It was not, as college football games go, a pivotal contest. After all, Southern California had already won the Pac-10 title and become the Rose Bowl host; Notre Dame, an independent, had agreed to play the Southwest Conference champion in the Cotton Bowl. Seemingly, neither has much of a chance to be national champion, although the once-beaten Trojans, with an early-season victory over No. 2-ranked Alabama, are still hoping. So what happened was that these old rivals, playing each other for the 50th time, staged a lackluster contest for three quarters—and an incredibly exciting fourth quarter that was proof anew as to why folks can get worked up over college football. Southern Cal won on a field goal, 27-25, with six seconds to play. Trojan Coach John Robinson said, "It's the greatest football game I've ever seen."
So inept was the Notre Dame attack in the first half that by intermission Joe Montana had directed the Irish to minus-three yards rushing while completing only three passes in 15 attempts. At the end of three quarters, USC clearly had the game in hand 24-6. Whoops.
Then the Irish went crazy as Montana completed 11 of 15 passes, and with 41 seconds to play Notre Dame led 25-24. Trojan Quarterback Paul McDonald, playing with a gimpy ankle that he had twisted on the fifth play of the first series of the game, said afterward, "You can do a lot with 41 seconds and two time-outs." He did. Predictably, though, there was controversy. With the ball on the USC 40, McDonald was pressured hard and tried to scramble. He was leveled by Irish Tackle Jeff Weston and the ball came loose. The referee ruled the play an incomplete pass; Irish fans think it was a fumble. Three plays later, Kicker Frank Jordan trotted onto the field to line up a 37-yard field goal. The kick was perfect. USC Tailback Charles White had another glorious day, rushing for a personal high of 205 yards on 37 carries.
December 4, 1978
But the game in the Coliseum didn't have a corner on excitement in the West. For in Tucson 58,090 went a little crazy as Arizona State beat Arizona 18-17.
1. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (10-1)
2. UCLA (8-3)
3. STANFORD (7-4)
When Clemson scored twice before South Carolina was even able to run an offensive play from scrimmage, Carolina fans suspected they were in for a long afternoon. They were right. With its 41-23 triumph Clemson ended the regular season with a 10-1 mark, the Atlantic Coast championship and a date with Ohio State in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 29.
The biggest crowd ever to watch a football game in South Carolina, 63,479, saw junior Tailback Lester Brown score three touchdowns and Quarterback Steve Fuller run the nation's fourth-ranked offense with precision. Said Jim Carlen, who coached the Gamecocks to a 5-5-1 record, "Fuller is the best quarterback in America. He picked us like a chicken."
Lowly Virginia (2-9) thought it could upset North Carolina State, and it was on the way until unheralded Curtis Rein, brother of North Carolina State Coach Bo Rein, ran 50 yards on a punt return with 4:51 to play to give the Wolfpack a 24-21 victory. After the game Bo rushed up to Curtis, who had never scored a touchdown before in his college career, and said, "Thank God." But, as usual, the fulltime star for the Wolfpack was Ted Brown. By rushing for 131 yards in 32 carries, he built his career total to 4,602 and became the NCAA's fourth-highest all-time rusher.
With a game against Vanderbilt coming this weekend, Tennessee (4-5-1) continued its struggle toward a .500 season with a 29-14 triumph over Kentucky. The keys were five field goals—of 48, 40, 42, 42 and 36 yards—by Alan Duncan, which broke the school record and tied the Southeastern Conference record. Favored Mississippi State fumbled seven times as Mississippi scored an easy 27-7 win in their annual interstate showdown, in Jackson. At Baton Rouge, where all eyes were, as usual, on Charles Alexander, LSU trounced Tulane 40-21. Alexander rewarded the faithful by getting 156 yards on 28 carries—which included a 64-yard touchdown run—as he set a Southeastern Conference record for career rushing. His 3,981 yards surpasses the 3,835 achieved by Kentucky's Sonny Collins.
1. ALABAMA (9-1)
2. CLEMSON (10-1)
3. GEORGIA (8-1-1)
It was cold, windy and dark in University Park, Pa., ominous signs for the Friday afternoon confrontation between Penn State and Pitt. Yet by twilight Penn State Coach Joe Paterno pronounced it a "very delightful day," which is how things look when you're on top and have just struggled for a 17-10 win to stay there.
As it turned out on this delightful day, the wind that was gusting up to 25 mph was a huge factor. All 27 points were scored going with it, and Penn State had it in its favor in the final quarter. But with 5:02 to go, Pitt was on top 10-7, and the nation's longest winning streak (18 games) seemed to be in peril. A Chuck Fusina-directed drive got Penn State down to the Pitt four with a fourth and one, and Paterno sent in field-goal kicker Matt Bahr. Paterno was going to settle for a tie? Time out. In the excitment on the sidelines, Paterno had been told that there were four yards to go for the first down. When he found out it was one, Paterno decided to go for it. The Nittany Lions got even more, as Mike Guman found a crack in the Pitt line and darted into the end zone.
Rutgers had won nine straight, and playing Colgate (2-8) was thought to be merely a fun outing. But although Rutgers got to the Colgate 22 or closer seven times, it could come away with only three field goals by Kennan Startzell. Meanwhile, Colgate's John Marzo passed for one touchdown and ran another in from five yards out and Rutgers, heading for the Garden State Bowl, was upset 14-9.
