Skip to main content
Original Issue


Somehow the bowl selections turned out fine—dandy, in fact—despite PSP and the poker politics that forced a few hands

Arguments for revising the bowl game selection process to require teams to be chosen on the basis of a full schedule have been advanced here in the past. They appealed primarily to logic and the good of college football, however, and therefore were not taken seriously. What appears to be needed is an appeal to emotions. Or to greed. When it comes to getting things done, greed and emotions are superior to logic any day.

San Diego State, for example, should be feeling pretty emotional right now. San Diego State should be ready to fight, actually. The Aztecs finished their season with a boffo 10-1 record. Only one team in the country (Texas) can say more. The Aztecs were ranked 16th by the Associated Press. When the rolls were called up yonder in the bowl selection booths, one would logically assume that up-and-comer San Diego State would have gotten a yell. Uh uh. Not even a whisper.

On Nov. 19, the night designated for selections, San Diego State defeated Florida State, already earmarked for the Tangerine Bowl, 41-16. The Tangerine's other choice, Texas Tech, lost to Houston that day, 45-7. On his way to the FSU locker room for the formality, Tangerine representative Pete Cross was heard to say, "Well, that's show biz. Which way's the bar?"

Fortunately for Cross, FSU revived to whip archrival Florida and finish strong, but Texas Tech wound up losing to Arkansas to roll into the Tangerine a four-time loser. Nothing unusual about that, sorry to say. Under the bowls' Premature Selection Process (PSP)—anything prior to the last big week of the regular season is premature—five bowls wound up as consolation prizes for six four-time losers.

That alone is enough to make San Diego State scream, but how about 17th-ranked (by AP) Brigham Young, 9-2 and the second-highest-scoring team in the country; or 17th-ranked (by UPI) North Texas State, 9-2 and winner of nine of its last 10; or Miami of Ohio, 10-1. Miami won its last nine in a row. Under the PSP, however, it is far better to have early foot and fade badly than to be strong in the stretch.

All of those concerned—bowls and colleges—have adjusted to this self-perpetuating madness with a kind of garage sale mentality. An increasingly familiar gambit is the one where bowls announce they will take the losers of certain games or conference races, as the Sugar, Blue-bonnet and Liberty Bowls did. This is really no worse than having a chosen team fall on its face.

Certainly no one would dispute the merit of having Ohio State (off its loss to Rose-bound Michigan) in the Sugar or Nebraska (off its loss to Orange-bound Oklahoma) in the Liberty. Whether Woody Hayes is rehabilitated and ready to resume a useful place in society or not, Ohio State-Alabama is an excellent match. But there is a stigma, PSP-inspired, in having to declare for teams on the basis of their losing. The same choice probably would not seem as bad if made after the season.

There is a greater irony, however, one that should arouse greed in every NCAA member institution not fortunate enough to be named, well, Ohio State or Nebraska. In a phrase: as long as bowls are required to choose their poison before all the returns are in, they are going to opt for name teams. Under the PSP, San Diego State had no chance. To put it starkly, if a bowl has to risk a multiple loser, it will be Minnesota over Miami of Ohio every time.

Think not? Well, the bowls know a little about greed, too. Bowls are no longer excuses to give a deserving college boy a Bourbon Street tour or a boat ride on Biscayne Bay. Bowls are a $13 million bonanza for college football. They are dictated to by big-business interests, not the least of which is television. Unconvinced? This exchange between executives of a minor bowl and the television network doing its game was reported by the Miami News: "Who'd you like to see us pick?" asked the bowl man. "Notre Dame," said the TV man. "Failing that, my second choice is USC. My third choice is USC. My fourth choice is USC." It did not matter that USC was a four-time loser. It did matter that there are roughly 10 million television sets in Southern California.

The minor bowls are responsible for this foolishness, of course. They lobbied successfully for an early selection date, crying to the NCAA for time to promote their games and sell tickets. More often than not, this has resulted in the major bowls being saddled with damaged goods. Ah, but this year it didn't work that way. After Nov. 19 none of the four major bowls had one of its steamrollers run out of fuel. Seven of the nine top-rated teams are in the major bowls.

Luck? Not so much when you consider that in the last couple of years the Orange and Sugar have joined the Rose and Cotton in securing conference champions as host teams. Past embarrassments, laid directly to PSP, prompted the Orange to unite with the Big Eight and the Sugar with the Southeastern Conference, assuring themselves at least half a draw. Thus the major bowls cut their needs on the open market from five of eight teams to three of eight.

