Here we go, Miami against Penn State in the Increda Bowl, the biggest and baddest bowl ever, the Last Bowl You'll Ever Watch, the Fiesta Bowl, No. 1 vs. No. 2, a bowl so big it wouldn't fit on New Year's Day, a bowl so big only TV could create it. The game is scheduled for Friday night, Jan. 2, prime time on NBC, and figures to send Bobby Ewing back to the showers, seeing as how this is the first time since 1973 that two undefeateds have met in a clear-cut, one-fall, save-face-or-get-out-of-my-space clash for the champeen's belt. Bless you, Fiesta Bowl Committee, for delivering us from Poll Day trauma, from 119-pound sportswriters picking national champions, from the nothingness of Minnesota-Tennessee and other Forgetta Bowls with nothing at stake. This is a fiesta, a steel-cage match, El Bowl Grande. The loser proceeds directly to Oliver North's paper shredder.
When a game is this big and you have to predict a winner, no single expert will do. You need to create your own system. So we created our own system. It's highly scientific and mathematically exact to the 12th power. We borrowed it from the Ayatullah Khomeini's financial adviser. Because it's the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, we do it by segments, like this:
Best Quarterback: Miami's Vinny Testaverde is the Ritz, and Penn State's John Shaffer is Murray's Motel 5. Both get you through the night, but one does it in infinitely more comfort. Testaverde throws better, moves better, checks off better, runs better, reads better and focuses downfield under pressure better. Once this year he threw three TD passes in one quarter, which means that if you have Testaverde, you've got to be 28 points down in the fourth quarter to be out of it. He won the Heisman and was the No. 1-rated passer in the land. Next year he'll be the No. 1 choice in the NFL draft, and Shaffer will be a financial analyst. Miami plus 10.
Common Opponents: Both teams defeated West Virginia, Pitt, East Carolina and Cincinnati (see box). Miami beat them by an average of 33 points, Penn State by 17.7. When polled, most of the vanquished admitted they would pin their lunch money on Miami. For example, in a poll of West Virginia players the Hurricanes pulled down nine of 10 votes with one abstention. Miami plus six.
Best Analysis: Hurricane running back Melvin Bratton, who summed up the emotion, the complexity and the enormity of the game by saying, "The toilet flushes, and one team has to go down." Miami plus one for imagery.
Longest Held Grudge: This is close. As Miami center Gregg Rakoczy says, both teams "know what it's like to be lonely on Jan. 1." Penn State lost to Oklahoma in last season's showdown for No. 1, and Tennessee mashed Miami on the same day. Both losing teams spent miserable summers reminiscing. "I don't think that game will be out of my mind for the rest of my life," Testaverde says. Says Shaffer. "What are the odds of playing for two national championships in a row and losing both of them?" Right now, Las Vegas says the odds are Miami giving seven points. Penn State seems angrier. Penn State plus two.
What Beano Cook Thinks: "Penn State wins 31-10. It's destiny for Penn State to win. Paterno's not going to be college football's Germany and lose two straight." Penn State plus two.
Those All-Important Special Teams: About even in everything but extra points. The Hurricanes have blown six of them this year. Penn State plus one.
Best Historical Fact: In 1981, Penn State played No. 1-ranked and Dan Marino-quarterbacked Pitt, played six linebackers on pass defense, stymied Marino and upset the Panthers 48-14. Penn State plus two.
Most Talent: If nothing else this game will be an orgy for the eyes. "Miami is about as talented a team as I've seen in the last 8 to 10 years," says Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno. The game will have four AP All-Americas (Testaverde, defensive tackle Jerome Brown and defensive back Bennie Blades for Miami; linebacker Shane Conlan for Penn State) plus six players (Rakoczy, linebacker Winston Moss and fullback Alonzo Highsmith for Miami; running backs D.J. Dozier, Tim Manoa and Steve Smith for Penn State) who will likely be first-or second-round picks in next spring's NFL draft. Miami plus three.
Least Likely To Get Allstate's Good Driver Discount: Tie between Testaverde and wide receiver Michael Irvin of the Hurricanes. Irvin was recently disciplined by the university for allegedly backing his car over the toes of two Miami law students. Two days before the East Carolina game Testaverde crashed his motor scooter. The accident separated him from a good deal of skin on the left side of his body. Give Penn State one point because scabs itch a lot.
