Wyoming got an early Christmas present. By rallying for a 14-10 victory at Texas-El Paso, the Cowboys assured themselves of at least a share of the Western AC title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Wyoming's dream of a warm Christmas in Arizona was nearly snuffed out by five inches of snow and by the stubborn Miners, who led 10-7 in the fourth quarter. But Quarterback Marc Cousins, who had run 50 yards for a touchdown in the second period, scored the winner on a three-yard keeper in the fourth. Still, it remained for the defense to thwart a final effort by the Miners, who drove to the Cowboys' 12-yard line in the waning moments.
The passing of Gifford Nielsen propelled Brigham Young past New Mexico 21-8. Nielsen, the major-college passing-yardage leader, completed 17 of 35 throws for 288 yards and three touchdowns. That left him with 2,777 yards and 26 touchdown passes, both tops in the nation and WAC records. Laboring in a losing cause for New Mexico was Fullback Mike Williams, who ran for 126 yards in 25 carries to bring his total rushing yardage to 947 for the season.
"Our exhibition season is over now," said USC Coach John Robinson after disposing of Washington 20-3. That set up this Saturday's all-or-nothing contest against UCLA, which defeated Oregon State 45-14, with the winner nailing down the Pac 8 championship and a berth come this January in the Rose Bowl.
Trojan Tailback Ricky Bell, no longer bothered by a hip pointer, was slowed down by a sore left ankle and gained only 21 yards in a dozen runs. That, though, was enough to move him past O. J. Simpson and into the No. 2 spot on the alltime conference rushing list behind Anthony Davis. Bell now has a career total of 3,431 yards. USC fans got a scare when Quarterback Vince Evans, forced to scramble late in the third quarter, was creamed by Outside Linebacker Stan Walderhaug. Walderhaug and Evans careened across the sideline stripe and crashed into a platform built for the official timer. Evans was knocked out but was otherwise unhurt and will be ready for the Bruins.
UCLA Tailback Wendell Tyler, however, was not as fortunate. Tyler, who broke loose for a 68-yard scoring run on the third play of the game and who brought his career rushing-yardage total over the 3,000-yard mark, suffered a badly bruised shoulder that might sideline him for the USC contest.
Quarterback Guy Benjamin and Wide Receiver Tony Hill teamed up on a pair of first-period touchdown passes as Stanford stopped Oregon 28-17 in another Pac 8 battle. California held a 23-0 edge in the third quarter before Cougar Quarterback Jack Thompson connected on three touchdown passes and on a pair of two-point conversions. After narrowing the deficit to 23-22 with 13 seconds left, Thompson missed on a try for yet another two-point pass.
San Jose State locked up the Pacific Coast AA title by defeating Pacific 50-30. Independent San Diego State brought its record to 8-1 with a 7-6 squeaker over Utah State, Safety Herman Edwards setting up the Aztec touchdown with a 21-yard runback of an interception and by batting down an Aggie pass for a two-point conversion.
1. UCLA (9-0-1)
2. USC (8-1)
3. WYOMING (8-2)
Revenge at the Rock was not the name of a second-rate movie; it was the goal of Texas A&M when it faced Arkansas at Little Rock. A year ago the Aggies went to the Rock with a 10-0 record and visions of No. 1 dancing inside their helmets. They were humiliated 31-6. This time they came to the Rock with two losses. The Aggies also came with David Walker, a left-handed quarterback who had helped them score 127 points in their last three games, all wins. Arkansas took a 3-0 lead, but then the Aggies got their revenge as Walker set up one touchdown with a 41-yard pass and drove the team 80 yards for another score. Halfback Curtis Dickey completed a 39-yard pass to Split End Randy Teate for yet another six-pointer. A&M zoomed in front 24-3 at halftime, as the Razorbacks managed to gain only three yards on five second-quarter plays. For the Aggies, who did not commit a turnover, the sweetest part of their 31-10 revenge was that the setback left Arkansas with a 3-1-1 record in the Southwest Conference, virtually knocking the Hogs out of title contention.