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Just before the suspense became unreasonable and barely in time to get the guest lists in order for postseason parties in Pasadena, New Orleans and Miami, solutions to major problems were reached in college football last weekend. All major conference championships were at last settled after unsettlingly close races, and, with an exception or two, major bowl games were aligned. There was also a major ventilation of feelings.
In the dressing room of the Auburn team at Birmingham, Ben Benjamin, dignified president of the Orange Bowl Committee, put dignity aside, leaped up on a trunk like a cheerleader and brayed, "Now, boys, be prepared for the time of your life!"
Auburn did not quite win the Southeastern Conference championship, but it finished second by beating Bear Bryant's Alabama team for the first time in five years, 10-8, and rode the wind of President Benjamin's exhalations into the Orange Bowl to play Nebraska New Year's Day. Illinois, another unadvertised quality product, upset Michigan State on Thanksgiving 13-0 for the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl spot opposite the Big Six's Washington Huskies, 16-0 winners over Washington State. Alabama's considerable consolation was the Sugar Bowl, where it is matched with Ole Miss in a concession to provincialism. Mississippi retained its SEC championship by cozily going for a field goal in the last period to tie Mississippi State 10-10. North Carolina earned a first-ever share of the Atlantic Coast Conference title and accepted a Gator Bowl invitation, its first bowl trip since 1949, by beating Duke 16-14.
Left hanging were Pittsburgh, an exceedingly attractive team beaten only by Navy, and Memphis State and Arizona State, who may yet meet in El Paso's Sun Bowl. Apparently left out was Mississippi State, whose young coach, Paul Davis, could not believe the inequity of it. "Our bags are packed—we'll go anywhere," he said as he appealed to "justice" and "fair play." The Gator Bowl has not entirely discounted Coach Davis' logic but is waiting another weekend before making a decision.
Serene in the llth-hour frenzy was Texas, best team in the country all season long (SI, Sept. 23 el seq.). Texas had already secured the Southwest Conference championship and Cotton Bowl berth before its 15-13 Thanksgiving Day victory over Texas A&M. Cotton Bowl people pant for Navy as Texas' opponent but must await the outcome of the Army-Navy game and, if that is in Navy's favor, an official decision as to whether it would be proper for a service academy to play in a bowl so soon after the death of President Kennedy. Pittsburgh will gladly go to Dallas if Navy does not.
Before the season began at Illinois, there were some unappetizing suggestions made about the fair-haired scalp of Coach Pete Elliott (two-year record: won 2, lost 16), but the only evidence of his not being intact for the Big Ten showdown with Michigan State was the cast he wore on his left leg. Elliott explained that he had torn ligaments when cut down in practice by Halfback Les Feuquay. "And that," asserted an Illinois man, "is how eager this team is." Eager is hardly a strong enough word to describe what All-America Center Dick Butkus, shifting and stunting as a freelance middle linebacker, did to State backs Sherman Lewis and Roger Lopes: Lewis was held to 58 yards and Lopes to 33. "Every time I looked up," said Lewis, "there he was."
Auburn Quarterback Mailon Kent got into the Alabama game only because Jimmy Sidle, most productive runner in Auburn history, injured his ribs in the first period. "I just wanted to help win one game, just one," said Kent, and he helped plenty by throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to Tucker Frederickson in the third quarter. This, fashioned after Woody Woodall's 22-yard first-period field goal, represented all the scoring Auburn has done on Alabama since 1958. It was sufficient because End Howard Simpson and his buddies were on Alabama's mistakes like greedy children.
Washington Coach Jim Owens was so dismayed by the Huskies' 14-0 loss to UCLA two weeks ago that he demoted everybody on the first team except Quarterback Bill Douglas. The first team met every night in Fullback Junior Coffey's room prior to the Washington State game to consider its disgrace. Did it help? The first team scored all Washington's points, and the Huskies were in the Rose Bowl for the third time in five years despite a ho-hum 6-4 record.
Duke overcame a 13-0 North Carolina lead on Scotty Glacken's 70-yard pass and Jay Wilkinson's 24-yard run to push ahead 14-13 with 4:58 to play at Durham. But with 1:23 to go, the Tar Heels got possession on their 28. Quarterback Junior Edge hit Bob Lacey with down-and-out passes to still the clock. At the Duke 26, sophomore Max Chapman kicked a 42-yard field goal that cleared the bar by a foot—and cleared the way to the Gator Bowl.
At Starkville, Ole Miss, trailing 10-7, drove 73 yards to the Mississippi State three-yard line with time running out. There the Rebels were faced with fourth down and dilemma: kick for the tie or go for the touchdown and victory. For an agonizing 20 seconds, as Quarterback Jimmy Weatherly stood looking to the bench like a man dying for advice, it appeared Ole Miss was going to abstain from doing anything. Finally Coach Johnny Vaught sent in his field goal kicker, Billy Carl Irwin, and Irwin got the tie with a 20-yarder and preserved an unbeaten—but twice-tied—season for the Rebels. Asked, after the game, why the field goal, Vaught snapped: "I played for a tie, that's why."