Least Likely To Have Trouble Bumming Rides Home Until The Game: Testaverde.
Best Against The Run: West Virginia got only eight yards on the ground against Penn State. Pitt's Craig (Iron-head) Heyward gained 254 yards against Miami. Penn State has the third-best rushing defense in the country. Penn State plus two.
Best Against The Pass: Penn State's secondary goes 5'11", 5'9", 5'9", 5'10". It's one of the shortest in the country. Miami's (a.k.a. Bennie and the Jets) is long on speed. Blades led the nation in interceptions with 10. "They're fast and fabulous," says East Carolina assistant Don Powers of the Hurricanes' defensive backs. Penn State yielded 300 yards to such pretenders as Steve Beuerlein of Notre Dame and Dan Henning of Maryland. Shudder at the numbers Testaverde might hang. Miami plus three.
The Obnoxious Olympics: The Hurricanes once roughed up a team's flag carrier before the coin toss. On the road. They also have had a number of brushes with John Law. Because it has been unable to shake its Miami Vice image, the team has developed a nifty persecution complex from which it draws strength.
The Nittany Lions come in as Goody Two Cleats, but they have yet to back down from a fight. In fact, this year's squad had more personal fouls called on it than any other that Paterno has coached. Even Paterno lost his cool in the Pitt game. "I've got four or five guys on this team ready to fight at the drop of a hat," he says. "And it looks like I'm one of 'em."
Miami plus two.
Best Receivers: Irvin isn't as fast as some, but, as the pro scouts say, he catches everything "in the box." In other words, he catches just about everything. Only a sophomore, Irvin may be the purest college receiver since Lynn Swann. He had 11 touchdown receptions this season. "Irvin is the kind of guy that makes you hold your breath every time he lines up," says Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, Gary Gibbs. Miami plus four.
Schlockiest Way To Sell Tickets To A Crummy Game On Thanksgiving: Miami retired Testaverde's jersey at the East Carolina game when he had five weeks to play. One-point penalty for premature legend manufacturing.
Best Explanation As To Why Testaverde's Number Was Retired And Bernie Kosar's Wasn't: From Hurricane coach Jimmy Johnson, who said, "Because Bernie didn't finish here." No points awarded.
Windpipe-Closure Index: Penn State won three games—against Maryland, Notre Dame and Cincinnati—that were decided in the waning moments. Miami didn't have a game that came down to the wire all season. Penn State plus two.
Next Best Thing To The Boz: Dan Sileo, Miami defensive tackle, can both knock and talk you Sileo. "I never liked Penn State in high school and still don't," he says. "They're condescending.... I was all-everything out of high school. They came and looked at me; they wanted me to play linebacker. I wanted to play noseguard. I had a 2.4 [grade point average), and they had all these 3.9 guys. They said, 'Son, I think you'd have enough trouble getting into a junior college.' I said, 'What?' I go, 'O.K., I wasn't interested in Penn State anyway.' " And.... "If we get ahead and they have to start throwing, it could be a long game. I'm saying 10-point win, 14-point win if Vinny comes out and throws the way he did against Oklahoma." Miami plus one for quotability, minus two for inciting to riot.
Best Body: Highsmith's should be illegal. Miami plus one.
Intermission: This isn't worth any points, but do you realize that this will be the third national-championship game ('82 and '85 were the others) for Penn State's 16 fifth-year seniors. It's the second ('83 was the other) for 22 Miami players, and you almost have to count '85 as well. Six national-title games in the last five years is remarkable to think about, no?
First Place Somebody Will Get In Trouble in Phoenix: Zazoo, the ultrachic disco with neon palm trees. Until last May a jaguar guarded the door. The cat was removed after greeting a female patron too enthusiastically. Miami's dorms are wilder than this. Miami plus .5.
Best Running Backs: Penn State's outpoint Highsmith and Melvin Bratton, but just barely. The Lions ran for 184 yards against Pitt, the nation's ninth-ranked defense. Dozier is twice the back on grass, which is what he'll run on in Tempe. "Dozier and Manoa just run over you like a truck or beat you to the sideline," says Pitt linebacker Jerry Wall. "Highsmith and Bratton leave you with your pants down." Trucks over pants by one.
