College Football / Richard Hoffer : It Appears Orange Bowl May Bag Nos. 1 and 2


Last season’s Fiesta Bowl, which was able to match the Nos. 1 and 2 teams for the national championship--each just happened to be independent of any conference or bowl affiliation--revived a lot of interest in a playoff format.

Maybe it was time to overhaul the old bowl system, after all, to take the myth out of the mythical college championship. The two best teams! In one game! It works!

Look for that kind of interest, and all those exclamation points, to subside. To begin with, the Presidents Commission of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. recently voted, 11-0, against a Division I-A playoff format. So it won’t happen soon.


But more than that, it won’t have to happen soon. It looks as if we’ll have a clear-cut national championship game within that outdated bowl format.

Check it out: The Orange Bowl has, guaranteed, the Big Eight winner, which will be either top-ranked Oklahoma or second-ranked Nebraska. The winner of their game Nov. 21, barring any ridiculous upsets along the way, has to go to Miami as No. 1.

Further, it appears that the second-ranked team (after Nov. 21) will come from one of three independent of bowl affiliation--Miami, Notre Dame and Clemson, all currently undefeated.

Only problem the Orange Bowl has is that Notre Dame and Miami will play Nov. 28, after NCAA pick-’em day. So there could be three undefeated teams the day of bowl bids.

That might cause some consternation, but likely the schools and the bowl would hold off to see what the Miami-Notre Dame game would produce. “That is one of the possibilities,” Orange Bowl President Larry Adams said.

Neither Miami nor Notre Dame, if they survive undefeated to that game, would probably be lured by another bowl’s offer in the meantime. Each surely would want a shot at the Big Eight champion for the national championship. And there would be little to lose by waiting. Even with a defeat, the loser will have its pick of bowls.

This scenario is good news for the boys in blazers, who match up teams in games half chamber of commerce, half college football. It will forestall criticism of the present system, which doesn’t always provide such clear-cut championship matchups. And it will emphasize the bowl format’s advantages.


Adams pointed out: “Last year, the bowls paid $47 million to the 38 participating schools, none of whom will be missing school or exams (as extended playoffs might require). Also, the players and alums will not just be flying in and out but will be enjoying a week of exposure in some metropolis. It means a lot to recruiting, to alumni support and to overall esprit.

Adams further pointed out that a playoff system does not add money to college football but only redistributes it. His bowl’s contract with NBC allows a renegotiation should a playoff be adopted. Money is subtracted from the Orange Bowl to pay for the finale. Schools might find that it doesn’t pay any more to extend the season and play down to one winner than it does to play down to 19 winners.

Brash Bowl: If Oklahoma and Miami are matched for the national college football championship, there could be records set for self-confidence, expression thereof. The Sooners’ idea of grace under pressure is well documented; they sign autographs during practice and bark at the noonday sun. They wear scandalous T-shirts at postseason games. The legacy of Brian Bosworth is presumably intact.

But how about those Hurricanes?

Here’s how about them: Several weeks ago, early in a tough game with Arkansas, Miami was backed up on its own five-yard line. Quarterback Steve Walsh took time out to go talk to Coach Jimmy Johnson. Tension pretty high, right?

Miami’s Michael Irvin and Brian Blades took their own timeout from the huddle and invited some nearby Arkansas cheerleaders in to join them.

“Us?” the cheerleaders asked, properly horrified.

“Yes, you,” the players motioned.

Cheerleaders scattered, Miami went on to win, 51-7.

The Gone Star State: The Southwest Conference, hit by coaching changes and NCAA scandals, has had something of a brawn drain recently, and the results prove it. The SWC is just 1-5 against top 10 teams and only 8-11 against Division I-A programs of any kind this season.

After Miami had slaughtered the Hogs, Miami’s Brian Blades said: “If that (conference favorite Arkansas) is the best the Southwest Conference has to offer, I hate to see the team they are sending to a bowl game.”


Well, no wonder things are bad. According to the Dallas Times Herald, top 20 teams have been getting their pick of Texas talent.

LSU, which is at least nearby, has 17 Texans, but Iowa has 9 and Nebraska 8. UCLA, which is not nearby despite the recent quake, has 7 of them. Notre Dame and Alabama each has 4. Oklahoma, of course, has always done well down there and lists 30 Texans.

Think about it: The conference surely would have a different look if Tim Brown of Notre Dame, Harvey Williams of LSU and David Richards of UCLA had remained.

Strange doings at Nevada Las Vegas. Coach Wayne Nunnely actually suited up--shoulder pads, cleats, jock strap--for his team’s game with Nevada Reno last week.

Nunnely, a one-time player for the Rebels, wanted to remind his team of the longtime rivalry between the schools, which annually rewards the winner with the Fremont Cannon. He thought slipping out for the kickoff in full gear--well, no helmet--might catch his team’s attention.

Nunnely, still playful at 34, saw his team get a 21-3 halftime lead, then changed back to coaching clothes--the traditional polyester, baseball cap ensemble--for the windup. He said he didn’t want to accept the trophy from the governor in a uniform.


But as the lead slipped away, fans in the crowd of 25,584 at Las Vegas shouted for him to “Change! Change!” Nunnely admits looking for a phone booth but thought better of it and watched in mufti as his team won, 24-19.

Nunnely was questioned about this recently when he met the press. A little silly, no?

Nunnely answered correctly, for our money: “Sillier than a baseball manager in cleats?”

Bumper sticker seen in Dallas: “SMU--Quality Football Since 1989.”