Bowl Race Disgrace
Not that he was expecting to land Miami or Florida State, but Independence Bowl official Brant Goyne, whose game ranks near the bottom of the postseason pecking order, is angry about how a number of other bowls cut their usual early, under-the-table deals with teams. Bowls jumped the gun even though they had made a supposedly ironclad agreement to wait until Nov. 17 before committing to any teams. "There will be a number of complaints filed after this is over," said Goyne.
Well, Brant, lots of luck on that. Although the Football Bowl Association did a lot of blustering, saying that bowls that committed to teams prematurely could be fined as much as $250,000, the feeling now is that so many bowls broke the agreement, the FBA would make itself even more of a joke—if that's possible—by launching an investigation. In fact, nobody was really surprised at the bowl committees' duplicity. "I was dubious whether [the bowl] people would stick to [their agreement]," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno last Saturday, after his team's 35-13 thrashing of Notre Dame, which nonetheless got the Sugar Bowl bid that the Nittany Lions had coveted.
Although the media had reported all week that Notre Dame had agreed to play in the Sugar Bowl, Mickey Holmes, executive director of the Sugar Bowl, told SI early on Sunday, the deadline day, "We do not have an informal or formal agreement with Notre Dame." Holmes said that on Monday, Nov. 11, Sugar Bowl representatives had talked to the schools (Notre Dame, Penn State and Cal) that were the top candidates to face the SEC champion, which turned out to be Florida, but only to "tell them what our parameters were and answer any questions, and that's all." Whatever those parameters were, Penn State didn't meet them despite a 22-point win over the Irish.
"It's a slap in the face when Notre Dame cuts a deal like that," said Penn State linebacker Keith Goganious, whose team will play Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl. "Why bend the rules for one school?" Because Notre Dame, even with three losses, is still the game's biggest draw—that's why.
The Irish's humiliation at Penn State came a week after they had blown a 31-7 lead to Tennessee, which prevailed 35-34. Had Notre Dame been interested in doing the sporting and honorable thing, it would have stepped aside—no matter what its understanding with the Sugar Bowl might have been—and let a more deserving team have the bid. For years, remember, Notre Dame was so holier-than-thou that it refused to go to any bowl on the grounds that postseason play amounted to overemphasis on football at the expense of academics. That notion seems quaint now, doesn't it?
In announcing his team's acceptance of the Sugar Bowl invitation, Irish coach Lou Holtz sounded belligerent. "We're not coming with hat in hand," said Holtz. "Until six quarters ago, people were saying we deserved to play for the national title. Darned right we belong. I make no apologies for our football team."
Which, of course, is another example of how things have changed at Notre Dame. Can anybody imagine Knute Rockne or Frank Leahy taking a team with three defeats to a bowl? Any bowl?
This year's bowl shenanigans did an injustice not only to Penn State but also to Cal, which is 9-1 but settled for the Citrus Bowl after being similarly aced out of the Sugar Bowl by Notre Dame. Also cheated were the fans, who once again will not get the best possible lineup of games.
Colorado's Cardiac Kids
Just when you thought that Colorado had filled its quota of Houdini acts for the season, doggone if the Buffaloes didn't come up with their most amazing escape yet. Remember how they blocked a field goal on the game's final play to preserve a 19-19 tie with Nebraska? And how they scored a touchdown off a fake field goal, with only six seconds remaining, to steal a 16-12 win from Oklahoma State? Well, all that was just a warmup for what they did to poor Kansas in Boulder.
With 10:49 left in the third quarter, all Colorado had to overcome was a raging snowstorm; the loss of quarterback Darian Hagan, who had been sidelined in the first quarter with a sprained right ankle; and a 24-10 deficit against a frenzied Jayhawk team that could almost smell its first bowl invitation in 10 years—a Freedom Bowl bid that was contingent upon a Kansas victory. Pretty tough, huh? Naw. Not for Houdini U.