The Shoes Theory: Asks Penn State defensive tackle Bob White, "Why is it so hard for people to believe that we can win this game?" You know why, Bob. Because of the Lions' black shoes, which make them look like William & Mary, circa 1889, people underestimate Penn State. That only helps the Lions. These guys are 22-1 over the last two years, and they never took their black shoes off once. "Penn State is better equipped than people think they are," says Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer. Penn State plus two.
Best Dark Horse MVP Candidates: For Miami, 6'4" junior defensive end Daniel Stubbs. Voted the team's hardest hitter, he is becoming another Mad Stork a la Ted Hendricks, who played the same position for the Hurricanes in the late '60s. For Penn State try senior linebacker Trey Bauer, of whom Miami line coach Art Kehoe says, "I don't know his name, but his number is 35, and the guy shows up in every play." Give Miami one point.
Fat Boys: Linemen, that is. Too fat was the reason Penn State spurned Rakoczy as a schoolboy, and that rejection helped turn him into a great player. "It made me think, Maybe I can't get by with just size," says Rakoczy. Miami may not get by with two tackles who wouldn't have started this season had the first stringers not gone down with injuries. They're light, and Penn State's defensive tackles are especially strong. Not only that, Testaverde was sacked 29 times this season. Could be mucho Fiesta trouble. Penn State plus two.
Best Bar Bet: Lay $5 that the Nittany Lions will win by exactly 13 points. Then pull out the box score of last month's Penn State-Miami basketball game: Lions 74, Hurricanes 61. Collect and then run.
Tackling: "Every time they get a guy one-on-one, that one guy makes the tackle," says Kehoe. "They're the best tackling team I've ever seen." Penn State plus one.
Staleness: Since Oct. 1, Miami has played two good teams, Florida State and Pitt, while Penn State has played three, Alabama. Notre Dame and Pitt. Could be that the Hurricanes have grown accustomed to depending on No. 14. They haven't had a back rush for 100 yards since the first game of the season. Penn State plus one.
Best Trivia: 1) In 1967, Paterno was ready to give up coaching. He had gone 5-6 in his first year in State College and had opened his second with a loss to Navy. Now he had to play at Miami. He was distraught. "I said I'd have to do something to see if I was a football coach," Paterno recalls. So, in a bizarre strategy, he chose not to fly his team to Miami until the day of the game, to stay in an air-conditioned hotel near the airport until game time, to take an air-conditioned bus to the Orange Bowl and then to play 14 untested sophomores. The Lions didn't know it was hot and won 17-8. "That game probably turned my career around," says Paterno.
2) At Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy in 1981, Testaverde faced the Penn State JV. He got hit so hard he chipped a vertebra, ending his season. Fork Union won anyway.
3) Miami is the last team to win on Jan. 2. The Hurricanes beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 1984 for the national championship.
Miami plus one.
Monster Plays: Miami forced 23 more turnovers than it lost. Penn State had 18 more. Miami plus one.
Linebackers: "Conlan is probably a better athlete than Bosworth," says Miami offensive coordinator Gary Stevens. Linebacker U plus 1.
Bosses: This will be Paterno's 18th bowl in 21 years. He's 11-5-1 in the things. Johnson is 1-3 in bowls. Says Switzer, "Joe gets 'em ready to play the big games." Penn State plus two.
And, of course....
Most Famous Alumnus: Sylvester Stallone went to Miami for three years, but didn't graduate. If you don't count him. you have to count Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, who did. Penn State counters with Richard Schweiker, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Julius Epstein, who cowrote Casablanca. Penn State plus one, by a hill of beans.
So, if you've been scoring at home, you'll know our final prediction is: Miami 31.5, Penn State 23.
Highsmith (left) will have the game's most hunkish body; Dozier is far better on grass than on artificial turf.
PENN STATE'S 40 BASE
As QB Shaffer does a reverse pivot and pitches the ball to TB Dozier, TE Brian Siverling hooks the left end, and G Dan Morgan pulls right to seal off the inside. Man blocking everywhere else. Dozier reads the TE's block and runs accordingly.
MIAMI'S SPRINT PASS 6, TEXAS
QB Testaverde fakes to TB Bratton, who blocks (if an LB blitzes) or becomes the safety-valve receiver. FL Irvin, the primary target, runs a square-in, SE Brett Perriman runs a post, TE Charles Henry drags under the LBs and FB Highsmith blocks.