Hard-to-call Heisman race may come down to season-ending games

The polls will close on Dec. 1 for the Heisman Trophy voting, and here's hoping that the many writers and broadcasters who have already received ballots won't fill them out for another two weeks. They owe the top candidates every last opportunity to impress in what may be one of the most difficult, hardest-to-call elections ever held to name the country's best player. Quarterback Rodney Peete of Southern California basically has two make-or-break games coming up against UCLA and Notre Dame. This Saturday's contest is being billed as a showdown between Peete and UCLA's Troy Aikman, whose Heisman stock dropped when the Bruins lost to Washington State but which could climb if he outguns his intracity rival in a duel of field generals. Their passing statistics are very similar, but Peete definitely has been the hotter of the two, throwing for a career-high 361 yards as the second-ranked Trojans swarmed over Arizona State, 50-0, last Saturday.

Both Peete and Aikman are seniors, which has always been a major plus in Heisman voting, but it would be a terrible mistake to let that fact lessen the chances of Oklahoma State tailback, Barry Sanders, a junior, who has been sensational all season. Sanders has now had a trio of 300-yard rushing games, an unprecedented feat, and appears a lock to break the oldest, major individual record in the books - the 246.3 all-purpose yards per game set by Byron (Whizzer) White, now a Supreme Court justice, in 1937. Briefly speaking

Regular season ``bowl'' games, in which schools agree to play one another overseas, are becoming more and more popular. They are a good way to give a game a special aura for the players, and in the case of this Saturday's Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, Ireland, a great lure for airlifting fans. About 7,000 Boston College supporters reportedly will be in Landsdowne Rugby Union Stadium to watch the Eagles take on Army. Earlier this season Boston University met Richmond in London, Oklahoma State takes on Texas Tech on Dec. 4 in the Japan Bowl in Tokyo, and an announcement has just been made that Southern Cal and Illinois will tussle in the Glasnost Bowl next Sept. 2 in Moscow, of all places.

In possibly the most predictable eventuality in college football, the Big Eight Conference championship will be on the line when Nebraska visits Oklahoma Saturday. Both teams enter the contest having shown little offensively the previous week. Oklahoma scored 16 points in the first half, then held on to beat a weak Missouri team, 16-7. Nebraska, meanwhile, eked out a 7-0 victory over Colorado. And like OU, the Cornhuskers also struggled to beat Missouri a few weeks earlier, compiling only 116 total rushing yards, Nebraska's lowest in 130 games, in a 26-18 victory.

Not much national attention is focused on the Southwest Conference anymore, except to discuss the cheating and probations that have rocked the league in recent years. Arkansas, with a 10-0 record, wrapped up the conference championship before October ended, the earliest clinching in history. Still, the Razorbacks must feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of college football, since they are ranked a disappointing 10th in the latest AP poll. They'll get their chance to gain a greater measure of respect, though, against No. 3 Miami on Nov. 26, and in the Cotton Bowl, where their opponents should carry a high national ranking.

Bowl invitations will be formalized this weekend, but unofficially everything is pretty much locked up. And in this annual game of musical chairs, it appears Pittsburgh will be left standing - shut out of postseason play despite having a 6-3 record, a strong football tradition, an exciting quarterback in sophomore Darnell Dickerson, and maybe the most exciting freshman runner since Herschel Walker in Trinidad-born ``Swervin''' Curvin Richards. Apparently, no one wanted to take a chance on a team that still has two more games left, including a Dec. 3 date with 14th-ranked Syracuse.

Duke coach Steve Spurrier, whose chief fame came as Florida's Heisman-winning quarterback in 1966, has done well to make the Blue Devils (6-3-1) competitive in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Unfortunately, the ACC has had to banish him from appearing at Duke's season-ending rivalry with North Carolina because of his public criticism of the officiating in last Saturday's wild 43-43 tie with North Carolina State. Spurrier was particularly irked by a defensive holding call that nullified a potentially game-clinching pass interception by Duke.

Does anybody know what the likelihood of a team finishing the season with three ties is? Iowa would certainly like to know. The Hawkeyes, who were actually the preseason No. 1 pick of one national magazine, are 5-3-3 heading into Saturday's finale with Minnesota. Iowa has tied Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State.

College football's top 20

The top 20 teams in the Associated Press coaches' poll, with first-place votes and records in parentheses.

1. Notre Dame (40) (9-0-0) 2. Southern Cal (18) (9-0-0) 3. Miami (1) (7-1-0) 4. West Virginia (10-0-0) 5. Florida State (9-1-0) 6. UCLA (9-1-0) 7. Nebraska (10-1-0) 8. Auburn (9-1-0) 9. Oklahoma (9-1-0) 10. Arkansas (10-0-0) 11. Louisiana St. (7-2-0) 12. Michigan (7-2-1) 13. Oklahoma St. (7-2-0) 14. Syracuse (8-1-0) 15. Clemson (8-2-0) 16. Wyoming (10-1-0) 17. Houston (7-2-0) 18. Alabama (7-2-0) 19. Washington St. (7-3-0) 20. Georgia (7-3-0)

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