First, backup quarterback Vance Joseph threw a 20-yard TD pass to wingback Michael Westbrook. With 12:11 left in the game, the Buffaloes closed the gap to 24-23 on a 19-yard run by tailback Lamont Warren. Instead of kicking the extra point for a tie, however, coach Bill McCartney went for a two-point conversion pass. It failed. "We didn't want anything to do with a tie," said McCartney.
He also called for a fake punt with under four minutes to go, but that fizzled, too, giving Kansas the ball at the Colorado 42. Despite these setbacks, the Buffaloes held and took over with 2:09 remaining. With no timeouts, they drove 80 yards on eight plays, scoring with 40 seconds left, for a 30-24 win that kept them tied with Nebraska for the Big Eight lead.
It was the second week in a row that Joseph, whose older brother, Mickey, is the backup quarterback for Nebraska, had pulled out a win after relieving Hagan. Afterward Kansas coach Glen Mason said, "Right now, I don't know if there's a team in college football that knows how to win better than Colorado does."
Alabama nearly dropped out of sight after a humiliating 35-0 loss to Florida on Sept. 14. Since then the Crimson Tide has won eight straight games, and it will take a spiffy 9-1 record into its final regular-season game, against 5-5 Auburn in Birmingham on Nov. 30. But the question remains: Has Alabama improved dramatically, or has it just been lucky? The Tide got pushed all over the place by lowly Memphis State last Saturday before pulling out a 10-7 win. In its three previous games, 'Bama squeaked by Tennessee 24-19, Mississippi State 13-7 and LSU 20-17. "I'd say we've had a lot of luck the last few games," said freshman quarterback Jay Barker, who quickly added, "The luck comes with the hard work."
For all its industry, however, the final stats showed that Alabama got only 11 first downs and 130 yards rushing, both season lows, against a Memphis State defense that had surrendered 52 points to Tennessee and 33 to Tulsa. Fortunately for the Tide, its defenders bailed out the offense. All the same, Tiger quarterback Keith Benton was impressive, running for 52 yards and passing for 114 more, a performance that prompted Alabama coach Gene Stallings to seek him out after the game to congratulate him.
Memphis State missed a couple of opportunities to score when kicker Joe Allison, a nephew of stock car driver Bobby Allison, missed second-half field goal attempts from 40 and 23 yards. Finally, with 3:51 remaining and the Tigers threatening again at the Crimson Tide 18, Benton, under intense pressure from 'Bama nose-tackle Robert Stewart, ran into defensive end John Copeland, who stripped the ball and recovered it at the 27, ending Memphis State's last hope for an upset.
Even if Alabama is more lucky than good, its performance is a tribute to Stallings. After replacing Bill Curry as the Tide's coach before the start of last season, Stallings lost his first three games, but since then 'Bama has a 16-3 record.
Kansas State, which was the subject of a 1989 SI story on the nation's most hapless program, routed Missouri 32-0 to improve its record to 6-4 and assure itself of a winning season. Our congratulations to the K-State players and their coach, Bill Snyder....
Michigan's 20-0 victory at Illinois was especially sweet for coach Gary Moeller and not just because it guaranteed him his first trip to the Rose Bowl as a head coach. Twelve years ago the Illini fired Moeller after he went 6-24-3 over three seasons. "Smell this, Mo," said Wolverine defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr as he waved a rose under Moeller's nose. "Champaign and roses—how about that?" Carr was on Moeller's staff at Illinois....
In the first U.S. college game played in the Caribbean, Bethune-Cookman blasted Morris Brown 51-13 in the Conch Bowl in Nassau.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ty Detmer, Brigham Young's senior quarterback and last year's Heisman Trophy winner, completed 31 of 54 passes for 599 yards and six TDs as the Cougars overcame a 28-point deficit to tie San Diego State 52-52.
Eric Jack, a sophomore safety at New Mexico, made two interceptions, returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown and caught a 65-yard TD pass off a fake punt in a 38-36 victory over Colorado State.
Portland State junior quarterback John Charles completed 28 of 41 throws for eight touchdowns and a Division II-record 592 yards to lead the Vikings to a 55-35 defeat of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.