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John Underwood
December 19, 1977
Somehow the bowl selections turned out fine—dandy, in fact—despite PSP and the poker politics that forced a few hands
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December 19, 1977

Setting Up A Showdown In Dallas

Somehow the bowl selections turned out fine—dandy, in fact—despite PSP and the poker politics that forced a few hands

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But the lobbying was not over. Father Edmund Joyce, executive vice-president of Notre Dame, passed the word around that he would prefer that all the bowls waited a week. Texas had a Nov. 26 date with tough Texas A&M. If Texas lost, Notre Dame would want to shift its aim to the team most likely to move up to No. 1—Oklahoma in the Orange or Alabama in the Sugar. The Orange Bowl hopped on Father Joyce's idea, having found just the ally it thought was needed to force everybody to hold fire another week.

But the Cotton Bowl still held the trump card, Texas, and played it accordingly. It gave Notre Dame a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Notre Dame blinked, and threw in its hand.

Once the Irish were out, everybody folded. The Orange chose Arkansas, the Sugar the Big Ten runner-up, and Penn State gets to spend the holidays in Tempe, Ariz. It is lucky to get that.

Who was bluffing? In a sense, they all were. Penn State and Pitt could have covered their bets with a minor bowl, exercising the losers' right. Arkansas probably could have done the same. It is unlikely, too, that the Cotton Bowl would have risked losing Notre Dame by being stubborn about Nov. 19 selections. Like the Orange, it would have had to run the gamut of all those crucial games on Thanksgiving weekend.

In the wake of what happened—the major bowls turning out O.K., except for some blood under the fingernails; the minors scrambling around and making a general mess of things—one would assume that the message will be clear enough for the NCAA when it convenes in January in Atlanta. The early selection date has at last unanimously succeeded: all the bowls are hurt by it, and they all need some action.

Think of it as emotionally logical.

Jan. 2
Texas (11-0) vs. Notre Dame (10-1)

A win by No. 1-ranked Texas salts away the national championship, no matter what Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan or anybody else does. It also would put a storybook finish on the season for the Longhorns, who were ignored by all Top 20 preseason polls. In contrast, the No. 5-ranked Irish received rave preseason notices but were downgraded when they lost to Mississippi in September. A Notre Dame victory could catapult the Irish to their 10th national title.

Since Joe Montana took over as quarterback, Notre Dame has scored an average of 37.7 points a game. Before that. Running Backs Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson got most of the yardage. Montana spreads the work around. In addition to utilizing the running game, he passes to Kris Haines, who averages 21 yards a catch, and All-America Tight End Ken MacAfee. The Irish finished up with remarkably balanced statistics—2,551 yards rushing, 2,289 yards passing.

Not so Texas. The Longhorns have good receivers in Alfred Jackson and Johnny (Lam) Jones, but a full 70% of the attack is on the ground—and a big percentage of the ground game is Heisman winner Earl Campbell, who led the nation in rushing (1,744 yards) and scoring (114 points). The Longhorns' Russell Erxleben, with 14 field goals (including a 67-yarder), represents a long-distance scoring threat whenever Texas is inside the 50.

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