The annual blitz of 18 college bowl games is simple overkill and abject gluttony. But that's okay. We don't even object strenuously to there being four bowl teams with 6-5 records (Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee and Indiana) and four more with four losses each. They won more than they lost, and that's pretty good in life.
What was missing, however, was passion and significance—which is to say playoff and national championship implications—in all but the Fiesta. It was mildly interesting to note that Ohio State was wearing red shoes and holding hands in the offensive huddle as it whipped Texas A&M 28-12 in the Cotton, but otherwise the game was humdrum. Same for Nebraska's methodical 30-15 win over sleepwalking LSU. Yet what if the winners of these games were advancing to contests the next weekend in a proper playoff competition? Then we would have paid attention to Michigan and Arizona State, fought off sleep as Oklahoma played Arkansas and, most of all, truly cared.
Let's get something in perspective. O.K., so Michigan coach Bo Schembechler just took the Wolverines to their 11th bowl defeat in 14 games under his tutelage, this time a 22-15 loss in the Rose Bowl to talented Arizona State.
The far more important point, way too often overlooked, is that Schembechler has to be extraordinarily good to get in position to lose 11 of 14 bowls. Schembechler's 11 Big Ten titles and his winning ways put him in the company of Bryant, Stagg, Warner and Hayes. And he has done it without cheating. All of which is plenty good enough by us. Attaboy, Bo.
THIRD AND FOREVER
LSU has pretty much retired the cup for miserable days on the bowl circuit. Consider that since 1972 the Tigers are 1-8 in bowls—thank heavens for Wake Forest in 1979—and 0-3 against Nebraska. This year's Sugar loss to the Huskers was perhaps the most miserable postseason Tiger outing ever. The score doesn't do justice to the one-sidedness of the game. This stat does: During the gloomy afternoon in New Orleans, LSU found itself playing third down and 18, third and 19. third and 25 twice, third and 31, and on two occasions, third and 34. Hello, futility.
When Boston College lost three of its first four games this season, it seemed unlikely that come January anybody would be comparing the Eagles' Jack Bicknell to their legendary coach, Frank Leahy. Well, it's January, and with BC's 27-24 upset of Georgia in the Hall of Fame—QB Shawn Halloran mini-Flutied a five-yard TD pass to Kelvin Martin with 32 seconds left—the Eagles finished with eight straight wins for the first time since, yup, Leahy's undefeated season in 1940.
What makes Bicknell happiest is that he's now certain that he has put the Flutie U stuff to rest. "We may dip a little bit in some year, but we're at the point where we're never going to disappear," insists Cowboy Jack. Not, apparently, as long as Bicknell stays. Recalls running back Troy Stradford of his recruitment, "He said the one thing he couldn't guarantee was a bowl game every year. Well, four out of five years isn't bad, and I'd like to thank him for that."
Before the Sun Bowl. 'Bama coach Ray Perkins said, "I plan to be at Alabama for a long, long time." A week later he resigned to become coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
En route to his fifth straight bowl win, by 31-10 over BYU in the Freedom, UCLA coach Terry Donahue dialed up a tricky tailback option pass that went for a score with six minutes left. At the press conference later, Patti Edwards, wife of BYU coach LaVell Edwards, showed up wearing a press credential as a representative of the Provo Daily Herald and asked Donahue, "Do you think it was kosher to try that option pass thing when you already had the game won?"
Donahue, who knows Patti, floundered and stammered and finally allowed as how he felt the game was still in doubt and besides, nobody was criticizing BYU for still trying to score at the end. Donahue was stung by the implications, not to mention by the identity of the questioner, but LaVell later assured the winning coach that he felt there had been no run-'em-up. Edwards then advised Donahue to "ignore" Patti's comments.
Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall in the Edwardses' kitchen as LaVell tries to get out of this one?