There is a harmful side effect. Conference tieups make it almost impossible to achieve "ultimate" matchups. Notre Dame, of course, is not tied to a bowl, so the Cotton got the plum this year in Texas-Notre Dame. It would have been impossible, however, to match No. 1 Texas with No. 2 Oklahoma, or No. 2 Oklahoma with No. 3 Alabama.

In any case, now there is less cause than ever to give minor bowls any additional special considerations. With the majors having only three spots to fill, there are more good teams than ever available to minor bowls. Clearly then, there is no need to rush into anything. And the minors need better matchups to give them what one bowl member (while lamenting his own hard-hit choices) called "carry-over interest." He explains, "Most of our tickets are sold way in advance of our team picks, anyway. When we get a clinker, we diminish our chances for next year. The teams shouldn't want early selections, either. It puts 'em on the spot and they lose, or they get left holding the bag. Like Penn State."

Ah, yes, the strange odyssey of Penn State. The Nittany Lions, ranked No. 8 with a 10-1 record, are going to the Fiesta Bowl, where the bag they will hold and take home will contain $250,000. They might have gone to the Orange Bowl, where competing teams share $2.2 million, except for one of those bluff and counter-bluff episodes that go hand in glove with early selections and demean both teams and bowls.

In mid-November, with Notre Dame apparently headed for the Cotton Bowl to have its wish fulfilled for the highest-ranked opponent available, the Orange Bowl's three top choices became Arkansas, Penn State and Pittsburgh, in no particular order. The Orange Bowl, however, wanted to delay its selection one week until the pivotal games of Thanksgiving weekend: Arkansas-Texas Tech and Penn State-Pitt. This in itself might have been unnecessary had not an earlier attack of greed prompted Pitt and Penn State to shove their game back from Nov. 19, to accommodate ABC's television cameras.

Pitt's Jackie Sherrill said he would gladly wait.

Arkansas, lobbying hard, said it, too, would wait.

Penn State, which undoubtedly felt it was dealing from a position of strength because it was ranked higher than Pitt in the AP poll, said not on your life.

There was a heavy pause. For 48 hours the Orange Bowl was in a dilemma: if it knuckled under to Penn State on Nov. 19, what would 80,000 ticket buyers say if Pitt then beat Penn State on Nov. 26? If it waited until Nov. 26 and only Pitt and Arkansas waited, too, and both lost, who would the selectors pick then? The hesitation was variously interpreted. Sensing that the Orange might cave in to Penn State, Arkansas and Pittsburgh wavered. The Gator Bowl was romancing Pitt. Arkansas was not sure it would get a second chance. Both schools reversed field, indicating they would make their move on the 19th.

Now it was Penn State's turn to come about. Anticipating an Orange Bowl swing to Arkansas because of the standoff in the East, the Lions had a change of heart and indicated they would indeed wait until Nov. 26. Alas, Penn State was odd man out again.

But the lobbying was not over. Father Edmund Joyce, executive vice-president of Notre Dame, passed the word around that he would prefer that all the bowls waited a week. Texas had a Nov. 26 date with tough Texas A&M. If Texas lost, Notre Dame would want to shift its aim to the team most likely to move up to No. 1—Oklahoma in the Orange or Alabama in the Sugar. The Orange Bowl hopped on Father Joyce's idea, having found just the ally it thought was needed to force everybody to hold fire another week.

But the Cotton Bowl still held the trump card, Texas, and played it accordingly. It gave Notre Dame a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Notre Dame blinked, and threw in its hand.

Once the Irish were out, everybody folded. The Orange chose Arkansas, the Sugar the Big Ten runner-up, and Penn State gets to spend the holidays in Tempe, Ariz. It is lucky to get that.

Who was bluffing? In a sense, they all were. Penn State and Pitt could have covered their bets with a minor bowl, exercising the losers' right. Arkansas probably could have done the same. It is unlikely, too, that the Cotton Bowl would have risked losing Notre Dame by being stubborn about Nov. 19 selections. Like the Orange, it would have had to run the gamut of all those crucial games on Thanksgiving weekend.

In the wake of what happened—the major bowls turning out O.K., except for some blood under the fingernails; the minors scrambling around and making a general mess of things—one would assume that the message will be clear enough for the NCAA when it convenes in January in Atlanta. The early selection date has at last unanimously succeeded: all the bowls are hurt by it, and they all need some action.

