It was not, as college football games go, a pivotal contest. After all, Southern California had already won the Pac-10 title and become the Rose Bowl host; Notre Dame, an independent, had agreed to play the Southwest Conference champion in the Cotton Bowl. Seemingly, neither has much of a chance to be national champion, although the once-beaten Trojans, with an early-season victory over No. 2-ranked Alabama, are still hoping. So what happened was that these old rivals, playing each other for the 50th time, staged a lackluster contest for three quarters—and an incredibly exciting fourth quarter that was proof anew as to why folks can get worked up over college football. Southern Cal won on a field goal, 27-25, with six seconds to play. Trojan Coach John Robinson said, "It's the greatest football game I've ever seen."
So inept was the Notre Dame attack in the first half that by intermission Joe Montana had directed the Irish to minus-three yards rushing while completing only three passes in 15 attempts. At the end of three quarters, USC clearly had the game in hand 24-6. Whoops.
Then the Irish went crazy as Montana completed 11 of 15 passes, and with 41 seconds to play Notre Dame led 25-24. Trojan Quarterback Paul McDonald, playing with a gimpy ankle that he had twisted on the fifth play of the first series of the game, said afterward, "You can do a lot with 41 seconds and two time-outs." He did. Predictably, though, there was controversy. With the ball on the USC 40, McDonald was pressured hard and tried to scramble. He was leveled by Irish Tackle Jeff Weston and the ball came loose. The referee ruled the play an incomplete pass; Irish fans think it was a fumble. Three plays later, Kicker Frank Jordan trotted onto the field to line up a 37-yard field goal. The kick was perfect. USC Tailback Charles White had another glorious day, rushing for a personal high of 205 yards on 37 carries.
But the game in the Coliseum didn't have a corner on excitement in the West. For in Tucson 58,090 went a little crazy as Arizona State beat Arizona 18-17.
1. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (10-1)
2. UCLA (8-3)
3. STANFORD (7-4)
When Clemson scored twice before South Carolina was even able to run an offensive play from scrimmage, Carolina fans suspected they were in for a long afternoon. They were right. With its 41-23 triumph Clemson ended the regular season with a 10-1 mark, the Atlantic Coast championship and a date with Ohio State in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 29.
The biggest crowd ever to watch a football game in South Carolina, 63,479, saw junior Tailback Lester Brown score three touchdowns and Quarterback Steve Fuller run the nation's fourth-ranked offense with precision. Said Jim Carlen, who coached the Gamecocks to a 5-5-1 record, "Fuller is the best quarterback in America. He picked us like a chicken."
Lowly Virginia (2-9) thought it could upset North Carolina State, and it was on the way until unheralded Curtis Rein, brother of North Carolina State Coach Bo Rein, ran 50 yards on a punt return with 4:51 to play to give the Wolfpack a 24-21 victory. After the game Bo rushed up to Curtis, who had never scored a touchdown before in his college career, and said, "Thank God." But, as usual, the fulltime star for the Wolfpack was Ted Brown. By rushing for 131 yards in 32 carries, he built his career total to 4,602 and became the NCAA's fourth-highest all-time rusher.