Kenny King for 19 yards and Peacock once for ll. He kept the ball four times for 50 yards, the last 11 coming on a lonely touchdown sprint around right end that restored the 14-point lead.
After that there was only one moment when it seemed as if Nebraska might get back into it. Early in the second half King fumbled, Nebraska recovering at its 39. The Huskers moved to midfield, but then Hipp mishandled a low pitch and Oklahoma fell on the ball. Three minutes later Uwe von Schamann booted one from 45 yards out to make it 24-7 Oklahoma. The Sooners' two fourth-quarter touchdowns were merely adornments.
"This is the best team I've ever had here in Oklahoma," Switzer said after the game. "Nebraska was murder." That was charitable. Nebraska is going to the river. Switzer and Oklahoma are headed for the beach.
PENN STATE 15, PITT 13
In the lightly falling snow at Pittsburgh it all came down to the final 12 seconds. In less than a minute Pitt's Matt Cavanaugh, for most of the afternoon frustrated and frozen, had completed three passes, the last to Split End Gordon Jones for 17 yards and a touchdown. That whittled Penn State's lead to 15-13, and the favored Panthers were preparing to go for two points and a tie. Across the field Penn State's Joe Paterno snapped on his headphones. Now was the time for the final masterful defensive strategy.
"Jerry." Paterno said, speaking into the mouthpiece to Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's defensive coordinator sitting in the press box, "what will they try?"
There was a moment of silence; then Sandusky answered. "I haven't got the slightest idea," he said.
What hung in the balance was no bowl bid. Pitt already had an invitation to the Gator Bowl, Penn State knew it was going to the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions and the Panthers played this one for the supremacy of the East, for the Lambert Trophy and for all the things that matter in a rivalry that dates back to 1893.
All week both sides had spoken of a game of pitch-and-catch, Cavanaugh against Penn State's Chuck Fusina, with enough flashy receivers on both sides to stock the Southeastern Conference. But Friday night, a severe cold front had moved in, dropping the temperature to 25°—25-mph winds created a wind-chill factor in Pitt Stadium at zero—and after that no one was sure what might happen.
On that cold note the game began with neither side wanting the ball. Penn State won the toss and elected to open with the wind at its back, giving the option of receiving the kickoff to Pitt. No thank you, Pitt said, choosing to kick off, and Fusina went right to work. In six plays he moved the Lions from their own 23 to the Pitt six, mostly by means of a third-down 48-yard pass to Flanker Jimmy Cefalo that put Penn State at the Pitt 20.
But, once at the six, Fusina ran into trouble. On third down he dropped back to pass, had to flee from Defensive End Hugh Green's charge and slipped and fell. In came Matt Bahr to salvage that setback with a 34-yard field goal.
It took Pitt longer to get rolling. But midway in the first quarter, Gordon Jones, a split end who also runs back punts, gathered one in at his 36, sped to his left, picked up a wall of blockers down the sideline and raced 43 yards to the State 21. Five plays later Cavanaugh dived over for the score.
After a Penn State punt, Pitt was back knocking on the door. Six plays put them at the Lion nine. Cavanaugh dropped back behind excellent protection and fired—right into the hands of Penn State Linebacker Ron Hostetler in the end zone. End of threat.
Following another Bahr field goal early in the second quarter and another Panther drive that was killed by an interception on the one, it was Penn State's turn to do a number with a punt. Usually Cefalo goes back as a single safety to return punts. And usually that is more than enough; he leads the nation with a 13.7 average. For Pitt, though. Paterno and his aides had decided something extra was demanded.
With Pitt punting from its 17, Defensive Back Mike Guman was back deep, along with Cefalo. Cefalo hauled in the punt at midfield, raced to his right and handed off to Guman, who as a tailback led the team in scoring last season. Guman twisted and jerked down the left sideline and went on to score to put State ahead 12-7.
Penn State fattened its lead midway through the last quarter on Bahr's third field goal, this one from 20 yards out. And when Hostetler again intercepted Cavanaugh in the end zone with but 1:47 to play, Pitt's future seemed as bleak as the slaty sky.
But the Panthers were not dead. Using their time-outs and a stout defense, they forced Penn State to punt. Starting at his 48, Cavanaugh wasted no time putting the ball in the air. He hit Randy Reutershan for 13 yards; then Flanker Willie Taylor for 22. An incomplete pass killed the clock with 16 seconds to play. This time Cavanaugh was not stopped by Hostetler. Dropping back, he connected with Jones for the touchdown.
That made it 15-13 with 12 seconds on the clock. Knowing only that Pitt was going for two, Penn State set up in one of its standard defenses, "It was no time to gamble and overload," Paterno said later. "We wanted to be everywhere, ready for everything."