Think of it as emotionally logical.

Jan. 2
Texas (11-0) vs. Notre Dame (10-1)

A win by No. 1-ranked Texas salts away the national championship, no matter what Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan or anybody else does. It also would put a storybook finish on the season for the Longhorns, who were ignored by all Top 20 preseason polls. In contrast, the No. 5-ranked Irish received rave preseason notices but were downgraded when they lost to Mississippi in September. A Notre Dame victory could catapult the Irish to their 10th national title.

Since Joe Montana took over as quarterback, Notre Dame has scored an average of 37.7 points a game. Before that. Running Backs Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson got most of the yardage. Montana spreads the work around. In addition to utilizing the running game, he passes to Kris Haines, who averages 21 yards a catch, and All-America Tight End Ken MacAfee. The Irish finished up with remarkably balanced statistics—2,551 yards rushing, 2,289 yards passing.

Not so Texas. The Longhorns have good receivers in Alfred Jackson and Johnny (Lam) Jones, but a full 70% of the attack is on the ground—and a big percentage of the ground game is Heisman winner Earl Campbell, who led the nation in rushing (1,744 yards) and scoring (114 points). The Longhorns' Russell Erxleben, with 14 field goals (including a 67-yarder), represents a long-distance scoring threat whenever Texas is inside the 50.

Although Campbell is a super back, Notre Dame can be tough on one-back attacks. Randy McEachern, a 50.6% passer, might well have to throw more than he'd like. Starting five games (after the No. 1 and 2 Texas quarterbacks were injured), McEachern completed 45 of 89 for eight touchdowns.

Texas is favored, but in Notre Dame's last Cotton Bowl appearance seven years ago the once-beaten Irish met unbeaten No. 1-ranked Texas and pulled a 24-11 upset. It could happen again.

Jan. 2
Ohio St. (9-2) vs. Alabama (10-1)

To television, it's the Woody and Bear Show, Ohio State's Woody Hayes vs. Alabama's Bear Bryant, two crusty old coaching stalwarts who have a total of 65 years of experience and 503 victories. To oddsmakers, it's the bowl season's closest match, pitting once-beaten Alabama, the Southeastern Conference champion, against twice-beaten Ohio State, the Big Ten runner-up. To shoppers from the NFL, it is a showcase filled with talent.

The Buckeyes offer All-America Tackle Chris Ward, Rod Gerald, America's slipperiest quarterback, and Ron Springs and Jeff Logan, a pair of runners who gain six yards every time they get the ball. The Tide has All-America Ozzie Newsome and a wave of exciting runners, particularly Johnny Davis and Tony Nathan. No wonder both teams score more than 30 points a game.

Alabama is favored, having won 10 of 11 and pounded Miami more soundly than Ohio State did. Yet the Tide's loss was to Nebraska, which was demolished by Oklahoma, a team Ohio State had on the ropes before losing in the final seconds. That, of course, leaves Bryant moaning over his chances; nothing unusual there. But Hayes, uncharacteristically optimistic, claims his Buckeyes are the toughest twice-beaten team he's ever laid eyes on. Indeed, Ohio State's losses to Oklahoma and Michigan were both heartbreakers. Oklahoma recovered an onside kick and scored nine points in the final 90 seconds to win, 29-28. Michigan won 14-6, but the Buckeyes were more impressive on offense and were driving for a possible tying touchdown when they fumbled with two minutes left. Ohio State drubbed its other opponents 303-42, shutting four of them out.

Curiously, Alabama, which runs from the wishbone, has a far better air game than Ohio State and the Pro-I that Hayes has favored this year. The Jeff Rutledge-to-Newsome tandem might be the difference in New Orleans. But Ohio State had the Big Ten's top pass defense and 22 interceptions, a national high. One or two more in the Sugar Bowl and it's Woody's show, not Bear's.

Jan. 2
Oklahoma (10-1) vs. Arkansas (10-1)

Barry Switzer recalls being in this position before. It was in the 1976 Orange Bowl, and his Sooners rose up from No. 2 to win their last national championship. Oklahoma beat Big Ten runner-up Michigan 14-6 after No. 1-ranked Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, had folded in the Rose Bowl. This time, ranked No. 2 again, Oklahoma once more heads to Miami, where it meets Southwest runner-up Arkansas, while Southwest champion Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation. The names have changed, but Oklahoma's position is about the same. And, again, Oklahoma should win.

