Bear Bryant has been traveling a lot since Alabama's football season ended. He has been recruiting—successfully, one assumes—and he has been accepting with grace, and pleasure, the acclaim that accrues to a living legend (a double standing ovation at the Heisman Trophy banquet, for example). Also, being on the road gives him the opportunity to cadge a favor now and again. Bryant says the latter is coming in handy because, in order to satisfy his friends' Sugar Bowl demands, he has been scrounging tickets from New York to New Orleans. He says he might yet take care of everybody, but not to call him, he'll call you.
As this is being written, Alabama has enough money in the till from eager applicants to fill its Sugar Bowl allotment (10,000 seats) eight times over. This is because Alabama fans smell a national championship. Alabama fans know the aroma well, Bryant having spoiled them with four titles in the last 17 years, most recently in 1973. They figure once Bear throws his checked living-legend model hat ($18 retail, Gayfer's and other fine stores) into the ring, it's kismet.
The oddsmakers may have gotten a whiff, too, because although Penn State—which doesn't have spoiled fans, never having won a national championship—is unbeaten and ranked No. 1, it's only a one-point favorite. Indeed, such strange bedfellows as Jimmy the Greek and Auburn Coach Doug Barfield like the Crimson Tide. After being whomped 34-16 in the season finale by Alabama, Barfield was moved to say, "I personally don't think Penn State will be a problem for Alabama."
Well, if you're an Alabama fan and you don't think Penn State will be a problem, it's a good thing you dropped in on this story. Not even Bryant believes that. Bryant, in fact, doesn't know what to believe. The Alabama team he thought "could be great" before the season started has, indeed, been very good at times, and at times it has been off the rails throwing sparks. Bryant came down off his tower at practice the week of the Auburn game to do some old-fashioned Bear hugging and to get a better look. He still wasn't sure what he saw. After the game, an Alabama knockout in the second half, he asked the milling press, "You tell me how good we are."
December 25, 1978
Well, Bear, since you asked....
The Crimson Tide is now mostly over its rash of early injuries and has come again to be a bona fide load, worthy of partaking in the championship business. It is a typical Bryant team in that no other team plays the total game—all facets, phases, gambits and deceits—as well. Except, maybe, Penn State. And maybe Southern California.
A tag-team match in New Orleans between these three teams is out, of course, and if that's too bad, it's not entirely unfair. After an early victory over Alabama, USC lost its edge with the electorate in both the AP and UPI polls by losing to Arizona State and by having spells of ordinariness in the stretch. While Alabama and Penn State got better, USC got third-ranked, and thus is left to cry its way to the Rose Bowl bank and to hope for a Sugar Bowl tie.
By any measure, and whatever its implications, Penn State-Alabama is an exquisite pairing. Two teams that run and pass; that play stout, intimidating defense; that have sound kicking games; and that hardly ever fall in the cake once the party starts. And there's an added attraction: next to Bryant (and perhaps Woody Hayes), no football coach in the country gets as much attention as Joe Paterno.
At a Penn State coaches' meeting the other day, Paterno was asked by an assistant how he figured to play Alabama. "To tell you the truth, I have no idea," said Joe, peering intently through his trademark black-rimmed glasses. What he meant, he said, was that Alabama is "unquestionably" the toughest assignment Penn State could have drawn. Other possible opponents (Oklahoma, Nebraska, et al.) lack Alabama's offensive balance; in Paterno's words, they "couldn't have jammed the ball down our throats and don't pass well enough to hurt us." Still others (Houston, Notre Dame, et al.) "don't play defense as well." In short, he hadn't found an obvious place for a toehold against Alabama.
What usually results when such well-rounded teams play, teams that are especially strong defensively, is that the collision jars fans to the upper deck, and the score winds up 0-0. Or so low and so close that the first crucial fumble, or the last crucial penalty, is decisive.
This is not to say that won't happen in New Orleans. But Penn State and Alabama have certain strengths and weaknesses that might lead to a few points, and will surely have a bearing on the game. They are offered here, conveniently listed, but with no guarantees:
PENN STATE ADVANTAGES:
•Chuck Fusina. There are few if any better long passers in college football than the Penn State quarterback, and Alabama's deep secondary is smallish, slowish and still somewhat tender from injuries. When the passer is good enough and the line strong enough to protect him, Alabama can be vulnerable deep. Possible effect: well, as a practical example, Washington burned the Tide with touchdown passes of 74 and 58 yards.
