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Dan Jenkins
December 20, 1971
In the Orange Bowl on New Year's night, Nebraska's victorious legions face a final challenger—Bear Bryant's Alabama
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December 20, 1971

King Cornhusker Goes Bear Hunting

In the Orange Bowl on New Year's night, Nebraska's victorious legions face a final challenger—Bear Bryant's Alabama

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Unlike the general public, bowl sponsors do not really care very much about national championships—unless, of course, they happen to luck into such a game, as the fellows in Miami did when they invited Nebraska and Alabama to play in the Orange Bowl even before they had won their showdown games with Oklahoma and Auburn. Now the Orange Bowl is ecstatic, for right there on the Poly-Turf it has the absolute grand final battle for No. 1, the only bowl game that will truly matter among the eight or 10 thousand others to be staged through the holidays. Which doesn't mean that the Orange Bowl people weren't just as happy when all they knew was that the game was a guaranteed sellout and there would not be a rental car or stone crab left in Miami because of all the fans that Nebraska and Alabama would bring to town, regardless of what rested on the outcome.

What nearly happened, as most everyone knows, is that the bowls could have fouled up a game between No. 1 and No. 2 by inviting the teams so early. Had Oklahoma beaten Nebraska, which almost happened—as you could tell by the noise the Sugar Bowl representatives were making in the press box at Norman that fateful day—the No. 1 team would be going to New Orleans to play No. 5 while No. 2 would be confronting No. 3 in Miami.

One obvious cure would be for the NCAA to prevent any bowl sponsor from even making contact with a team rated in the Top 10 until its regular season is completed. No one seems able to explain why it was so desperately critical for the bowls to pick their teams on Nov. 20 instead of Nov. 27.

The whole dilemma of who's No. 1 could be solved for everybody, especially the public, if the NCAA would make one simple, all-too-sensible decision. Let the bowls go about their business of matching up as many Southeastern Conference teams as they wish, but, meantime, institute something on the order of a national playoff. Even if it happens to be nothing more than a single game between No. 1 and No. 2 after the bowls. For the benefit of the Hall of Fame, or Walter Byers, or anybody. Just play it.

But of course if that were to happen and we were to have something better than a voting-booth decision for the national championship each year, it would take away a lot of the fun for a group of widely traveled gentlemen known as "bowl representatives."

Bowl representatives are amusing people who start turning up at football games in late September to "scout" prospective teams, and one wonders what they race home to report. That Penn State has a fine cornerback and therefore ought to be put on the list of Gator Bowl candidates? That Oklahoma is running the Wishbone and therefore ought to be considered a serious candidate for the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl?

It is equally hilarious that the Orange Bowl goes around pretending that it has a policy whereby it will always take the two most highly rated teams it can find. This makes you wonder three things. First, does this mean the other bowls look for the lowest-rated teams they can find? Second, if Notre Dame were No. 3 and wanted to come and Baylor were No. 2, would Miami select Baylor? And third, why didn't the Orange Bowl invite Nebraska and Oklahoma, which were the two most highly rated teams on Nov. 20?

But enough of this making sport of the Orange Bowl, for it has staggered into the one game that every other bowl would love to have—and the one everyone wants to see. Miami has the national championship game whether unbeaten Michigan likes it or not, and just about the only thing that could put the Wolverines in contention for the No. 1 post-bowl vote—assuming they beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl—would be a Nebraska-Alabama tie coupled with a dreary performance by Oklahoma against Auburn in New Orleans.

As for the game itself, Nebraska's problems with Alabama are altogether different than they were against Oklahoma. To the untrained eye, it might seem that Alabama runs the same offense as the Sooners—the Wishbone—but Alabama does not.

Alabama's Wishbone is not nearly as deceptive or as swift around the corners, and Terry Davis, the Crimson Tide quarterback, simply is not Jack Mildren. But this does not mean that Alabama can't block and Johnny Musso can't run over people. Any team that can decisively beat the opponents Alabama has faced must do something right, and blocking and tackling is it.

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