This is not the same Sooner team that lost to Texas early in the season when its marvelous backfield was slowed by injuries. After Tom Lott, Billy Sims, Kenny King and Elvis Peacock recovered, the Sooner wishbone ripped through five straight foes by an average winning margin of 31 points.

Arkansas revived from its 5-5-1 record a year ago to gain the No. 6 ranking, thanks largely to renewed enthusiasm stirred up by new Coach Lou Holtz. Spearheaded by Larry Jackson, Jimmy Walker and Howard Sampson, Arkansas' defense was tops in the SWC against the pass and was third in the nation against scoring.

Guard Leotis Harris is All-America, Ben Cowins rushed for 100 yards or more in six games and Ron Calcagni is a 53.3% passer, albeit an infrequent one. Steve Little booted 19 field goals to lead the nation. The Razor-backs ran roughshod over eight opponents, but lost to Texas and struggled to beat their other bowl-bound opponents, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Against A&M, the only wishbone team Arkansas faced, two Aggie backs gained more than 100 yards.

"It's great when it all comes down to the last game on the last day of the season," Switzer has said. Yes, but Oklahoma can't do it alone. Texas must cooperate.

Jan. 2
Michigan (10-1) vs. Washington (7-4)

It seems impossible for Michigan to lose the Rose Bowl to Washington. The Wolverines scored 30.3 points a game and rank fourth nationally in allowing the fewest points per game (8.8). The strong backfield consists of veterans Rick Leach, Harlan Huckleby and Russell Davis and an explosive sophomore, Roosevelt Smith. The defense is hard-nosed, and the line blocking, featuring top pro prospects Walt Downing and Mark Donahue, is the best in years. For its part, Washington had four losses, including one to UCLA, and clinched its Pac-8 title only when USC whipped the Bruins.

Sure, something could go wrong. Michigan occasionally goes to pieces, as it did in October when it lost to Minnesota. In its slow start (1-3), Washington lost to the Gophers, too, but with Warren Moon throwing to Spider Gaines the Huskies developed into the type of team that can score quickly. Washington also has sophomore Joe Steele, who took the halfback job away from Ron Rowland, the Huskies' first 1,000-yard rusher since Hugh McElhenny. The best hope for the Pac-8 champion is to force Michigan into trying to play catch-up, which it did so ineffectually against USC in the Rose Bowl last year. If that happens, expect Linebacker Michael Jackson to play a key role in keeping the Wolverines locked up.

Big Ten teams have lost eight of the past 10 Rose Bowls. Last year Michigan turned belly up after arriving in Pasadena with a 10-1 record, ranked No. 2 and in contention for the national championship. West Coast wags made jokes about the Wolverines and their reluctance to pass. One wrote, "They seemed to like the ground so much they'll probably take a bus back to Ann Arbor." So Michigan may have been stung into developing a more diversified attack: Leach threw for 1,109 yards this season compared to 897 last year. The Wolverines should be flying high on their way back to Ann Arbor after the 1978 Rose Bowl.

Dec. 31
Texas A&M (8-3) vs. USC (7-4)

The Bluebonnet Bowl is not where USC and Texas A&M were supposed to wind up. The preseason pollsters figured that USC would win its 23rd Pac-8 championship and Texas A&M its 13th Southwest Conference title. But the Trojans' conference losses to California and Washington and the Aggies' inability to handle Arkansas or Texas precluded trips to Pasadena and Dallas and diverted both teams to Houston. Much the same thing happened in 1975, when the Aggies and the Trojans got the late-season lazies and ended up playing each other in the Liberty Bowl. USC won that one, 20-0.

Both teams have offenses that are brilliant on occasion, but USC is better defensively and has a definite edge in passing. Rob Hertel's 15 touchdown throws and 1,897 yards broke Trojan records, and Randy Simmrin tied Lynn Swan's single-season reception mark of 95. Tailback Charles White is a 1,291-yard back, giving the Trojans balance. The defense, featuring Clay Matthews and Dennis Thurman, was the stingiest in the Pac-8 against the run. USC's losses, especially at California and Washington, were a result of offensive lapses.

