Luck? Not so much when you consider that in the last couple of years the Orange and Sugar have joined the Rose and Cotton in securing conference champions as host teams. Past embarrassments, laid directly to PSP, prompted the Orange to unite with the Big Eight and the Sugar with the Southeastern Conference, assuring themselves at least half a draw. Thus the major bowls cut their needs on the open market from five of eight teams to three of eight.
There is a harmful side effect. Conference tieups make it almost impossible to achieve "ultimate" matchups. Notre Dame, of course, is not tied to a bowl, so the Cotton got the plum this year in Texas-Notre Dame. It would have been impossible, however, to match No. 1 Texas with No. 2 Oklahoma, or No. 2 Oklahoma with No. 3 Alabama.
In any case, now there is less cause than ever to give minor bowls any additional special considerations. With the majors having only three spots to fill, there are more good teams than ever available to minor bowls. Clearly then, there is no need to rush into anything. And the minors need better matchups to give them what one bowl member (while lamenting his own hard-hit choices) called "carry-over interest." He explains, "Most of our tickets are sold way in advance of our team picks, anyway. When we get a clinker, we diminish our chances for next year. The teams shouldn't want early selections, either. It puts 'em on the spot and they lose, or they get left holding the bag. Like Penn State."
Ah, yes, the strange odyssey of Penn State. The Nittany Lions, ranked No. 8 with a 10-1 record, are going to the Fiesta Bowl, where the bag they will hold and take home will contain $250,000. They might have gone to the Orange Bowl, where competing teams share $2.2 million, except for one of those bluff and counter-bluff episodes that go hand in glove with early selections and demean both teams and bowls.
In mid-November, with Notre Dame apparently headed for the Cotton Bowl to have its wish fulfilled for the highest-ranked opponent available, the Orange Bowl's three top choices became Arkansas, Penn State and Pittsburgh, in no particular order. The Orange Bowl, however, wanted to delay its selection one week until the pivotal games of Thanksgiving weekend: Arkansas- Texas Tech and Penn State-Pitt. This in itself might have been unnecessary had not an earlier attack of greed prompted Pitt and Penn State to shove their game back from Nov. 19, to accommodate ABC's television cameras.
Pitt's Jackie Sherrill said he would gladly wait.
Arkansas, lobbying hard, said it, too, would wait.
Penn State, which undoubtedly felt it was dealing from a position of strength because it was ranked higher than Pitt in the AP poll, said not on your life.
There was a heavy pause. For 48 hours the Orange Bowl was in a dilemma: if it knuckled under to Penn State on Nov. 19, what would 80,000 ticket buyers say if Pitt then beat Penn State on Nov. 26? If it waited until Nov. 26 and only Pitt and Arkansas waited, too, and both lost, who would the selectors pick then? The hesitation was variously interpreted. Sensing that the Orange might cave in to Penn State, Arkansas and Pittsburgh wavered. The Gator Bowl was romancing Pitt. Arkansas was not sure it would get a second chance. Both schools reversed field, indicating they would make their move on the 19th.
Now it was Penn State's turn to come about. Anticipating an Orange Bowl swing to Arkansas because of the standoff in the East, the Lions had a change of heart and indicated they would indeed wait until Nov. 26. Alas, Penn State was odd man out again.