College Football / Richard Hoffer : Just Thinking About the Bowl Possibilities Can Bowl You Over

It’s never too early to get confused about the bowl matchups, is our premise, and what better time than right now, when we have six undefeated teams, only two of which play one another in the regular season and none of which must play each other in a bowl.

Source of all this confusion, of course, is the Pacific 10 Conference, which will probably send either undefeated and top-ranked UCLA or undefeated and third-ranked USC into the Rose Bowl against a Big Ten team of absolutely no national significance. Should the Bruins or Trojans survive that day undefeated they can rightly claim a national championship. On the other hand, there will be some contention if, as is possible, four other teams also stand undefeated.

Scenarios: UCLA beats USC, which then loses to Notre Dame. The Irish, currently No. 2, will have no shot at the Bruins’ ranking. If USC beats both UCLA and Notre Dame, the Trojans’ status will be argued by, say, West Virginia. Or Wyoming, which could finish undefeated in the Holiday Bowl, having proven nothing. Or Arkansas, doomed to the Cotton Bowl.

And never mind Miami or Nebraska or Oklahoma, once-defeated teams which wouldn’t mind a rematch.


Don’t you think this is confusing? Doesn’t it have you talking playoffs?

John Junker, associate executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, politely points out: “The people talking playoffs ignore the fact that in 12 of the last 15 years or so, there’s been a fairly clear-cut national champion.”

This, of course, is the framework of the bowls. “There may be no singular game, no one game that will get the buildup, but our guess is that a national championship probably can be won, once we get past Jan. 2,” Junker adds.

Junker is correct to point out that some interesting things can happen in the weeks to come. The UCLA-USC-Notre Dame triangle will sort much of it out. And Miami has games with Arkansas and LSU.


“There are some things out there that are going to make some bowl directors very happy,” he says.

There could be, for example, a Notre Dame-Miami rematch, a Notre Dame-West Virginia shoot-out, even a UCLA-Notre Dame game.

“Bowl directors can afford a ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ attitude,” Junker says.

Of those games, Junker points out, the one you probably should worry about is Notre Dame-Miami, even though it would be a great sell and Miami would love another crack at that extra point.

“But rematches often are not a viable issue, because people don’t want to do them,” he says.

Meaning: One of the two teams has everything to lose and nothing to gain.

The folks in West Virginia are reportedly subdued, presumably because they’ve been down this road before. In 1984, the Mountaineers were 7-1 after consecutive victories over Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and Penn State. They lost their next 3 games.

Anyway, nobody’s getting his hopes up until Penn State is out of the way. The Mountaineers are 1-27 in their last 28 games against the Nittany Lions, 1-14 against them at home. Penn State may be on the way to its first losing season in 50 years but West Virginia will not be lulled into thinking this game is a gimme.


Quote: “I told him 4 years ago if he came with me he’d win the Heisman Trophy.”

This from Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, who recruited Troy Aikman to introduce the forward pass to the Big Eight Conference.

Switzer never followed through on his promise and Aikman transferred to UCLA, where he has passed the Bruins into a top ranking and himself into Heisman consideration. All thanks to you, Barry.

Ara Parseghian, who coached Notre Dame during some of its glory years, always was a Lou Holtz man. Even so, he says now he might have underestimated him.

“I predicted he’d have them in a major bowl in 3 years,” he says. “It took 2.”

Parseghian thinks the big things are what look like the little things.

“A new defensive coordinator, an offensive line coach--important moves,” Parseghian said.

In any event, Notre Dame is one of the top three schools and gets to play one of the others, USC, which also plays the other, UCLA.


“That’s terrific for college football,” Parseghian says.

There can hardly be a more entertaining league than the Western Athletic Conference. Of the top six teams nationally in total offense, three are from the WAC.

Wyoming is tops at 540 yards a game, but Utah is fourth and Air Force sixth. Texas El Paso, no slouch, is 15th in the country. The entertaining part is that none of these teams register defensively.

Imagine a league in which you can score 36 points and lose, as Air Force did. Or in which you can score 45 and lose, as Air Force also did. A league in which you can score 56 and win by only a touchdown. Air Force did that, too.

For all of Air Force’s option-attack shenanigans, the two big guns are Wyoming and UTEP, a team that was 1-10 just 3 years ago. Between them they average 84 points. CBS, alert to the possibility of some basketball scores, will depart from proven names to televise their shootout Nov. 5.