Focus shifts from BYU, Holiday Bowl to New Year's Day games

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

By now all the airport greetings, the mug shots on the beach, and the traditional excursions to places like Disneyland and the French Quarter are history. The game faces go on and the business of playing the final bowl games of the season commences.

The New Year's Day platter, of course, will once again be filled with the Rose, Cotton, Sugar, and Orange Bowls, along with the noveau riche Fiesta Bowl. In a switch, though, a game once considered an appetizer to this main course has already stolen a good bit of thunder. The Holiday Bowl, in only its seventh year, boasted perhaps the most significant tussle of the post-season when it brought together top-ranked Brigham Young and unranked Michigan last Friday night.

As champions of the Western Athletic Conference, BYU's Cougars were obligated to play in San Diego, and did so with style, getting a heroic effort from hobbled quarterback Robbie Bosco in a come-from-behind, 24-17 victory that may have secured the national championship. Only the pollsters can determine their final status, though, and balloting in the end-of-season wire service tabulations doesn't take place until after the New Year's Day bowls have been played.

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For B.Y. Who?, therefore, the anxious wait continues. Last impressions often being the strongest, No. 2 Oklahoma remains hopeful that an impressive victory over fourth-ranked Washington in the Orange Bowl could vault it ahead of the nation's only undefeated and untied team.

Barry Switzer, coach of the Sooners, has campaigned long and hard for the elevation of his squad. Like so many other skeptics, he has questioned whether BYU's perfect 13-0 record against a slate of unranked teams makes it worthy of the land's highest honor.

We'll address this question at a later date, but for now let's look at what the major bowl games have in store.

This year it's natural to start in Miami, since the Oklahoma-Washington show-down, the only one pairing Top 5 teams, gives the Orange Bowl (8 p.m. EST, NBC-TV) the greatest marquee value.

Washington (10-1) has the better record, but Oklahoma, 9-1-1, enjoys the higher ranking because of the way it rose to the occasion in several big games. The Sooners played both Texas and Nebraska when they were ranked No. 1, tying the Longhorns after a controversial call appeared to rob them of victory, and beating the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb. Then, to earn their Miami trip, they defeated Oklahoma State, No. 2 in the UPI poll.

Washington enters the contest as the Pacific-10 runner-up. The Huskies' lone loss came to Southern California, but that cost them a Rose Bowl trip.

The team's major flaw, an inconsistent offense, was quite apparent in that game, and could be again. Oklahoma, after all, is virtually impervious to the run, having relinquished fewer rushing yards than any team in the nation. Washington faces just as formidable a challenge when it goes on defense, for Oklahoma operates out of the Wishbone, a formation the Huskies haven't seen since 1977.

Tired of defensive struggles, the Cotton Bowl (1:30 p.m., CBS) wanted some excitement. To remedy the scoring blues, organizers made the biggest catch of the bowl season, landing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Doug Flutie, the offensive whirlwind of an eighth-ranked, 9-2 Boston College team.

The Flutie-led Eagles have already inspired a one-hour, Cotton Bowl special back in Boston and should attract a lot of viewers, even against rather glamourless, unranked, 7-4 Houston, the surprise winner of the Southwest Conference.

During four years at B.C., Flutie has done just about everything on a football field except help his team to a bowl victory. This is the last roundup , therefore, the final chance for him to pull the missing rabbit out of his golden helmet.

In the Rose Bowl (5 p.m., NBC) a once-familiar Pasadena rivalry is renewed between Ohio State (No. 6, 9-2) and Southern Cal (No. 18, 8-3). The chief attraction in this one will be Buckeye running back Keith Byars, the nation's rushing and scoring leader.

The Sugar Bowl (7 p.m., ABC) has something of a consolation air to it. No. 4 Nebraska (9-2) goes against No. 12 Louisiana State (8-2-1) in a battle of conference runners-up.

Earlier in the day, the Fiesta Bowl (1:30 p.m., NBC) pits Miami (No. 13, 8-4) against UCLA (No. 14, 8-3). The Hurricanes, last season's national champions, finished their regular season with heartbreaking losses to Maryland and Boston College. The Bruins, on the other hand, capped off their campaign by upsetting Rose Bowl-bound Southern Cal 29-10.

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