•The No. 1 defense in the country against the rush (54.5 yards a game), led by Tackles Matt Millen and Bruce Clark and a cadre of swarming ends and linebackers. They seldom get moved very far. The inexperienced Nittany Lion secondary, which was a question mark at season's start, took advantage of this impenetrability by gambling with its coverages and wound up with 28 interceptions. Possible effect: a thrilling afternoon for Alabama's quarterbacks and some turnovers.
•The Alabama wishbone gets more yardage rushing (eighth in the nation) but, because of the hairiness of the triple option, is a higher-risk offense than the Penn State I. Penn State turned the ball over on fumbles and pass interceptions only 20 times all year. Alabama, though the best-drilled wishbone team in the country, gave it up 30 times. Possible effect: obvious.
•A superior kicking game is something both Paterno and Bryant covet equally but which Paterno just happens to have this time. Matt Bahr set four NCAA field-goal records, converting on 22 of 27 chances. Including PATs, Bahr scored 97 points this season, which is exactly as many as Penn State's opponents were able to score on the Nittany Lions. Possible effect: obvious.
•The lingering prejudice against Eastern football (the "Big deal, so who did they beat?" syndrome). Possible effect: psychologically damaging once Alabama gets a snootful of Millen, Clark, etc.
•It's the best team Penn State has played, period. No one else is even close. And it's the first good wishbone team State has played since—ahem—losing to Alabama in the 1975 Sugar Bowl. Possible effect: also psychological, translating into some early, and perhaps critical, Penn State errors.
•Bryant's version of the wishbone is superior to any other in passing effectiveness. With the possible exception of Mike Ford of SMU, who riddled Penn State for 289 yards, the Nittany Lions haven't faced a passer to compare with Jeff Rutledge, who broke Joe Namath's record for career touchdown passes. Off wishbone play-action (as opposed to drop-back) passing, Rutledge gives a skillful "run look" that freezes linebackers and makes a gambling secondary that much more exploitable. Possible effect: confusion in the Penn State secondary; some big plays.
•More good running backs, attacking from a bewildering number of shifts and sets (including the I). Alabama's halfbacks, Tony Nathan and Major Ogilvie, are at least the equal of State's Mike Guman and Booker Moore, and Alabama's fullbacks are big and tough and, as a game wears on, there always seems to be an endless supply of replacements. Possible effect: attrition.
•The best defensive front Penn State has faced, led by Tackle Marty Lyons and Linebacker Barry Krauss. By shutting down what has been an erratic Penn State running game, it can do a little cheating with secondary support against the pass. Possible effect: the neutralization of Fusina.
Two other facts would seem to weigh in Alabama's favor. Toward the end of the season, the Tide fumbled less and drew fewer penalties. Bryant sees that as a sign of maturity. The best way to beat a good wishbone team is to allow it to beat itself. Alabama no longer seems so inclined.
Furthermore, toward the end of its season, Penn State was once again playing conservatively on offense and relying too heavily on its defense, a tendency Paterno thinks it is necessary to correct before New Year's Day and the Battle of New Orleans. A conservative offense won't make a nickel on Alabama. And as awesome as the Penn State defense is, it cannot be made to stay on the field all day.
But if you're looking for us to say this all adds up to an Alabama victory, uh uh. Not on your life. If Bear Bryant doesn't know what to believe, what do you expect from us?
Brigham Young (9-3) vs. Navy (8-3)
Brigham Young's LaVell Edwards has already seen his team in action 12 times this year, including a game against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas that, naturally enough, was played in Yokohama. The Cougars have again won the Western Athletic Conference title with their customary big-play passing offense. They have suffered no major losses because of injuries. So who will Edwards' quarterback be when BYU faces Navy in the inaugural Holiday Bowl in San Diego? He isn't sure yet. It could be Marc Wilson, a 6'5" junior, and then again it might be Jim McMahon, a 6'1" soph.
