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Okay, so maybe we do need a playoff. Not to determine who's No. 1. Right now it's Georgia, no argument from here. Of the 139 major-college teams, only the Bulldogs are unbeaten and untied. What the playoff would determine is which team is No. 139. Right now that's too much of a scramble to be decided by a poll.
Why? Well, here we are going into the 12th week of the 1980 season, and two Division I-A teams are still winless, tieless and hopeless enough to finish the year with perfect 0-11 records. They are Northwestern and Oregon State. Right behind them are the likes of Colorado, TCU, Vanderbilt, Memphis State and East Tennessee State, with one victory apiece. See, with no playoff, a team like East Tennessee, winless against big-time opposition, is dead—despite its 1-8 record. It's just that the Buccaneers, who play in the Southern Conference, are small-fry. With major-conference teams still untriumphant, no East Tennessee can be voted No. 139. Pretend the Buccaneers were 11-0. Would they be No. 1? No chance. But East Tennessee ought to be given an opportunity to earn bottom honors.
A far more likely No. 139 team is Colorado. The 1-8 Buffaloes have been out-scored by a sit-up-and-take-notice 392-143. Late in an 82-42 loss to Oklahoma, Coach Chuck Fairbanks made a plea to the Sooner staff, begging for mercy. He asked that Oklahoma quit mixing plays and just send the fullback into the middle of the line. Which Oklahoma did, generally for 20 yards at a clip.
Like Colorado, Georgia Tech has a rich gridiron tradition; the Yellow Jackets once won a game 222-0 and used to be coached by a guy named John W. Heisman. But that was yesteryear. Today, after nine games, Tech has one win and a $496,980.24 lawsuit, filed against it by Pepper Rodgers, who was canned as Yellow Jacket coach after last year's 4-6-1 finish. In September an overly optimistic ad hoc cheering group called the BZZZOO Society (Yellow Jackets, get it?) was formed. It passed out 4,000 kazoos and hundreds of T shirts, proclaiming: BLOW IT OUT YOUR BZZZOO. But last Saturday, Tech blew any chance it had of finishing last with its absolutely bzzzoo 3-3 tie with Notre Dame.
Twice-victorious Mississippi also has a deep football tradition, plus a spectacular quarterback in John Fourcade. Unfortunately, the 1980 Rebels also have what Coach Steve Sloan might label an intangible: a will to not win. Four of Mississippi's seven losses were by a touchdown or less. Now, this can be a positive consideration in the race to be No. 139; just as a national champ is often a team that wins on its off days, the national chump should be able to lose even on its good days. Mississippi does. Against Tulane, for instance, the Rebels outrushed the Green Wave (293 yards to 59), outpassed it (230-215) and had 25 first downs to Tulane's 15. But Ole Miss also committed nine turnovers and eked out a 26-24 defeat.
Mississippi beat Vanderbilt, an occurrence that failed to grab headlines because Commodore opponents almost always win. This fall Vandy is a typical 1-7 and is making news only because all of its defeats have been overwhelming. The Commodores have been most consistent against quality opposition, having lost 41-0 to both Georgia and Alabama. Vandy runs a prevent offense. It scores an average of 9.8 points a game; its opponents average 31. And the Commodores' victory probably shouldn't count, because the team they beat was Memphis State.
The Tigers not only have a 1-8 record, but their opponents have won only 30 of 77 games. Consider this: Mississippi, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati have five victories among them. Four of those wins came against Memphis State.
Arkansas State (1-8) and Texas-El Paso (1-9) deserve mention for No. 139, too. The Miners handed Brigham Young an 83-7 triumph, the most one-sided major-college score of the season. Arkansas State's lone triumph came against Tennessee-Martin, which isn't a country and western singer. After the Indians' seventh straight defeat—28-0 to Louisiana Tech—their coach, Larry Lace well, was asked about team morale. "I'm sure it's not good," he said.
Among the other contenders, TCU (1-8) may have played too many close games and too many Top 20 opponents—Georgia, Baylor and SMU—for serious consideration, especially seeing as its lone victory came just last week. (If you must win a game, win it early in the season.) Not that the Frogs are without credentials. In falling 34-3 to Georgia, they had minus 10 yards rushing. Against Rice, TCU blew a 24-7 halftime lead, losing 28-24. Just before the final gun, the Frogs drove to Rice's three-yard line and called a time-out to regroup. Then Quarterback Steve Stamp dropped back and threw a pass into a corner of the end zone—the one occupied by about seven Rice defenders. Interception. Against Baylor, TCU had three passes picked off inside the Baylor five-yard line. The Frogs' athletic director, Frank Windegger, blamed that 21-6 loss on public-address announcer Bob Barry, which seems logical. What Barry did was announce—at a juncture Windegger said was inappropriate—that SMU had just beaten previously undefeated Texas. At that moment, Baylor was leading TCU by only a point, 7-6. Windegger felt that the announcement alerted the Bears to the fact that they could become the sole undefeated Southwest Conference team and it boosted their spirits. To boost TCU, Windegger fired Barry.
Winless Northwestern, a perennial Bottom 20 club, surely leads the nation in losing games by halftime. Washington had the Wildcats 45-0 by the intermission; Ohio State led 42-0. Against Illinois, Northwestern trailed only 9-0 at halftime but was outscored 35-0 the rest of the way. True, because of injuries, Coach Rick Venturi has had to rely on two freshmen and seven sophomores. But Northwestern also has three Top 20 opponents, Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue, which militates against its being No. 139. So does the fact that the Cats played Michigan nearly even, losing only 17-10 and threatening to tie the score up to the last minute, when a pass was picked off in the Wolverines' end zone. In fact, one of Michigan's touchdowns came at the conclusion of a drive kept alive in part because Northwestern was penalized for having 12 players on the field while the Wolverines were punting. The next day, one Detroit sportswriter said, "Northwestern should be permitted to play with 12 men on the field."