Northwestern's magical and much chronicled 13-game Big Ten
winning streak was abruptly halted 34-9 by Penn State last
Saturday amid snow squalls in State College, Pa. But for those
who traffic only in the happy endings that have made the
Wildcats so cuddly for nearly two seasons, there was
consolation. The star of the Nittany Lions' victory was
fifth-year senior quarterback Wally Richardson, whose career had
seemed in danger of ending on the bench.
Last season, his first as a starter, Richardson threw 18
touchdown passes and only six interceptions and four times led
Penn State to fourth-quarter comeback victories. But until
Saturday, this season had been a disaster for Richardson.
Unnerved by frequent blitzes, he had thrown for just four
touchdowns and had had seven passes intercepted, leaving him the
lowest-rated passer in the Big Ten. Worse, he had been booed at
Beaver Stadium, where the crowds are generally among the most
passive in the country. Against Indiana the week before the game
with Northwestern, Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno yanked
Richardson in the second quarter, with Penn State trailing 10-3,
and replaced him with junior Mike McQueary; McQueary led the
Nittany Lions to a 48-26 victory.
Richardson's demotion was discomforting to Paterno and
Richardson's teammates, who hated to see their friend suffer.
Richardson, a quiet fellow without a shred of pretense, had
hoped to make his final season special--"I understand that this
is the end here for me, and I do feel an urgency about it," he
had said earlier in the season--but that self-imposed pressure
only served to make him play tighter.
However, on the Monday following the Indiana embarrassment,
Paterno called Richardson aside and told him, "You're my
quarterback. Now just go out there and relax." Paterno's motives
were refreshingly old-fashioned, as befit a 69-year-old coach.
He wanted to give Richardson another chance because he likes him
so much. "He's the kind of kid you'd want to be your own son,"
Paterno said after the Northwestern game. Richardson beamed last
weekend as he recalled his discussion with Paterno. "It made me
feel so much better about everything," he said.
The reprieve also left Richardson so excited that he could
scarcely call a play in the huddle during Penn State's first
series against Northwestern. When the bench signaled a Louis-55,
a bomb to wideout Joe Jurevicius, Richardson stood in front of
his teammates stammering, "Uh ...twins, twins, twins...," a
reference to the formation, which isn't usually voiced. Fullback
Aaron Harris and receiver Joe Nastasi completed the call for him.
Richardson finished Saturday's game with 11 completions in 22
attempts for 201 yards and two touchdowns, one of which came on
the longest toss of his career, a 63-yarder to Jurevicius in the
second quarter. He was intercepted once.
Richardson is such a sensitive soul that in an interview before
Penn State's resounding 38-7 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 5, he
lamented not having mentioned his little brother's name during a
television interview the previous weekend. Late Saturday
afternoon, in a corner off Penn State's interview room,
Richardson quietly digested his turn of fortune. "This is the
best I've ever felt here," he said. On a rubbing table nearby
sat William Richardson, age 10. Just as proud. Just as quiet.
Now with a sweet memory of his big brother's final college season.
THE BOWL QUANDARY
Scenario: At the end of the regular season and the conference
championship games, just two teams remain unbeaten--the winner
of the Nov. 30 Florida-Florida State game and Ohio State.
They're ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The Gators versus
Seminoles victor is committed to the bowl alliance's so-called
national-championship game, the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes, the
Big Ten champions, are committed to the Rose Bowl.
Question: Is there any way to bring the two teams together in
the Sugar Bowl, to avoid the unsatisfying situation that
occurred after the 1994 season when No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2
Penn State, both undefeated, could not meet because the Big Ten
champion Nittany Lions were obliged to meet their Pac-10
counterparts in the Rose Bowl?
Answer: One person would like to try. David Downs, senior vice
president of programming at ABC Sports, which holds the rights
to the Rose and the Sugar bowls, said last week, "Any good
broadcast executive would try to explore that option." However,
Downs also acknowledged that "whether we want that game to
happen or not, there's only a very slim chance of it happening."
In fact, there's almost no chance. To set up such a game, ABC
would have to do more than just make a call to Ohio State and
write a fat check to persuade the Rose Bowl to free up the
Buckeyes. It would also have to get approval from the Big Ten
and the Pac-10, which have contracts with the Rose Bowl.
Moreover, dropping Ohio State into the Sugar Bowl would have a
ripple effect on the other two alliance bowls, the Fiesta and
the Orange. Thus, the network would have to get the members of
the alliance--the three bowls, plus the Atlantic Coast, Big
East, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences and Notre Dame--to
sign off on the deal. Akron will crack the Top 10 before all of
these pieces fall into place.
Consider Ohio State's position: The Buckeyes haven't been to the
Rose Bowl since 1984. Pasadena represents fulfillment for them.
"I think it would be rude of us not to go to the Rose Bowl,"
says Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger. "I think it would
be rude of anyone to ask us not to go." Buckeyes coach John
Cooper, whose team still must face Illinois, Indiana and
Michigan, says, "Nothing would make me happier than going to the
Rose Bowl. I can't see us not going."
Consider the Rose Bowl's position: "Suppose we did let Ohio
State play in the Sugar," says Rose Bowl executive director Jack
French. "Who plays in our game then? Nobody has presented us
with a good reason to do it." The assumption had been that the
Rose Bowl would get another hot Big Ten team (read:
Northwestern) to replace Ohio State. But with the Wildcats' loss
at Penn State last Saturday, no attractive alternative remains
in the Big Ten.
Alliance members would be the most averse to the change.
According to several alliance sources, a contract may be signed
by the end of this week establishing a superalliance that
includes the current members plus the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and
the Rose Bowl. "And we're holding our noses while we sign it,"
says Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne. Members of the
original alliance, particularly the Big East and the Big 12,
feel that the superalliance, which will begin determining bowl
matchups following the 1998 regular season, has been shaped to
benefit the alliance newcomers; the original members point out
that the Rose Bowl will always host either the matchup of the
No. 1 and No. 2 teams (every fourth year, starting in January
1999) or its traditional matchup of Big Ten and Pac-10 champions
(as long as neither of those teams is in the national-title
game). By contrast, in their nonchampionship years the other
three superalliance bowls will serve up a smorgasbord of
Moreover, there is ill will between the original alliance
members and ABC because the network announced the superalliance
as a done deal in July, when, in fact, it was still under fierce
None of this infighting benefits college football, which has
suffered from its inability to determine a national champion on
the field. Though there are still several crucial games left to
play, this year's most likely outcome will have the
Florida-Florida State winner, ranked No. 1, playing Nebraska in
the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Ohio State facing off against Arizona
State in the Rose. Both are attractive games, but the outcome
will leave a void, and the national champion--or champions--will
be decided by polls, not bowls.