Texas A&M's biggest problem is catching up when it falls behind. The Aggie wishbone is not well suited for passing. Quarterback David Walker threw 107 times for only 749 yards. With more balance, A&M might have lived up to expectations. Certainly, with giant Fullback George Woodard and flashy Halfback Curtis Dickey, its running game was potent. The two backs rushed for 1,107 and 978 yards, respectively. A&M's 3,304 yards left the Aggies only 5.9 yards a game behind Texas as the SWC's top rushing team.

When the Aggies lost, however, they lost big: 41-3 to Michigan and 57-28 to Texas. And after the Texas game the Aggies were lackluster in a 27-7 victory over Houston. As for USC, the Trojans closed out their season with an uplifting last-minute 29-27 win over UCLA, which was playing for a Rose Bowl bid. Both teams have momentum, but USC is the more likely to keep it.

Dec. 31
North Carolina St. (7-4) vs. Iowa St. (8-3)

It's a war between the States, in technicolor: Iowa State, wearing cardinal and gold, features Green. North Carolina State, in red and white, stars Brown. Green is Dexter Green, a breakaway halfback who rushed for 1,240 yards, caught a team-high 20 passes and scored a team-high 15 touchdowns to lead the Cyclones to second place in the Big Eight. Brown is Ted Brown, a breakaway halfback who rushed for 1,251 yards, caught a team-high 24 passes and scored 14 touchdowns to lead the Wolfpack to a 7-4 record and third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As Brown and Green go, so go their States.

Green and Brown both should go well because the Cyclone and Wolfpack defenses couldn't handle the 1,000-yard backs they faced. North Carolina's Amos Lawrence ripped the Wolfpack for 216 yards; Nebraska's I. M. Hipp and Oklahoma State's Terry Miller netted 165 and 155 vs. the Cyclones.

Normally a Big Eight runner-up would be heavily favored over an ACC also-ran, but Iowa State's offense sputtered badly on occasion, notably in losses to Iowa and Colorado, and the Cyclones have lost their only two bowl games. North Carolina State has had its troubles in big games, too, losing 27-14 to ACC champ North Carolina and then to runner-up Clemson 7-3, but the last time it met a Big Eight team it whipped Kansas in the 1973 Liberty Bowl.

Despite different offenses—Iowa State uses an I, the Wolfpack a veer—these teams attack in much the same fashion. Both call upon their halfbacks often and have reliable fullbacks—North Carolina's Billy Ray Vickers rushed for 726 yards and Iowa State's Cal Cummins, despite injuries, carried for 518.

The Wolfpack defense shut out Syracuse and Virginia but yielded 32 and 28 points to Duke and East Carolina. Iowa State was more consistent. Cornerback Kevin Hart and Tackles Tom Randall and Mike Stensrud form the heart of the Big Eight's toughest defense to score upon. That edge should be what leaves the red and white feeling blue.

Dec. 31
Stanford (8-3) vs. LSU (8-3)

Forget for the moment that the Sun Bowl has a pairing of unranked teams with three defeats each. This could easily turn out to be the wildest postseason game of all.

Stanford has the nation's third-best passing attack and, in Guy Benjamin, the No. 1 quarterback in America. LSU has the nation's sixth-best rushing offense and, in Tailback Charles Alexander, the No. 2 running back in the country. What makes it wild is that Stanford's defense was the Pacific Eight's worst at stopping the run. And, yup, LSU's defenders were dead last in the Southeastern Conference at stopping the pass.

Alexander dashed for 1,686 yards, an SEC record, and scored 17 touchdowns, third-best in the nation. Fullback Kelly Simmons added 387 yards and Steve Ensminger kept things honest by passing for 952 yards, mostly to Carlos Carson, whose 24 yards per catch and 10 TD receptions topped the SEC.

Benjamin spreads his passes around among Darrin Nelson (50 receptions), Bill Kellar (46) and James Lofton (53), a spectacular flanker who is also an All-America long jumper. Nelson, a freshman, using the blocks of 6'6" Tackle Gordon King and pass-prevent defenses to full advantage, also rushed for 1,069 yards to become Stanford's first 1,000-yard back.

Each team has developed a solid kicking game after unsure beginnings, but neither defense stands out, although Stanford's Gordy Ceresino and LSU's John Adams make noises when they hit. Both teams crushed Oregon, but the 2-9 Ducks outpassed LSU and outrushed Stanford. So which team looks better? "Between those two, I can't predict a thing," says Oregon Coach Rich Brooks.

Against Wyoming, the best passing team LSU met, the Tigers exploded 66-7. Stanford was drubbed 49-0 by USC, the strongest running team it met. Wyoming may not be up to USC standards, but good ground teams are supposed to beat good passing ones, aren't they? So figure LSU.