Each started six times, saved one game for the other, accounted for 10 touchdowns and helped give BYU the ninth-best passing attack in the nation. Moreover, they combined for more than 2,800 yards passing in leading the Cougars to an average of 25.3 points per game.
So, no matter which one Edwards starts, it spells trouble for Navy's superb defense. While the Midshipmen shut out four opponents and ranked seventh in points allowed with an average yield of 10.9 a game, it is worth noting that Florida State, the most pass-oriented offense they faced, scored 38 points on the Midshipmen.
"We're not a great football team," says Navy Coach George Welsh, "but I think we have good balance, and we play together. It's kind of dull, really. Lots of no-names. There are not many stars, but a lot of good football players."
The Holiday Bowl also marks Navy's first postseason appearance since 1963, when its quarterback in a 28-6 loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl was Roger Staubach. One Middie who figures to give BYU trouble is senior Quarterback Bob Lesczynski, who has thrown a school-record 26 touchdown passes during his career.
"I think the game has to be considered even," Edwards says. "What will determine the outcome is our ability to stop their running attack and their ability to stop our passing attack."
With a two-to-one advantage in the passing department, BYU has the edge.
Louisiana State (8-3) vs. Missouri (7-4)
Pity the poor LSU football fans who expected their sonic-boom cheering to spur the Tigers to the SEC championship and Charles Alexander to the Heisman Trophy. Neither goal was realized, and now further disappointment looms in Memphis, where another breed of cat figures to maul them.
The 18th-ranked Tigers of Missouri are making their first bowl appearance since 1973 and are better balanced and less error-prone than the unranked Tigers of LSU, whose inconsistency has caused Coach Charlie McClendon to say, "We've been operating on the yo-yo scale—up and down." Missouri has averaged almost 32 points a game to rank sixth in the nation in scoring; it also is 10th in total offense. In addition, Warren Powers' 7-4 club has prepped for the Liberty Bowl by knocking off two contenders in other bowls—Nebraska and Notre Dame. Despite its 8-3 record, LSU struggled against the quality teams on its schedule—losing tight games to Georgia and Mississippi State and being walloped 31-10 by Alabama—and barely survived Wake Forest and Wyoming.
However, if anyone can spur LSU to victory, it's Alexander, the finest running back in the school's history, who will close out a spectacular collegiate career in Memphis. Though hampered by injury and an erratic offensive line, Alexander rushed for 1,172 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He also caught 28 passes for 263 yards. During his four years at LSU, he accounted for 24 school and nine SEC records and rushed for 4,035 yards and 40 touchdowns. Against Missouri, Alexander is certain to be called on as a receiver if the LSU line can't break him loose wide—and that has been a problem for McClendon's offense all season.
A bigger problem faces the LSU defense headed by Safety Chris Williams, who intercepted eight passes this year. Missouri Quarterback Phil Bradley, a sophomore who led the Big Eight in total offense, completed more than 60% of his throws for 1,780 yards and a dozen touchdowns, while James Wilder and Earl Gant ran for almost 1,700 yards.
"Our defense is going to be tested real good," says McClendon. For LSU fans, it may be an oral exam they are destined to flunk.
Maryland (9-2) vs. Texas (8-3)
For Texas, the game in El Paso is a warmup for next September. The squad consists of six seniors and well over 50 underclassmen, including half a dozen freshmen who are already starters, most notably linemen Joe Shearin and Terry Tausch, who started all year long; Tight End Lawrence Sampleton, who emerged as a big-play virtuoso, and A. J. Jones, who superseded senior Johnny (Ham) Jones as the leading Longhorn rusher. Junior Mark McBath is the quarterback, but only because yet another prize frosh, Donnie Little, is out with torn ligaments in his left thumb. "I'm not exactly looking past this game," says A.J., "but I am anxious for next season to get here."
For Maryland it's here and now, a last shot at gaining any satisfaction from an in-and-out season. In September the Terps figured to go nowhere, but after eight games they were unbeaten, ranked No. 5 and talking—well, dreaming—of bringing home a national championship to College Park. Then, suddenly, they lost 27-3 to Penn State and 28-24 to Clemson, dashing hopes of the Atlantic Coast Conference title, to say nothing of the national crown.
