It was all a trifle anticlimactic, wasn't it? The three biggest college football games of the Thanksgiving weekend were over, and nothing had changed, other than the condition of West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, whose bellyaching reached a crescendo just as the rest of the country was getting over its dyspepsia.
By the time the last leftover drumstick was devoured—after Nebraska sleepwalked past Oklahoma; after Nehlen, the avowed foe of politicking, launched his last, desperate verbal salvo against Bobby Bowden and Florida State; after the Seminoles' Charlie Ward finished dodging Florida Gators and tossing touchdown passes in the Swamp—the top teams in the bowl coalition rankings had not budged. Nebraska (11-0) and Florida State (11-1) remained Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, meaning that on Jan. 1 they will square off in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Nehlen and his odd-men-out Mountaineers remained stuck at No. 3. They will take their 11-0 record and their indignation to the Cotton or Sugar Bowl and hope for a tie in Miami.
On this holiday weekend devoted to football and gratitude, two groups in particular had reason to be thankful: NBC and Orange Bowl execs. Battle of unbeatens or not, a Nebraska-West Virginia Orange Bowl might have been the first national-championship game ever to get its butt kicked in the Nielsen ratings by reruns of Love Connection.
College football fans, likewise, should be grateful: The best team in the country will play for the title. Believe us, Florida State belongs in the game. The Seminoles did not beat the No. 7 Gators in the Swamp, as Florida Field is called, by accident. Nor did they finish their gantlet of a season (seven of their opponents are bowl bound) with only one defeat just because Bobby Bowden has a nice personality.
That had been the contention of some of Bowden's colleagues. When the Seminoles were dropped just one spot in the bowl coalition rankings after they lost to Notre Dame on Nov. 13, critics charged that the writers who vote in the Associated Press poll, which in turn affects the bowl coalition rankings, had given the affable Bowden a break. As if to make up for that, on Sunday the coaches who vote in the USA Today/CNN poll, the other component in the rankings, dropped Florida State to third place behind West Virginia—even though the Seminoles had just beaten a higher-ranked team. "All of a sudden, in the last three or four years," said Iowa State coach Jim Walden, "we've gotten into a 'Let's do it for Bobby Bowden' mentality. I'll be glad when he finally wins [the championship], so then we can go on to something else."
Nehlen picked up where Walden left off. He was all over the sports news last week, pointing out that Bowden "didn't get it done" against the Irish and warning that the exclusion of his Mountaineers from the title game would be "the biggest misjustice in the world."
Way to keep things in perspective, Coach.
Nehlen's stump speech—for that's what it had become—was almost irrelevant. Early in the fourth quarter of last Friday's game in Chestnut Hill, Mass., West Virginia trailed Boston College 14-3. Despite dominating the Mountaineers, the Eagles had kept the score close by giving the ball away three times.
Three times and counting. With less than three minutes to play, Boston College still led 14-9. It also had the ball, second-and-five, on the Mountaineer 27. The game was as good as won. Visions of Bourbon Street danced in the Eagles' heads, for they were Sugar Bowl bound.
Oops. Will the Carquest Bowl suffice? Mountaineer defensive end Steve Perkins pried the ball from Eagle backup fullback David Green, and West Virginia quarterback Darren Studstill marched the Mountaineers to a touchdown, a two-point conversion and a 17-14 victory.