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Original Issue


They belong to Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann, and they'd better be strong if the Indians and Irish intend to upset fearsome opponents

Before it all ends the rabbit ears may go the way of the fruitcake—out the back door and into the trash—and the fan may fade like a sidewalk Santa in the rain. This is our annual madness known as the collegiate bowl season, a time when there is just about every kind of football game but the Shoplifters vs. the Floorwalkers in the Astro-Bloomingdale Classic. The season began last week with a lot of Camellias and Boardwalks and Pecans for the little folks, and it won't conclude until Jan. 10, after some wandering groups of All-Stars have taken their pass routes to Honolulu, Mobile and Tampa. Happily, among the 24 bowl games there are some important ones to be concerned about, namely those in which the nation's three most prominent teams of the regular season—Texas, Ohio State and Nebraska—defend their honor for a final time against a chimneyful of football lore out of Knute Rockne, John W. Heisman and Huey Long.

That's something to be grateful for. The bowls usually have little more meaning than the one played the other day in Memphis, where Tulane (7-4) upset Colorado (6-4); than those upcoming in Houston, where Oklahoma (7-4) meets Alabama (6-5); in Jacksonville, where Auburn (8-2) meets Ole Miss (7-3); in El Paso, where Georgia Tech (8-3) meets Texas Tech (8-3); in Atlanta, where Arizona State (10-0) meets North Carolina (8-3); and even in New Orleans, where Tennessee (10-1) meets Air Force (9-2). As September games they would have stirred some excitement, but as holiday spectaculars they have about as much bearing on what the 1970 season means as all of those Blue-Grays and East-Wests.

The Cotton, Rose and Orange, in that order on your tube Jan. 1, are where the action is, for these are the games in which the season's dominant forces will come crashing down on each other, where mathematics, tradition, legend and omens are all significant and where the results could have one final roar of influence on the question of who, finally, is No. 1.

In some minds that question has already been answered. The UPI's board of coaches, which always selects on the basis of the regular season, has chosen Texas by a comfortable margin. Darrell Royal's Longhorns also got a piece of another award, the MacArthur Bowl, picked by a committee of the Hall of Fame that has settled on a tie between Texas and Ohio State. So Woody Hayes can celebrate the fifth national championship of his career and Royal his third—regardless of New Year's Day.

What is left are the No. 1 awards of the Football Writers' Association and the AP, both of which now await the bowls for their final vote. Thus some drama is left, and this is precisely why the Cotton, Rose and Orange games are the only ones that really matter—school comptrollers aside. At least four of the teams involved in these games are still alive for the last two trophies. Three are undefeated: Texas (10-0), Ohio State (9-0) and Nebraska (10-0-1). Then there is Notre Dame at 9-1. The Irish are in contention because if they jolt Texas in their unusual Cotton Bowl rematch, if Stanford upsets Ohio State in the Rose and if LSU whips Nebraska in the Orange, Ara Parseghian's team would have as strong a claim as any.

A victory for Texas, Ohio State or Nebraska, together with losses by the other two, would, of course, make the winner No. 1, just as victories for all three would no doubt wrap it up for Texas. The Longhorns go into the bowls with more voting carryover from the regular season, and in the Irish and Joe Theismann they have more glamorous and tougher opponents than either the Buckeyes or-Cornhuskers.

Like it or not, Dallas again has the game, and it ought to have every bit as much drama as the last one, when Texas edged the Irish 21-17 in the final two minutes.

"I thought both teams played about as good as they could," Darrell Royal has said of that event, "and I would expect the same kind of thing this time if we can do our part."

Texas and Notre Dame a year ago produced one of the best contests of our time. Notre Dame was back in a postseason game for the first time in 45 years—since the heyday of the Four Horsemen—and with a team that could not have been more exciting. Theismann threw two touchdown passes and scattered Cotton Bowl aerial records all over the burnt orange. Ara's team leaped to a 10-0 lead, got behind 14-10, came back again 17-14 and then grudgingly allowed a sustained Longhorn drive—fraught with clutch plays—that ultimately produced the touchdown which kept the national title for Royal.

A few of those stars won't be around—men like James Street and Randy Peschel of Texas and Bob Olson and Mike McCoy of the Irish—but the two teams are substantially the same. Maybe even better.

Texas could use a couple of pickup trucks to haul in its statistics, from this season and from its entire 30-game win streak. Over those 30 games—covering most of the last three seasons—Royal's Wishbone T has averaged 39.4 points and 358 yards rushing per Saturday, which the National Collegiate Sports Service regards as outlandish and incomparable. The Longhorns keep topping themselves. For the first nine games of the streak, in 1968, they averaged 37.4 points and 337 yards rushing. For the next 11 (last season) they averaged 39.5 points and 360 yards. This year the Longhorns have averaged 41.2 points and 374.5 yards. Led by Fullback Steve Worster, the only man who has played in all three backfields during the streak, Texas has gained over 10,000 yards on the ground.

Two assets make Texas seem more devastating than ever: an offensive line that grows quicker and more proficient and a backfield with better balance. The Texans of 1970 go into the Cotton Bowl with Worster, who has 898 yards and 14 touchdowns, Jim Bertelsen, who has 891 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Eddie Phillips, who has 666 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whenever any two of them carry the ball back to back the figures add up to better than a first down.

And while the Longhorns are hardly noted for their passing, they somehow manage to use the pass effectively. Eddie Phillips has hit only 39 of 96, but his average per completion is 17.8 yards—second highest in the nation. Royal makes the point: "Eddie's job is not to build statistics, but to get his team into the end zone."