Both teams have defenses that yield points grudgingly—Texas 12.4 a game, Maryland 11.4. Maryland is stronger up front with Charlie Johnson, Bruce Palmer, whose 13 sacks topped the Terp season record held by Randy White, and Linebacker Neal Olkewicz, who leads the team in tackles with 188. But Dwight Jefferson, Steve McMichael and Bill Acker of Texas combined for 362 tackles and played lead roles in limiting opponents to an SWC-low 2.3 yards per carry. And Longhorn Safety Johnnie Johnson is deservedly an All-America.
Thus, both offenses figure to be in for a frustrating afternoon. The Terps will call often on Tailback Steve Atkins, a 1,261-yard rusher who should do well, now that Mickey Dudish, the often-injured blocking fullback, is back in the lineup. Texas has a track team for a backfield and is more apt to break long ones, especially Flanker Johnny (Lam) Jones, the Olympic sprinter who netted 8.5 yards a carry and almost 18 yards a catch.
The Longhorns are favored by a touchdown and, unless they get overanxious for next season to arrive, the spread seems to be about right.
No. Carolina St. (8-3) vs. Pittsburgh (8-3)
Pittsburgh and North Carolina State have much in common: 8-3 records, option offenses, inexperienced quarterbacks, meager passing and the potential for playing each other to a standoff in Orlando, Fla. in a game that each team approaches as a special challenge.
"We're playing for pride," says Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill. "We've won three straight bowls, Sun, Sugar, Gator, and we'd like to make it four."
The Wolfpack, a winner in last season's Peach Bowl, would like to make it two in a row, not only for themselves, but also for the benefit of the ACC, which is trying to upgrade its football image.
The key to the game is the matchup between the aggressive Pitt defense, which has allowed an average of only 113 yards rushing, and the North Carolina State running attack headed by Ted Brown, an All-America who ranks fourth among alltime NCAA rushers.
Playing more than half the season with his injured knees, ankles and right shoulder swathed in 40 yards of tape. Brown nevertheless gained 1,350 yards, thereby increasing his career total to 4,602 yards. Now rested, the 5'10", 199-pound senior should put on a spectacular display for the pro scouts.
To do so, he will have to run away from the likes of Hugh Green, an All-America sophomore defensive end, and Safety Jeff Delaney, who are the backbone of the Pitt defense, which ranked ninth nationally against rushing.
A young team starting only five seniors, Pitt relies heavily on Quarterback Rick Trocano, a sophomore who was the Panthers' busiest ballcarrier (167 tries for 275 yards). Gordon Jones, an All-America split end who caught 45 passes, is a deep threat and also a dazzling kick returner.
Dick Crum of North Carolina lost to both Pitt (20-16) and North Carolina State (34-7), and he calls the game even but says that "Ted Brown is in a class by himself. He's a truly great runner, and he'll be the best on the field." He's also likely to finish his college career a winner.
Arkansas (9-2) vs. UCLA (8-3)
When Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz could finally afford to take his wife on a honeymoon several years after they were married, he says, it consisted of a special $99 cruise to the Bahamas. Did you have a good time, Lou? "Sure, but we would have enjoyed it more if we hadn't had to row." Things never have come easily for Holtz, and this year was no exception. His team made an early run at the national title but was bushwhacked in midseason. Holtz had said privately before the season that he was dead certain the Hogs would beat Texas, but he greatly feared they would lose the next week to Houston. He was half right; they lost to Houston and Texas.
Still, the Hogs put things back together, and Arkansas is favored to beat UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl. That's bad, says Holtz, because it's his view that underdogs win 75% of the bowl games. Then he brightens. "This team seems to play better when it's in trouble," he says. And for the second year in a row, trouble in the form of suspensions of Arkansas players between the end of the regular season and a bowl game may deplete Holtz' stock of offensive talent. But the Hogs have an exceptional defensive line and linebackers, and the offensive backfield has depth with the option running of Ron Calcagni, a durable quarterback, and Ben Cowins, who rushed for 1,006 yards. Where the Hogs can be hurt is in the secondary, but that might not hurt them in this game.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue is trying to pump up his team, which lost its last two games this year and thus a trip to the Rose Bowl—again. What the Bruins need is a big game from Theotis Brown, who ran well before suffering a series of injuries. Brown is the key, because the Bruins have relatively little passing. But led by Jerry Robinson, a three-time All-America linebacker, UCLA is awe-inspiring on defense.