1. PENN STATE (11-0)
2. PITTSBURGH (8-3)
3. NAVY (7-3)
Could it be that times really are a-changin' in the Big Ten? That somebody other than Michigan and Ohio State can play football? Apparently so, for, with surprising Michigan State claiming a share of the conference title this year (with Michigan), it marks the first time since 1967—when Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana tied—that a team other than Michigan or OSU has been on top. The Spartans took up residence in this exclusive neighborhood via a devastating 42-7 defeat of Iowa. It was their seventh straight triumph, including a win over the Wolverines.
Three years ago, Michigan State was hit with an NCAA probation for recruiting violations, and the school can't go to a bowl until next season, when it will be out of the NCAA jailhouse. But nobody can deny the Spartans' excellence this year. They established a conference record of 523.1 yards per game, largely because of senior Quarterback Ed Smith, who set a conference career record for passing of 5,606 yards. "We've laid the foundation for next year." said Smith after Michigan State blitzed Iowa with 35 first-half points, including three on touchdown passes by Smith. One was a 54-yarder to Flanker Kirk Gibson, once a hot NFL prospect who has signed to play baseball with the Detroit Tigers. Eugene Byrd gathered in short passes to score twice and Tailback Steve Smith ran for two more TDs while gaining 131 yards in 14 carries.
Purdue, which led the Big Ten until losing to Michigan in mid-November, sacked Indiana 20-7 before a home crowd of 69,918, largest in Boilermaker history. The unlikely hero in this battle for the Old Oaken Bucket was Fullback Mike Augustyniak, who had carried only 23 times all year (for 147 yards). Last Saturday he was given the ball another 23 times for 135 yards, which was 20 yards more than the entire Indiana team was able to register rushing.
Wisconsin crushed Minnesota 48-10, led by the running of Ira Matthews. In Cincinnati's 34-14 win over Memphis State, Tailback Allen Harvin had his seventh 100-yard-plus game of the season—153 yards this time. His season total of 1,283 yards makes him the third-best freshman rusher in NCAA history. With a 33-31 win over West Texas State, New Mexico State won its first Missouri Valley championship.
1. OKLAHOMA (10-1)
2. MICHIGAN (10-1)
3. NEBRASKA (9-2)
"I'm not sure I could describe exactly what happened out there today," said the stunned Texas coach, Fred Akers. Not that he wanted to. His Longhorns had been intercepted six times and had lost three fumbles in a 38-14 loss to Baylor. Baylor? Right, the same 2-8 Baylor that had lost the week before to Rice. It's been that kind of year in the Southwest Conference.
It even seems fitting that Baylor's success was engineered by Quarterback Mickey Elam—who had never taken a single snap before for the Bears. Unhappy with the team's quarterback play all season, Coach Grant Teaff explained why Elam was unexpectedly tucked in behind the center: "He's a good running back, a strong-legged rascal." Thanks to Elam's efforts, Baylor led 28-0 at half.
In Lubbock, Cotton Bowl-bound—make that virtually Cotton Bowl-bound—Houston also developed kinks in its usually smooth offense. Quarterback Danny Davis had been intercepted three times all year; against Texas Tech he suffered four thefts, which paved the way for Tech's 22-21 triumph. The winning edge came when Red Raider Fullback James Hadnot passed 21 yards to Michael Morris with 3:40 to play. Morris caught the ball on his knees at the one. Quarterback Ron Reeves sneaked over, then Reeves passed to Hadnot for the two-point conversion—a play in which Hadnot performed brilliantly. Said Hadnot of the run, "I just tried to keep my legs going." Yet, if Houston beats Rice this week, the Cougars still will be in Dallas on New Year's Day.
Arkansas had to come from behind to beat SMU 27-14. SMU had scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and converted five third-down situations. But the Hogs soon got organized, and Mustang Quarterback Mike Ford couldn't get any more points out of the country's leading pass offense. Arkansas' Ron Calcagni had been replaced as signal-caller by Kevin Scanlon, but when Scanlon was hurt Calcagni returned and scored the first Razorback TD himself. After that, Calcagni guided the Hogs to 352 yards of their 461 yards total offense.
Texas A&M narrowly escaped the day of upsets, getting past TCU 15-7 in College Station. The Frogs had lost 12 straight conference games. But the Aggies seemed anxious to keep things even by losing five fumbles—three dropped by their star, Curtis Dickey. Thus, with 18 seconds to play and trailing by eight, TCU was on A&M's 19 with visions of ' a tie. But Leandrew Brown got an interception, and Aggie fans took a breath. A&M was saved by two Tony Franklin field goals, a safety and a 55-yard run by Dickey, who despite his fumbleitis rushed for 230 yards.
1. HOUSTON (8-2)
2. ARKANSAS (8-2)
3. TEXAS (7-3)
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Mickey Elam, a lightly used 5'9", 175-pound junior running back, who was thrown in as Baylor's quarterback against Texas, ran for one touchdown and passed for another in the Bears' amazing 38-14 upset.
DEFENSE: Willie Stephens, a Texas Tech junior defensive back, whose fumble recovery led to the fast-improving Red Raiders' first TD, also intercepted two passes to help ensure the 22-21 upset of Houston's Cougars.