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The proliferation of bowl games—seven of the current lineup of 12 are post-World War II babies, and six of those were conceived after 1959—has made for a continuing, albeit low-yield, plaint that bowls serve no purpose but to extend the season. Well, let's hear it for extending the season. Nothing wrong with that. College football is just getting interesting when it ups and relinquishes most of December to the pros. Better to have imaginative bowl committees drumming up matches which, if not made in heaven, at least suffice in Houston and El Paso. Consider these meaty extenders to the current holiday season:
—Notre Dame, only 8-3 this year but always worth another look, is playing Penn State for the first time since 1928 in the Gator Bowl (Jacksonville). If you thought you would never see Notre Dame in less than a "major" bowl, remember that the Irish got a taste of honey (i.e., large cashier's checks) when it broke tradition to go bowling in 1970 and has become addicted. Besides, it got to pick its opponent, and this season Penn State is a four-time loser.
—Alabama is playing UCLA for the first time, in the Liberty (Memphis). This marks Alabama's 30th bowl appearance, a record. And 18th straight bowl game, a record. And 23rd bowl for Coach Bear Bryant, a record. Many people believe Bryant invented bowl games so he could go to them. He did not pick UCLA, which has a 9-1-1 record and is nine slots higher than Alabama in the rankings. Probably an oversight.
—Wyoming, co-champion of the Western Athletic Conference after a turnabout from 2-9 to 8-3, which included winning five games by a total of 15 points, is playing heavily favored Oklahoma in the Fiesta (Tempe. Ariz.). This is interesting because of what happened to heavily favored Nebraska at the same intersection when it played the WAC's Arizona State last year.
The four Jan. 1 bowls—Sugar, Rose, Orange and Cotton—purport to prove something, but what?
Well, the Cotton is going to prove that you can't return to paradise cum laude by beating on Richmond, Villanova and Virginia, because those were numbered among unbeaten Maryland's more or less feckless victims. The Terrapins, bowling for the first time in a "major" in 21 years, are ranked an unsteady fourth, and no matter what they do to Houston in Dallas, they will not get a nod for the national championship when the roll is called up yonder in the AP and UPI offices. Pittsburgh-Georgia in the Sugar will decide that, maybe in conjunction with USC-Michigan in the Rose.
Houston is in the Cotton, proving with Wyoming and the others that this was indeed a year of dramatic turnarounds—teams rising up from moribund states as the logical result of the NCAA's rule (now four years old) restricting football scholarships to 30 a year and allowing freshmen to play. Thus the talent was parceled around, and programs took off. Houston was particularly remarkable: from 2-8 to 9-2 it went, winning the co-championship of the Southwest Conference in its very first try. And if it is true that the equalizing measures resulted in there being no super team this fall, again, what's wrong with that?
The Orange Bowl, matching Colorado (8-3) and Ohio State (8-2-1), a ho-hummer by that bowl's usual high standards, nevertheless demonstrates a number of things, including: 1) that conference bowl tie-ups are highly combustible; 2) that logic is still anathema to the NCAA in its bowl-selection policies; and 3) that a reappraisal of ABC's position as perennial telecaster of college football is probably in order.
To elaborate: the Orange's two-year-old tie-up with the Big Eight came to late-blooming grief when a five-team race in that best of all leagues developed. The Big Eight asked the Orange Bowl for a formula to free teams for other bowls' consideration when the NCAA's capricious Nov. 20 selection date came around. The formula for picking the Big Eight representative to the Orange Bowl was complex but hardly foolproof. It all but eliminated Oklahoma immediately. Thus, on Nov. 27, when the eighth-ranked Sooners beat Nebraska, the Orange Bowl was left with Colorado, a co-champion but 12th-ranked. Ohio State, 11th, was chosen over UCLA to sell more tickets and bring more American Express cards to Miami. An all-Western pairing of Colorado-UCLA was not deemed desirable.
The point—argued here before—is that none of this would have happened if the NCAA had reconsidered the premature bowl selection date—anything earlier than the last week of the season being premature. Why it feels it must continue this practice is anybody's guess. The old argument that the minor bowls need the time to promote is belied every year, as witness the Astro-Bluebonnet's pleasure in grabbing Nebraska on Nov. 27.