For all of this, Texas might be ripe. Ripe to get plucked. Winning streaks have to end some time, and another Notre Dame team ended the daddy of them all, Oklahoma's 47-gamer. Royal, with a five-game bowl streak going, hasn't lost since Jan. 1, 1963 (to LSU), and since then has beaten Navy (with Roger Staubach), Alabama (with Joe Na-math), Ole Miss, Tennessee and Notre Dame. Theismann is the only one to get a second chance.

But going against Theismann is an odd kind of tradition. The major bowls aren't heavy on rematches, and in the two that have occurred the team that lost the first game also lost the second. The records show Santa Clara defeating LSU back to back in the 1937 and 1938 Sugar Bowls, and Alabama defeating Nebraska in the 1966 Orange and 1967 Sugar.

Theismann might ignore such trivia and hit Tom Gatewood a few times on some of the pass patterns that made Notre Dame the nation's second best in total offense. The surest way to beat Texas, if not the only way, is to throw expertly and keep scoring. Of this the Irish are fully capable. And if Texas sputters just a bit, having no doubt peaked against Arkansas, Royal will have to call on some resources that may or may not be hidden away.

Wistfully Ara says, "I'm as awed by their defense as their offense, frankly. It's too bad we lost to USC, because a victory would have given us more to play for. But we're going again to make the game fun for the kids and just hope for a hot hand."

Whether the hot hand belongs to Theismann on the down-and-out or Eddie Phillips on the pitch is what it will come down to. For all of Theismann's talents, the afternoon should go to Texas if the Longhorns perform close to their ability.

Like Texas, Ohio State has a remarkable group of seniors wishing to close out their careers on a happy memory. This would be the memory of beating another Heisman Trophy winner in Pasadena. As sophomores, the Rex Kern-Jack Tatum gang outscampered O. J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl, and now, as older fellows, they face Stanford's Jim Plunkett, a totally different problem.

Both teams were slightly baffling this season, Ohio State because the Buckeyes were hardly overwhelming within the weakened Big Ten except on the big day against Michigan, and Stanford because the Indians were only good when they wanted to be.

Jim Plunkett won the Heisman, all right, and he is certainly one of the finest dropback passers to come along, as he proved against such esteemed opposition as Arkansas, USC, UCLA and Washington. But both Plunkett and Stanford had some desultory days that resulted in sloppy losses to Purdue, Air Force and California.

It seems safe to assume that neither team will be exactly casual about the Rose Bowl. Stanford hasn't been there in 19 years, for one thing, and Woody Hayes' teams have never lost out there. What Pasadena has going is a game very much on the order of Texas-Notre Dame: a splendid passing team, Stanford, which can run, against a ball-control outfit, Ohio State, which can pass.

We all know about the Buckeye defense—about Jack Tatum and Jim Still-wagon. But they have spent their college days looking mostly at quarterbacks who were lucky to complete a hand-off, the exception being Mike Phipps on a cold, dreary day a year ago. Plunkett will give them a look at something else, the smart, any-distance, artistic passer armed with beautiful receivers.

Plunkett is going to get some points. Enough? Most likely not, for the burden then falls on Stanford's defense, a unit that has had its moments but hasn't really stopped anyone. It merely slowed them down long enough for Plunkett to hit Randy Vataha or Bob Moore again.

Chances are Plunkett won't have the ball enough to win, because Rex Kern will be keeping it or giving it to John Brockington—or to Woody.

The Orange Bowl would become the most vital of the day if Joe Theismann and Jim Plunkett were to win their games. Then, at nighttime, the growling Nebraska Cornhuskers would find themselves playing for No. 1 against LSU and all of those Tigers who are either called Tommy Casanova or some name you can't remember.

Unlike the big games earlier in the day, the Orange Bowl will not be endowed with major personalities. The coaches, Nebraska's Bob Devaney and LSU's Charlie McClendon, fall short of the colorful images of the Royals, Hayeses and Parseghians, and the players lack the stature of the Plunketts, Theismanns, Worsters and Tatums.

Both teams are relatively young. Their best performers will be returning next season, notably LSU's handsome all-round star, Casanova. He can do it all on offense or defense. Either as a runner or a defensive back, depending on the urgency of the moment, Casanova is exceptional, as evidenced by the job he did on Notre Dame's Tom Gatewood and by the two punts he returned for long touchdowns against Ole Miss.

The pride of LSU is its defense and not just Casanova. The Tigers have a strong front four, led by Ronnie Estay, and a vicious linebacker named Mike Anderson. LSU's defense might well be its best offense, for that's where most of the athletes are.

Nebraska has a more polished, dazzling attack, with breakaway runners Joe Orduna and Johnny Rodgers and the dual quarterbacks Jerry Tagge and Van Brownson. Nebraska plunges, reverses and throws, and only Texas outscored Nebraska on the season. But Devaney also has a tough defense, featuring Tackle Dave Walline. Among his claims to fame is that he put Missouri's Joe Moore out for the season. Nebraska has as much muscle and more imagination than LSU, probably enough to win, unless the Cornhuskers get careless around Tommy Casanova.

Like Theismann in Dallas and Plunkett in Pasadena, Casanova is the one player in Miami who figures to make the difference in a close game and who could make it a day of upsets all around.

But the odds sternly indicate that three coaches who rarely lose—Royal, Hayes and Devaney—will find ways to win again.