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Nebraska will be the same as it was on Thanksgiving Day—thorough, confident, balanced, physical and well disciplined. It will be a far more accomplished Nebraska team, with more speed and surprise than either of those sluggish Cornhusker outfits Bear Bryant defeated with quickness and pride in 1965 and 1966.
What Alabama will show Nebraska, however, is something that Coach Bob Devaney's team has not seen this season, a furious defense, bigger than usual, and one without the unstable qualities of Oklahoma's.
Nebraska is more overpowering and has greater variety than Alabama, and it probably will have more confidence since it is a team that is not astonished at itself for winning. It has a superior quarterback in Jerry Tagge, a big, pounding Jeff Kinney to counterbalance Johnny Musso, and a flying, catching Johnny Rodgers that Alabama cannot match. Defensively, Nebraska will be able to play a more normal game, shedding the panic it felt for Oklahoma's speed outside. In short, the team that beat Oklahoma will face a less accomplished Wishbone from Alabama. Which means that Alabama will have to win the game with its defense and surprises. It would seem that Bear Bryant will make sure the defense does its part, but there is no evidence that the Alabama offense has the talent to pull off the necessary surprises without a tremendous number of breaks. In short, Nebraska should win.
As for the other games earlier in the day, let us look at them in the order of their appearance on TV.
The Sugar Bowl certainly should produce more touchdowns than any other game on New Year's Day. It is difficult to imagine Oklahoma being slowed down tremendously by Auburn's defense; the Sooner Wishbone has broken a variety of records already and it gained 467 yards on Nebraska. At the same time, Terry Beasley ought to have a fairly grand afternoon fielding Pat Sullivan's fly balls in the spotty Oklahoma secondary.
Ordinarily this kind of game would be decided by emotion. Both teams have some to summon up, since each lost the game it wanted most to win. It can hardly be a secret that Oklahoma would rather be in Miami meeting Alabama and that Auburn would rather be in the same town playing Nebraska. As it is, New Orleans has become a sort of Runner-up Bowl.
Still, there's a good deal of tinsel surrounding the affair. On display, of course, will be Sullivan, winner of the Roone Arledge Memorial Trophy as the outstanding college player of the year. This award was once known as the Heisman Trophy, until the Downtown Athletic Club of New York allowed the envelope to be opened on ABC-TV at the halftime of the Georgia- Georgia Tech game. Also on display will be Oklahoma's Jack Mildren, a marvel of runner and passer who probably is a better quarterback than Sullivan. The two of them will serve up the best quarterback duel of the season, or at least the best since Mildren met Nebraska's Jerry Tagge. Like Tagge, Sullivan is primarily a thrower who can run a little while Mildren is more complete; a runner who can pass effectively. He rushed for more yards this year than any quarterback in history. Mildren's running also gave hurry-up Oklahoma two runners over the 1,000-yard mark—the other, of course, being Greg Pruitt. They were among the record 26 players who broke the 1,000 barrier in a year that belonged to rushing. But along with his 10 touchdown passes, Mildren has actually produced more scores, running and throwing, than Sullivan. And almost as many yards in total offense—and against tougher teams. So in the Runner-up Bowl it should be the Sooners.
The Cotton Bowl will also find the Wishbone wearing a paper hat. But before the kickoff it could well become known as the Personality Bowl, for it brings together two of the most quotable coaches in the land—Texas' Darrell Royal and Penn State's Joe Paterno. In their different styles, Royal from the Southwest and Paterno from Brooklyn, they should wow the media daily. An air of friendship, fun and wisecracks should prevail like at no other bowl—until the kickoff. Then it will be the Eastern Establishment against Marlboro Country in a game that could also be labeled the Delayed Bowl.
Surely you remember 1969? Texas and Penn State finished their seasons undefeated and untied, but Texas won the polls and President Nixon gave the Longhorns a plaque that Paterno hoo-hawed. They might have met in that Cotton Bowl, except Penn State chose Miami, which Texans hoo-hawed, and the Dallas sponsors discovered, anyhow, that Notre Dame was willing to play a postseason game for the first time in 45 years. The argument as to which team was the better was never resolved, to Penn State's way of thinking, at least. Both the Longhorns and Nittany Lions won in the bowls and finished their campaigns at 11-0. Texas got all the trophies, however, and the last hoo-haw.
Now, two years later, they meet at last, but this time neither is unbeaten. Texas lost back-to-back games in mid-season to Oklahoma and Arkansas, while Penn State was humiliated by Tennessee in its final game. Nevertheless, it should be a fascinating contest, particularly if Texas Quarterback Eddie Phillips can play effectively. With most of their people well, the Longhorns are not bad. And Penn State is better than most Texans probably think. There will be some fine, familiar names on the field, doing their things for the last time as collegians. Players like Texas' Phillips and Jim Bertelsen and Penn State's Lydell Mitchell, who almost scores touchdowns during time-outs, and Franco Harris. It will be close.