In the huddle Cavanaugh called the veer option to the left, which gives him four options: give off to Elliott Walker diving over guard, pitch to his trailing back, pass or run.
Seeing that the Lion linebackers were playing soft and rolling with the option, Cavanaugh stuck the ball inside to Walker, who took one step left and dived. On the line Penn State Tackle Matt Millen saw Guard Jim Buoy shove his head to the outside, read the key and wrapped up Walker a step short of the goal.
Millen looked down at Walker. "Nice game," was all he could think to say.
"But I didn't score," said Walker.
Millen nodded. Then he reached down, hauled Walker to his feet and hugged him.
And out in Tempe. Ariz. the Fiesta Bowl people hugged each other. They had just landed their first 10-1 top-ranked major college team. The way this season has gone, somebody had to get lucky.
USC 29, UCLA 27
It was the best game of the weekend, certainly. Probably the best game of the season. The drawback was that USC and UCLA had six losses between them, unusual for two teams which often have met and fought not only for the Pac-8 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl but also for the national championship. This time a victory would put UCLA in the Rose Bowl. USC was the spoiler, acting on behalf of Washington, which would make the trip south if the Trojans won.
UCLA led 10-0 after the first quarter, having scored on a field goal by Frank Corral and a one-yard bash by Theotis Brown after recovering a Charles White fumble on the USC three-yard line. When UCLA picked off a Rob Hertel pass early in the second quarter, it seemed as if the Bruins might run off by themselves, but USC-UCLA games rarely go that way. Seconds later USC intercepted Rick Bashore, and the tide began to flow the other way.
The Trojans marched 63 yards, and Frank Jordan—a name to remember—kicked a 25-yard field goal. Six minutes later the Trojans were back, scoring when Hertel flipped a short pass to William Gay at the 20, and the tight end made it to the end zone. When Jordan missed the extra point, UCLA led 10-9.
A short UCLA punt gave the Trojans the ball at the USC 48. In four plays they advanced to the Bruin 40. Then Hertel threw a scoring pass to Kevin Williams. A two-point conversion made it 17-10 with little more than a minute remaining in the first half.
USC seemed to have put the game away early in the second half when Hertel threw his third touchdown pass, the second caught by Williams. Jordan missed another conversion but atoned for it shortly after with a 36-yard field goal that made it 26-10. The rout was on.
But this was USC-UCLA, glamour football, wide open. The Bruins took the kickoff and, realizing that they could not power their way through the Trojan defense, took to the air. Edging into USC territory, Bashore dropped back and hit Halfback James Owens for a touchdown. Now it was 26-17 USC.
UCLA had momentum. Corral booted another field goal early in the fourth quarter—26-20—and the Bruins got the ball back on their 20 with 11:07 left in the game.
The march was slow but steady. Bashore passed. He handed off. One time he kept, was trapped and squirmed for an impossible first down. With less than five minutes to go, the Bruins had a first down on the Trojan three. Three plays and two minutes later it was fourth down on the one. Time out. Bashore consulted with his coach, Terry Donahue.
When the clock started, Bashore rolled right on a run-pass option. Hemmed in, he found Tight End Don Pederson in the end zone and hit him for a touchdown. The conversion put UCLA ahead 27-26 with 2:51 to play.
Having squandered a 16-point lead, USC then put together a march that would have done credit to Johnny Unitas. The runs were wide so that the backs could get to the sidelines, stopping the clock. So were the pass routes. USC did commit one menial error, using its last time-out when the clock had already stopped. But it got a break when pass interference was called against the Bruins at the UCLA 40. One play later Randy Simmrin made a circus catch, and the Trojans had the ball at the UCLA 23.
Two plays later, with 24 seconds left and the ball on the 19, USC's Mosi Tatupu ran for no gain toward the middle of the field to position the ball for a field-goal attempt. The field-goal unit raced in. Clock moving, UCLA taking their time getting up. Scrambling against time—12 seconds—lining up for the field goal—11 seconds—something Jordan, Center Mike McDonald and holder Mike Carey—10 seconds—had practiced many times—nine seconds. Jordan placed his tee—eight seconds—quickly at the Bruin 28—seven seconds—and as Carey flicked a hand for the snap—five seconds—Jordan moved forward.
Even as the ball was in the air, Jordan leaped almost as high. At the same time distraught UCLA defenders threw themselves to the ground. Two seconds left. USC the winner 29-27.
And so Washington will go to the Rose Bowl to meet Michigan, USC will take on Texas A&M in the Bluebonnet Bowl and UCLA will wish them both a Happy New Year.