While getting his team ready, Holtz quipped, "It's like my grandmother used to say, 'Do the best you can, then the hell with it.' " Arkansas' best should be good enough to keep Holtz from having to row back to Fayetteville. And from Tempe, that wouldn't be too enjoyable, either.
Georgia Tech (7-4) vs. Purdue (8-2-1)
"I remember the first time I ever got to sit in the big barber chair without the booster," Georgia Tech Coach Pepper Rodgers was musing recently. "That was the biggest thrill in my whole life. Still is." With that kind of outlook, one is left to wonder where Pepper ranks his Christmas Day matchup with Purdue in Atlanta. It's a pick-'em game, in which neither team figures to be scalped or even trimmed badly.
The credit for the Yellow Jackets' surprisingly strong showing this season goes to freshman Quarterback Mike Kelley and Running Back Eddie Lee Ivery. Kelley knows how to play a hot hand, whether it's his own passing or Ivery; when the latter got the ball 26 times against Air Force, he responded by rushing for an NCAA single-game record of 356 yards. But Georgia Tech may be psychologically down after a one-point loss to Georgia in its final regular-season game.
Purdue likewise is deflated. In midseason it appeared that the Boilermakers, behind the passing of sophomore Quarterback Mark Herrmann, might be Rose Bowl bound. But there followed a 24-24 tie with Wisconsin and a 24-6 loss to Michigan, and the trip to Pasadena was off. What enabled the Boilermakers to come so close to the Big Ten title was that Coach Jim Young found some support for Herrmann. In his freshman season, Purdue gained almost twice as much yardage passing as rushing, but Herrmann also threw 27 interceptions. This year, running backs John Macon, Mike Augustyniak and Russell Pope—who also led the Boilermakers in receptions with 33—came on strong, and the run/pass ratio was closer to 50-50. And Herrmann, who no longer figures he has to throw a bomb on every play, was intercepted only 10 times.
Young has built the formidable Purdue defense, which gave up only 9.9 points a game, around junior Keena Turner. The 215-pound defensive end had 24 tackles for losses and was the team's MVP.
Purdue will have to be alert, though, or Ivery will leave it for dead if an ankle injury doesn't slow him down or even keep him from playing. He set Tech's single-season rushing record of 1,562 yards. But the Yellow Jacket offensive line has been inconsistent and, on defense, Tech is vulnerable to passing. That should light up Herrmann's life.
Clemson (10-1) vs. Ohio State (7-3-1)
On the sidelines, it's experience vs. youth—Ohio State's 65-year-old Woody Hayes matching wits with Clemson's 30-year-old Danny Ford. Hayes has 33 seasons and 238 victories under his belt. Ford has no wins, or even games, under his.
In fact, Ford didn't become a head coach until Dec. 4, when Charley Pell resigned to take the job at Florida after coaching Clemson to a 10-l season and its first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 11 years. Ford, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach, stepped into Pell's job—and into the Gator Bowl.
On the field, it's also experience vs. youth—Clemson's star senior Quarterback Steve Fuller against Ohio State's exciting freshman Quarterback Art Schlichter. Fuller has run and passed for 182 yards a game, calls 70% of his plays at the line of scrimmage and was twice named ACC Player of the Year. Give Clemson the edge, especially because Fuller will be throwing to Jerry Butler, who hauled in 54 passes for 864 yards this season. At tailback is Lester Brown, who gained 1,006 yards rushing despite having carried the ball only 19 times in the first three games; he gives Clemson balance.
Most years Ohio State would be heavily favored over an ACC foe, but this season the Buckeye defense has been uncustomarily shelled, even by so-so teams like SMU and Baylor. And the offense lacks its usual steamroller fullback and lights-out line play, as evidenced in losses to Penn State and Michigan, in which Ohio State scored a total of three points in eight quarters. Clemson had one offensive lapse, a 12-0 defeat by Georgia, but the Tigers averaged 35 points against everybody else and scored four touchdowns against Maryland, which is more than anybody else did, including Penn State.
