ANYONE FOR A TITLE GAME?
A review of the what-if scenarios of the national championship melee created by Notre Dame's loss to Miami (page 24) suggests that Alabama could end up as this season's hard-luck team. Even if the Crimson Tide beats Auburn on Saturday and Miami in the Sugar Bowl to complete an unbeaten, untied season, in all likelihood Alabama would still need a Notre Dame win over Colorado in the Orange Bowl to claim the title.
Tide fans have seen this act before. Alabama had perfect seasons in 1945 and 1966 but was not awarded the national crown. The '66 voting was particularly galling. Alabama finished an 11-0 season with a 34-7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, but wound up third in the polls, behind Notre Dame and Michigan State. Both of those teams were 9-0-1 because of their 10-10 tie in East Lansing, and neither went to a bowl—the Irish because they had a policy against playing in bowls, the Spartans because the Big Ten didn't allow its champion to go to the Rose Bowl two years in a row.
Of course, Alabama may not even get an opportunity to complain this year. This Tide has not been overpowering, and coach Bill Curry is 0-9 against Auburn, which will be playing Alabama on the Tigers' home field for the first time ever.
Assuming Alabama beats Auburn, however, five teams would have a right to dream of a national championship. The Nebraska-Florida State winner in the Fiesta Bowl won't be one of them. The Cornhuskers had a weak schedule and lost to Colorado, while the Seminoles had those season-opening defeats to Southern Mississippi and Clemson. Besides Alabama, here are the other candidates:
•Colorado can render all the other bowls meaningless with a victory over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. A 12-0 record with impressive wins over Illinois. Washington, Oklahoma, Nebraska and the Irish should give the Buffaloes their first title, even if Alabama also finishes 12-0.
•Notre Dame could still repeat, but the Irish will need a big win over Colorado and help from the other contenders. Alabama would have to lose to Auburn, and Miami would have to fall in the Sugar Bowl.
•Miami, whose only loss is to Florida State, has, for the fifth year in a row, a shot at winning the title in a bowl game. This time Miami needs a convincing win in the Sugar Bowl while Notre Dame is beating Colorado in Miami.
•The other team with a chance—and a remote one it is—is Michigan, whose only blemish is a season-opening loss to the Irish. But sorry, Bo, the only way the Wolverines could take the title is if the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl both end in ties.
OLD SCHOOL TIES
Not that Texas A & M coach R.C. Slocum would ever question anybody's integrity, you understand, but rest assured that he will spend at least part of the offseason pondering the Southwest Conference's 1983 decision permitting officials to work games involving their alma maters. In the Aggies' 27-24 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock on Oct. 7, a controversial call by referee Loyd Dale, a Tech graduate, disallowed a Texas A & M fumble recovery on the Red Raiders' winning drive. Then there was last Friday's 23-22 loss to Arkansas in College Station. That defeat cost the Aggies a $3 million Cotton Bowl payoff and put them in the John Hancock Bowl, where they'll earn $900,000.
After Texas A & M had fought back from a 14-0 deficit to take a 20-17 lead with 8:14 left, the Razorbacks drove back downfield and found themselves facing fourth-and-three at the Aggie 19. Quarterback Quinn Grovey sprinted left and threw to tight end Billy Winston. What happened next will be debated for infinity, or until no Southwest Conference teams are on probation, whichever comes first. Winston and A & M safety Larry Horton both went for the ball, but Horton was called for pass interference, giving Arkansas a first down on the 13-yard line. Five plays later Barry Foster scored on a two-yard plunge. The line judge who made the interference call was Ronald Underwood. Guess where he went to school? As he was leaving the press box, Houston Chronicle sportswriter Jerry Wizig, an A & M alum, was heard muttering, "Ron Underwood, an Arkansas Razorback letterman in 1954, '55, '56—and '89."
In fairness to Underwood, it was a tough call. Said Slocum, "I thought our player made a good play. He has as much right to the ball as the receiver. You hate, in a big game like this, with both teams playing the way they were, to have it come down to a call like that."
And you hate to remind a coach, after such a hard defeat, that the call was just one play. The loss ended the Aggies' 19-game streak of winning SWC home games, dating back to 1984. Surely somewhere in there, Texas A & M got a break or two on a call, maybe even from an official who did his undergraduate work in College Station.
A ROSE IS A ROSE
The one quality that consistently separates the good teams from the ordinary ones is depth. Michigan proved that again in a 28-18 victory over Ohio State that gave the Wolverines their first back-to-back outright Big Ten championships since Bo Schembechler took over in Ann Arbor in 1969.
Michigan entered the game without leading rusher Tony Boles, who was sidelined with a knee injury, and corner-back Lance Dottin, who was out with a hand injury. No problem. Dottin's replacement, junior Todd Plate, a former walk-on, made the first two interceptions of his career and broke up a touchdown pass. A case of his wildest dreams come true? "Yep," said Plate. "This hasn't set in yet. It's hard to put into words."
On the other side of the ball, Leroy Hoard replaced Boles and gained more than 100 yards against the Buckeyes for the second consecutive year. In last season's 34-31 victory, he rushed for 158 yards. This year he might have had more than 152 had he not limped off the field with a sprained left ankle after a 40-yard dash early in the fourth quarter.
Now Michigan has the chance to become the first Big Ten team ever to win consecutive Rose Bowls. Hoard, who had Boles's name stenciled on his towel during the game, carried a rose out of the locker room and vowed to put it up on his wall next to one he got after last year's title-clinching win. "It's a little rotten," he said, "but it's still up there."
Grambling State's hopes for a Division I-AA title ended in the first round of the playoffs in a 59-56 loss to Stephen F. Austin. The winning points came on a one-yard dive by quarterback Todd Hammel, who won his personal duel with his Grambling counterpart, Clemente Gordon. Hammel passed for 517 yards and five touchdowns; Gordon had 406 yards and six TDs.... Following last Saturday's 31-10 loss to Tennessee, the frustration of Kentucky cornerback Albert Burks came out like this: "We play the legal way, and most teams in the SEC don't. Probably 75 percent of the teams pay their athletes. We have an honest program and honest coaches, and they work their tails off." Last year Kentucky led all College Football Association schools in graduating players, but its basketball team is on NCAA probation.
Foster's 87 yards rushing helped Arkansas slip by Texas A & M.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Houston quarterback Andre Ware, a junior, completed 37 of 63 passes for 475 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-24 win over Texas Tech. Ware has had a Division I-A record seven games this season with more than 400 yards in total offense.
Baylor safety Robert Blackmon, a senior, had three interceptions—returning two for TDs of 20 and 35 yards and the third for 26 yards to set up another TD—and six solo tackles in a 50-7 win over Texas, the Bears' first in Austin since 1951.
Steve Varley, a senior quarterback at St. John's of Collegeville, Minn., completed 19 of 30 passes for 332 yards and three TDs and ran for another score in a 27-24 victory over Central College of Pella, Iowa, in a Division III playoff game.