HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Last Saturday's pivotal SEC game between Tennessee and Mississippi was moved from Oxford, Miss., to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis after a grocery store chain in the latter city guaranteed the Rebels $1 million if they would move the site. That change may have cost Mississippi the home field advantage, as the stadium-record crowd of 66,467 was just about equally divided between Vol fans wearing orange and Ole Miss zealots waving their Rebel flags.
Going in, Rebel coach Billy Brewer called it "the biggest game in Ole Miss history." That may or may not be true, but a victory would have all but wrapped up the Rebs' first Sugar Bowl trip since 1970. Alas for Ole Miss, Tennessee overcame its first-half lethargy and came away with a 22-13 victory, which is likely to propel the 6-2-2 Vols to the SEC title and the trip to New Orleans.
The Vols had a right to be flat, considering they're playing a 12-game schedule that began in August (against Colorado in the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim, Calif.) and won't end until Dec. 1 (against Vanderbilt). Plus, the Vols were coming off an emotional loss a week earlier to Notre Dame in Knoxville. But after some early sputtering the Vols' offense came together on the strength of Andy Kelly's arm (19 of 23 for 174 yards) and Tony Thompson's feet (106 yards on 23 carries). And the Tennessee defense came up with a big play at game's end when cornerback Floyd Miley, demoted to the second string after a bad game against Notre Dame, scooped up a blocked extra-point kick with 2:02 left and returned the ball 97 yards for the two points that put the game away.
"By the time I got to the 20," Miley said, "I was wondering if I had enough left to get in. I do a 4.4 40, but my teammates said I was looking pretty slow at the end."
Ole Miss fans have to be tickled with the job Brewer has done in what could be a 9-2 regular season if the Rebels beat Mississippi State on Saturday. Still, they can't be blamed for wondering how much better the team might be if Brewer used junior halfback Randy Baldwin as much as, say, Tennessee uses Thompson. The underpublicized Baldwin, who averages 6.47 yards a carry, thumped the Vols for 95 yards, but he carried only 13 times, which is about his average.
SQUEEZING THE ORANGE
The joke about the fledgling Blockbuster Bowl, sponsored by the nationwide video-rental firm, was that the Dec. 28 game in Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium figured to be so bad that it would be put out on video instead of shown to a live audience. Well, who's laughing now? Surely not the Orange Bowl folks, who suddenly face the embarrassing prospect that the new bowl in town might have more of a blockbuster game than they do.
The irony is that the Orange Bowl might have forced the Blockbuster to go elsewhere had it decided last spring to move its game to the four-year-old Joe Robbie Stadium instead of keeping it in the ancient Orange Bowl. After much debate, the Orange Bowl committee decided not to change sites, thanks in part to the City of Miami's plans to gussy up the Orange's old orchard. This was a relief to Blockbuster officials. "Now we think we can offer a better location and facilities than the Orange Bowl," said one Blockbuster Bowl insider. They also can offer a nice payoff of $1.6 million per team.
Naturally, it was assumed that the Blockbuster would have to make do with what was left over after the older bowls got through cutting all their behind-the-scene deals. Instead, the way it has shaken out, the Blockbuster's Penn State-Florida State matchup can hold its own with just about any other game, including the Orange's Notre Dame-Colorado showdown. If 8-2 Florida State ends its regular season by beating Florida this week and if 8-2 Notre Dame loses at Southern Cal, the new kids on the bowl block will really have reason to celebrate.
We think this is a nice sort of poetic justice. If the established bowls don't come up with the most deserving teams or the games the public most wants to see, it's their fault for cutting deals early instead of waiting until the official deadline for extending invitations, which is this Saturday. We hope the Blockbuster is just that.
Although neither USC nor UCLA will be appearing in Pasadena on New Year's Day, last Saturday they treated a Rose Bowl crowd of 98,088 to a game as exciting as any ever played on that storied field. Bruin quarterback Tommy Maddox passed for a school-record 409 yards, almost twice the 215 yards thrown by his Trojan counterpart, Todd Marinovich; but Marinovich got the last chance of the day and made the most of it. With only 16 seconds remaining, he lofted a 23-yard pass over UCLA cornerback Dion Lambert to freshman receiver Johnnie Morton in the corner of the end zone, giving the Trojans a 45-42 win and an 8-2-1 record heading into this Saturday's game against Notre Dame.
"All game long I was telling Todd we could make that play in the corner," said Morton. "The defender had me covered, but Todd threw a perfect pass. I just can't believe it happened."
Neither could Marinovich, at least until he heard the Trojan fans roar. As he released the ball, he was knocked down and couldn't see the play. Marinovich's father, Marv, did see it, albeit from an unaccustomed vantage point. Because of a confrontation with some fans who had booed Todd during a 31-31 tie with Cal on Nov. 3 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the elder Marinovich decided to stay home in Torrance, Calif., and watch the game on TV.
Although Todd denies it, the talk in L.A. is that the sophomore will turn pro this spring. The rumor goes that he will skip the regular NFL draft but sign up for the supplemental draft, in which he'll have a better chance of being picked by a team that he likes. For future reference, file away the fact that Marv formerly played and coached for the Raiders when they were in Oakland.
Nobody out there has to thank us, even though it is that time of the year, but here are two changes we would dearly like to see in college football next season.
First, get rid of the phantom touchdowns that occur when a back vaults toward the goal and is knocked back, but still is given six points because his body penetrated the "invisible plane" of the goal line. Hey, let's make the offense get the ball into the end zone and down it there. That is the point of the game, right?
And while we're at it, let's install a sudden-death overtime, the way the NFL has, so coaches will be forced to play to win instead of settling for a tie. The players should love this. Given the choice between going for two points and victory, or kicking for a tie, we bet that 98.9% of the players would vote to go for the win every time. And it is still their game, right?
Jeers for Houston and QB David Klingler for bullying poor Division I-AA Eastern Washington 84-21. Klingler threw 11 TD passes, giving him as meaningless an NCAA record as a player will ever have. What made the massacre even uglier was the shameless way Houston coach John Jenkins defended it. Bad show, guys....
Cheers for New Mexico State, which defeated Cal State-Fullerton 43-9 to end the nation's longest Division I losing streak at 27 games. "It was a tremendous burden to have by your name," said Aggie coach Jim Hess. "It's good to pass it along to somebody else." That somebody else is Fullerton, losers of 11 straight, worst in the nation....
Jeers for LSU chancellor William (Bud) Davis and athletic director Joe Dean for the sorry way they treated Mike Archer, who resigned as Tiger coach after finding out that Dean had employed a head-hunting firm to search for Archer's replacement six weeks earlier....
Cheers for Youngstown State, which improved to 11-0 by beating Maine 38-17. Youngstown, which had been No. 3 in Division I-AA, moved up to No. 2 behind Middle Tennessee State (10-1) in the wake of previously top-ranked Eastern Kentucky's 27-17 loss to Morehead State.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Stanford's sophomore halfback Glyn Milburn set a Pac-10 all-purpose mark of 379 yards (196 running, 66 on nine pass catches and 123 on four kick returns less six yards lost on a punt return) in a 27-25 win at Cal.
DEFENSE: Paul Franklin, a senior cornerback for San Jose State, intercepted two passes, returning one 52 yards and the other 24 yards for a TD, and had nine tackles as the Spartans beat Fresno State 42-7.
SMALL SCHOOLS: Freshman cornerback Marvin Coleman of Central State of Ohio had three interceptions and scored twice on kick returns of 98 and 92 yards in a 48-10 win over Fort Hays State in an NAIA playoff game.