Dec. 30
Clemson (8-2-1) vs. Pittsburgh (8-2-1)

At first glance, Pittsburgh and Clemson seem to be mirror images. Pitt is ranked 10th, Clemson 11th. Both yield points grudgingly, 11.7 and 11.9 a game, respectively. Both finished 8-2-1. Both lost squeakers to Notre Dame. Both have new coaches. On top of that, Pitt's Jackie Sherrill and Clemson's Charley Pell played together, at Alabama in 1962. Sherrill was a freshman, Pell a senior. Says Sherrill, "I remember he put a few knots on my head."

In truth, the defenses are slightly different. Up front Pitt is big and pushy. Clemson is smaller and quicker, especially at linebacker, where Randy Scott fills holes as quickly as they open. Clemson's secondary was patched together this fall while Pitt's Bob Jury, J. C. Wilson, LeRoy Felder and Jeff Delaney are a 2-year-old unit, giving the Panthers an edge there.

But the biggest dissimilarity is on offense. With Matt Cavanaugh, arguably the nation's best quarterback, throwing to flashy Gordon Jones, Pitt has an attack that struck for 35.8 points a game, fifth best in the nation. Jones also is a dazzling punt returner. Clemson grinds it out, mainly over the right side behind Joe Bostic and Lacy Brumley. Tailbacks Warren Ratchford and Lester Brown produced 1,032 yards rushing between them. Quarterback Steve Fuller ran for 578 more. Should the rushing game bog down, Fuller, who was selected ACC Player of the Year, will not be stymied; he threw for 1,497 yards in the regular season.

This is the first meeting between the Panthers and the Tigers, but Pitt is 17-10 against other ACC teams. These Panthers have an edge in bowl experience, seven starters having played in last year's Sugar Bowl, while Clemson was 3-6-2 and stayed home. Notre Dame players say Pitt is much stronger and predict that the key to this matchup is whether the Tigers' offense can control the ball. "Clemson can't get into a 1-2-3 punt contest with them," says Irish Coach Dan Devine. "Pitt's strength is its defense, and they are going to force a turnover." Don't expect any more knots to appear on Jackie Sherrill's head. It seems to add up to a Panther victory.

Dec. 25
Arizona St. (9-2) vs. Penn St. (10-1)

Another between States—Penn and Arizona, two perennial Top 20 teams with two redoubtable coaches. Penn State's Joe Paterno has the nation's best winning percentage (81%); Arizona State's Frank Kush ranks third (73%). They've never met before, and after seeing each other's offense they might wish they never do again.

In winning 10 of 11, Penn State rang up 31.6 points and 422.4 yards a game. Arizona State (9-2) averaged 422.1 yards and 33.5 points. Both run as often as they pass. Both have explosive kick returners. Penn State's Jimmy Cefalo leads the nation (13.7 yards); Arizona State's John Harris is 11th with an 11.6 average. In Cefalo, Mickey Shuler and Scott Fitzkie, Lion Quarterback Chuck Fusina has the premier receiving corps in Penn State history. In All-America John Jefferson, Sun Devil Quarterback Dennis Sproul has a receiver whom Kush rates the best he's ever coached. Sproul hurt his back in the season finale and may sit out, but backup Fred Mortenson can throw, too.

On defense, All-America Guard Randy Sidler seems to give Penn State an edge. But you can't prove it statistically. The Lions gave up 14.2 points a game, the Sun Devils 13.0.

Ah, but consider the opposition. Ties excluded, Penn State's 11 opponents won 69 of 119 games, 57%, the highest percentage in the nation. Among them were Pittsburgh, which lost only to Notre Dame and Penn State and is also bowl-bound, and Kentucky (10-1), which would be, too, were the Wildcats not on probation. On the other hand, Arizona State's opponents won just 44 of 120 games, 36%, and none is in a bowl. Nine of those rivals had losing seasons, and three—Northwestern, Oregon State and Texas-El Paso—finished in the cellar of their respective conferences. Only Brigham Young and Colorado State were over .500. The Sun Devils had to hang on to beat the Cougars and were dumped 25-14 by the Rams.

In four Fiesta Bowl appearances, Kush's teams have never been beaten. Penn State is coming off back-to-back losses in the Sugar and the Gator. Both streaks should end Christmas Day.