After Pell departed, 73 Clemson players signed a petition endorsing Ford and sent it to the school's board of trustees. "Tiger fans need not be concerned with our Dec. 29 performance," the petition said. "We guarantee it will be one of our better ones."
That should be good enough against the Buckeyes.
Georgia (9-1-1) vs. Stanford (7-4)
A pair of NFL playoff games will precede the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston on New Year's Eve, which is fortunate for the pros. With their work finished, they then can watch what could be the most entertaining game of the day, if not the entire holiday season, one which pits Stanford's pass-oriented offense against Georgia's potent rushing.
Stanford's Steve Dils, the nation's top passer, throws the ball from any place on the field, on any down, to any receiver. In essence, Coach Bill Walsh's Cardinals delight fans by filling four quarters with, virtually, a two-minute offense.
A fifth-year senior who played only one full game a year ago, Dils passes with accuracy (63.2% completions) and perhaps the finest touch of any quarterback not yet in the pros. Responding to a pro scout's assessment that the 6'2" Dils was "too small" to be a high draft choice, Walsh, who may be in the NFL himself next season, said, "The pros' evaluation of quarterbacks in the draft has been poor. Dils is quick on his feet, strong, has a quick arm and is extremely accurate. And he is intelligent. He will be playing in the National Football League."
Dils finished the 11-game season with 247 completions—that is 15 more passes than Georgia opponents attempted this year—for 2,943 yards and 22 TDs. His receivers, led by Ken Margerum with 53, ranked 1-2-3 in the Pac. 10.
Darrin Nelson, the Cards' do-everything halfback, may be just as worrisome to the Bulldog defense. A sophomore scooter who caught 50 passes and rushed for 1,061 yards, Nelson gives Stanford much versatility.
Georgia, however, is no less exciting. In Southeastern Conference MVP Willie McClendon, who rushed for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns, Coach Vince Dooley has a breakaway threat who helped the Bulldogs come from behind in six of their wins.
Whether either team can stop the other for long remains to be seen. Stanford allowed 199 points this year, and Georgia held its opponents to 162. But the Bulldogs have yet to face a passer of Dils' caliber. Stanford is the quicker strike force and should wind up with a happier New Year.
Houston (9-2) vs. Notre Dame (8-3)
Dallas isn't where Notre Dame or Houston figured to end up. The Irish seemed doomed to a dismal year upon losing their first two games, both at home. Houston was picked by Southwest Conference seers to go nowhere, a prediction that appeared justified when the Cougars dropped their opener to Memphis State. But then Notre Dame won eight straight games to earn an invitation to the Cotton Bowl, while Houston shocked Texas A&M, Arkansas and Texas to win the SWC title for the second time in the three years the Cougars have been in the conference.
Both teams ran up points. The Irish averaged 23.5 a game, while Houston had 30.0. The Irish have a superior passing attack, and when Joe Montana is rolling, he breaks games wide open. He hit 54% of his 260 passes and threw only four interceptions in the last nine games. Vagas Ferguson (1,192 yards) and Jerome Heavens (728) aren't Billy Sims, but they are two of the best running backs in Notre Dame history. The defense, featuring All-America Bob Golie at linebacker, figures to do well against Houston's veer, because its strength is up front against the run.
Houston's chief problem has been inconsistency: its win over Texas was followed by a loss to Texas Tech, an 11-point underdog. Before thrashing then-unbeaten A&M 33-0, the Cougars struggled to edge winless Baylor 20-18. They led Florida State 27-0 but had to hold on for a 27-21 victory, thanks largely to a last-minute Seminole touchdown being disallowed because of a penalty. And just when Houston seemed to get it together in a closing win over Rice, Coach Bill Yeoman yanked Quarterback Danny Davis and inserted Delrick Brown. Davis demanded to know why. Yeoman told him his running lacked spunk. Davis shot back he was feeding the ball to running backs Emmett King and Randy Love. The two rushed for 1,095 and 1,019 yards, respectively, to become the first SWC teammates to gain 1,000 yards apiece.
