Everything's better with Bluebonnet on it." So sang the Auburn rooters in the crowd of 79,218 at Legion Field in Birmingham as the Tigers took the field last Saturday hoping to spoil the season for Alabama. Bluebonnet is the bowl the SEC runner-up will play in, and if 6-3-1 Auburn could pull off an upset, the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide would face un-ranked Stanford in the Astrodome instead of No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. So psyched up was Tiger Defensive Tackle Frank Warren that he sent a message to Alabama Offensive Tackle Jim Bunch. "Tell Bunch to pack his lunch," Warren said. "It's going to be a long afternoon."
It was, but mainly for Auburn, as Alabama coolly registered a 34-16 victory to clinch the SEC title and the showdown with Penn State. But for a while Auburn seemed capable of springing the surprise. The Tigers led 13-10 until, with 32 seconds left in the first half, 'Bama's Jeff Rutledge tossed a 17-yard scoring pass to Bruce Bolton. In all, Rutledge threw three touchdown passes, raising his career total to 30 and breaking the Alabama record of 28 held by Joe Namath. "I'm happy today and I plan to be happier Jan. 1," said Tackle Marty Lyons. Bunch said nothing, but he had a student manager deliver a sandwich to Warren.
Despite the 160-yard rushing of Georgia Tech's Eddie Lee Ivery before he was injured in the third quarter, SEC runner-up Georgia overcame a 20-0 deficit to beat Tech 29-28. Willie McClendon, the Bulldogs' leading rusher with 1,312 yards, a single-season school record, scored on blasts of one and two yards, and then Scott Woerner returned a punt 72 yards for another TD, giving Georgia a 21-20 lead. But Tech's Drew Hill returned the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, and a two-point conversion put the Yellow Jackets back on top 28-21.
With 2:24 to play, freshman Quarterback Buck Belue hit Anthony Arnold on a 42-yard scoring play and, after an interference call on the Bulldogs' first attempt at a two-point conversion, Arnold scampered across the goal line for the winning points. Said Tech Coach Pepper Rodgers, "It was like losing a tennis match when the last shot hits the tape."
Houston clinched the Southwest Conference championship and host berth in the Cotton Bowl by beating Rice 49-25, despite losing five fumbles and leading by only 14-10 at the half. After a Rice field goal early in the third quarter, Houston marched from its 20 to the Rice five, where Derrick Brown replaced injured Danny Davis at quarterback and slid into the end zone to lift Houston to a 21-13 lead. The Cougars scored on their next four possessions en route to rolling up a season-high 685 yards in total offense. Emmett King rushed for 147 yards and Randy Love netted 90 yards, as they became the first teammates in conference history to get 1,000 apiece.
Actually, the Cougars knew their New Year's plans earlier in the day when Texas Tech, which needed a combination of a victory over Arkansas and a Houston loss to go to the Cotton Bowl, was crushed 49-7 by the Razorbacks. All week long Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz had been telling his players that each of them would make headlines. And sure enough, before the game each player found his name in a banner headline on a newspaper in his locker. The headline on Running Back Ben Cowins' paper read BEN COWINS EXCELS. Living up to their ink, the Razorbacks scored six out of the first seven times they had the ball in the first half, on drives of 80, 16, 76, 76, 80 and 56 yards, to go up 42-0. Cowins galloped for 148 yards to accomplish his third 1,000-yard season. Texas throttled Texas A&M 22-7, limiting 1,000-yard rusher Curtis Dickey to a career-low 11 yards.
Before the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, the cadets in the stands peeled off their capes and stripped down to T shirts that bore a "12," signifying that the Corps would figuratively be Army's 12th man on the field. The way Navy played, 13 cadets wouldn't have been enough. The Middies forced six turnovers and cruised to a 28-0 win.
USC, LSU and Brigham Young tuned up for their Rose, Liberty and Holiday Bowl appearances with victories. Ronnie Lott intercepted a pass that led to one touchdown, and Riki Gray intercepted a pass and ran it in for another touchdown as USC beat Hawaii 21-5. Marc Wilson threw three TD passes in Brigham Young's 28-24 win over Nevada-Las Vegas in Yokohama, Japan. The LSU defense batted down two passes in its end zone in the closing moments against Wyoming to preserve a 24-17 victory. Departing coaches Doug Dickey of Florida and Fred Pancoast of Vanderbilt both suffered final-game losses. Florida (4-7) ran up a 21-3 lead but then collapsed in the second half to lose to Miami 22-21. Vanderbilt succumbed 41-15 to Tennessee as Volunteer Quarterback Jimmy Streater ran and passed for 235 yards to bring his season total to a school-record 2,011 yards.
Winless Boston College had 24 first downs to Holy Cross' nine and ran up 466 yards to 172, but lost 30-29. The Eagles led 23-9 in the third quarter when a blocked field-goal attempt and a fumble led to touchdowns that tied the score, and a fourth-quarter touchdown gave Holy Cross a 30-23 lead. Boston College then drove 70 yards and scored on a Jay Palazola-to-Dan Conway pass to trail 30-29 with 1:03 to play. But Palazola's two-point conversion-pass attempt was batted down by Glenn Verrette.
Baldwin-Wallace won the NCAA Division III championship by defeating Wittenberg 24-10.