WE'RE NOT NO. 1
Humble is not a word that flows easily in the same sentence with Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer. Still, the flamboyant Sooner boss is seeing things in a remarkably restrained way these days. After his notorious linebacker, Brian Bosworth, was booted from the Orange Bowl because of his use of anabolic steroids, Bosworth showed up on the sideline during OU's 42-8 smashing of Arkansas, wearing a shirt mocking the NCAA: NATIONAL COMMUNISTS AGAINST ATHLETES. Said Switzer later, "That's not the way we feel."
And while there is a wide body of expert opinion that says Oklahoma ended the season as the best team in America—the Sooners' only defeat was to Miami early, 28-16—Switzer is taking the high road on Miami and Penn State: "They've proved to me they're the two best. We've had our bats with Miami." Come on, Barry, didn't you see any chance at all of ending up No. 1? "Nah," he said, "not unless the Russians bombed Phoenix."
DUM QUOTE OF THE BOLES
After Auburn dumped USC 16-7 in the Citrus, Tiger outside linebacker Aundray Bruce, the game's MVP, said: "We knew LSU came to play."
WHERE THE ACTION IS
Scotty Schettler, who runs the huge sports betting operation at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas and who dictates a gambling line that stretches across the country, says the biggest surprise among the 18 bowls was that the third most money—behind only the Fiesta and Rose Bowls—was wagered on, please sit down, the Liberty, in which downtrodden Tennessee was matched against downtrodden Minnesota. The reason, says Schettler, is that it was the only game on that date. Gamblers just want action, and if the only action is Tennessee and Minnesota, well, so be it.
The least appealing bowl to Stardust gamblers was the California, in which San Jose State beat Miami of Ohio. Only $19,500 was wagered on that one. But perhaps most significantly, Schettler reports that the Stardust's record against the gamblers was a laudable 14-4. Which, of course, is why the gambling houses stay the same but the players change a lot.
With a 4-for-4 extra point effort in the Sun Bowl, 'Bama kicker Van Tiffin finished his college career without a miss, 146 straight, adding to the 23 in a row he had in high school after a flub as a junior.... Florida State's Bobby Bowden says the reason he has a reputation for wide-open offense is that "when I'm way behind, I'll try anything. You don't ever see me trying that trash when we're ahead." ...Rose Bowl champ Arizona State has one player from Pago Pago and another from Walla Walla Community College, which is kind of funny funny.... The Rose remains the biggest bowl draw, with the usual 100,000 this year, but surprising No. 2 in attendance over the last five years is the Gator, with an average of 80,000.... The Aloha, sadly, is in big trouble. Only 23,743 beach haters watched North Carolina and Arizona this year.
PLAYERS OF THE BOWLS
As the Peach Bowl ended, Chris Kinzer of Virginia Tech kicked a 40-yard field goal in the 25-24 victory over N.C. State, the sixth time this season Kinzer provided the winning edge.
Alabama senior linebacker Cornelius Bennett had four tackles, seven assists and influenced virtually every defensive play in the Crimson Tide's 28-6 Sun Bowl triumph over Washington.
SI TOP 20
Miami hangs on as second best only because it deserves it; Nebraska redeems itself for past indiscretions; Arizona State emerges, finally, as one of the big boys; Ohio State, which could hardly play for laughing at Coach Bruce's hat, perks up; Boston College, with eight straight wins, is most surprising finisher in land. Loved the emergence of Virginia Tech and N.C. State; hated repeated fizzles of three strong teams—UCLA, Arkansas and Texas A & M—which should have finished in Top 10.
1. PENN ST. (12-0)
2. MIAMI (11-1)
3. OKLAHOMA (11-1)
4. ARIZONA ST. (10-1-1)
5. NEBRASKA (10-2)
6. MICHIGAN (11-2)
7. OHIO STATE (10-3)
8. BAYLOR (9-3)
9. AUBURN (10-2)
10. LSU (9-3)
11. ARIZONA (9-3)
12. BOSTON COL. (9-3)
13. CLEMSON (8-2-2)
14. VA. TECH (9-2-1)
15. UCLA (8-3-1)
16. ARKANSAS (9-3)
17. TEXAS A & M (9-3)
18. ALABAMA (10-3)
19. N.C. STATE (8-3-1)
20. SAN JOSE ST. (10-2)