Yeoman has reinstated Davis as the quarterback, but this doesn't keep Davis from being upset and slightly confused, which is bad, because his teammates look to him for leadership. As for the Irish, they closed out their season with a last-minute loss to powerful USC. Houston is hungry, but the Irish are more composed.
Michigan (10-1) vs. USC (11-1)
Take your pick. USC is ranked third in the nation, Michigan fifth. Each has lost just one game. Both parade up and down the field, prefer to do it by rushing and pile up more than 400 yards of offense a game. Both defenses are on the national charts. Both beat Notre Dame, and both lost to teams they were favored to beat, Michigan 24-15 to Michigan State, USC 20-7 to Arizona State.
Although both operate out of a multiple I, their attacks vary in significant ways. Michigan Quarterback Rick Leach carries the ball often, as do five other Wolverine backs, all of whom average well over four yards a carry. USC All-America Charles White has more carries than all the other Trojans put together, and Quarterback Paul McDonald, a 57% passer, runs only when trapped. Leach's versatility gives Michigan the edge here.
But the biggest dissimilarity is on defense. With the likes of Ron Simpkins and Curtis Greer up front and Mike Jolly and Mike Harden in the secondary, the Wolverines excel at keeping opponents out of the end zone. They yielded only eight points a game, second fewest in the country. USC, which gave up only four touchdowns on the ground, is better than Michigan against the rush but vulnerable to passing, and 16 of Leach's 68 completions went for touchdowns this season.
Although both teams have crushed their opponents, USC outscoring them 301-143, Michigan 362-88, the Wolverines outscored their foes by wide margins in every quarter, demolishing them 99-13 in the fourth. For their part, the Trojans showed a heart-stopping tendency to build wide leads in the first half, then to hang on for hairbreadth victories. "We lack a killer instinct," admits Trojan Coach John Robinson.
If true, it would suit Leach fine. A few weeks ago, Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said, "Rick Leach has done everything a college player can do." Well, true, in a sense. In four seasons at quarterback he has rewritten the Wolverine record book, and his 81 touchdowns are an alltime NCAA high. But in three straight bowl games, Leach has come up empty. It is a deficiency that might be corrected on New Year's Day.
Oklahoma (10-1) vs. Nebraska (9-2)
Nebraska, which this season beat fumbling Oklahoma for the first time since 1971, is infuriated that the Sooners were chosen as the Huskers' Orange Bowl opponent. The complaint is that they beat the Sooners once and shouldn't have to do it again. "A raw deal." grumps Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne. "Not fair to our team." says Athletic Director Bob Devaney. "Make Nebraska 10-point underdogs," quoth the oddsmakers.
There would be no need for all this fussing, except that after Nebraska beat Oklahoma, the Huskers skewered themselves in the final game of the regular season by losing to Missouri. Thus Oklahoma and Nebraska tied for the Big Eight title—and now there is to be a rematch. Still, it's the best possible game the Orange Bowl could get. These are the nation's top offensive team (Nebraska with 501.4 yards per game) and the top scoring team (Oklahoma with an average of 40 points per game), with second spot in each category going to the other team.
Few dispute that Oklahoma, led by the sensational Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Sims, and his roommate, Offensive Guard Greg Roberts, who won the Outland Trophy, is the best rushing team in the land. There is a story that Thomas Lott, Oklahoma's quarterback, who is from San Antonio, called Sims, who is from Hooks, Texas, when both were being recruited. "I'm going to Oklahoma, and if you come, too, we'll create a monster," said Lott. They did. Only trouble is that twice in the last two seasons, just when the Sooners were on the verge of national titles, the monster fumbled away its chances. Last year in the Orange Bowl, heavily favored Oklahoma coughed up the ball three times and tumbled 31-6 to Arkansas while, in this season's loss to Nebraska, the Sooners fumbled six times.
The Nebraska offense relies on running backs Rick Berns and I. M. Hipp and occasionally on Quarterback Tom Sorley, but Offensive Tackle Kelvin Clark probably is the key player in the unit. Assistant Coach Jerry Moore is philosophical about Nebraska's fate, saying, "How many seasons do you get a chance to beat Oklahoma twice?" Not many, and for that Nebraska can be grateful.