In the space of a year, it is common for a handful of college teams to improve dramatically. Sustaining a new level of performance, however, is a more difficult task. The school that has made the most dramatic jump from the 1970s to the 1980s is clearly Miami. The Hurricanes' winning percentage was a modest .385 in the '70s; during the '80s it has shot up to .819. Successfully mining talent-rich Florida for players has contributed to this rise, as has the recruitment of a succession of top out-of-state quarterbacks, starting with Jim Kelly (Pennsylvania) and continuing with Bernie Kosar (Ohio), Vinny Testaverde (New York), and the latest incumbent, Minnesotan Steve Walsh, who may be the best yet.
That, at least, is the assessment of Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz after seeing Walsh, a junior, direct the 'Canes in a heartbreaking 31-30 loss to the Irish in mid-October. ``I'm not saying he'll be the best pro quarterback,'' Holtz says, ``but for a college QB, for what they ask him to do, he's better than Kelly, better than Kosar, better than Testaverde. He's unselfish, he knows when to throw the ball away, and he never gets sacked.'' Extra-point rules wrinkle
Until this season, college teams haven't had to worry about the consequences of flubbed extra-point attempts. They might not score, but the defense couldn't, either. This year, however, the rules were changed to give defenses an opportunity to put points on the board. It didn't happen that frequently, but over the season, counting all four divisions of play, there were 40 or 50 occasions on which the opportunity occurred, and 11 times that the defense actually did score.
Interestingly, the first officially correct application of the rule proved critical in a 26-24 St. John's victory over Iona. Iona had just tied the score at 24 on a 95-yard kickoff return, but the placement attempt was blocked and returned 83 yards for the winning two-point tally.
The first occurrence in Division I-A play was a backfire against Notre Dame in the course of an otherwise routine 54-11 trouncing of Rice on Nov. 5.
A deuce, of course, is an awfully small reward for a play that amounts to a touchdown, requires a tremendous expenditure of effort, and is destined to be a very rare occurrence. Football is a game of short bursts, and not many players even have the ability to outrace a pack of pursuers over a great distance.
Some of the proposed rule changes that weren't adopted might have had a much greater impact on the game. One would have moved the line of scrimmage for conversions from the 3-yard line to the 25, while another would have placed the ball at the 1 to encourage more 2-point tries. Still another would have eliminated the kicking option altogether and made teams run or pass. Crimson Tide leads in bowl appearances
Notre Dame's football team may be a perennial national attraction, but for many years the school declined to play post-season games. With the Fighting Irish out of contention for most-frequent-flier at bowl time, the leader is Alabama, which will be making its 41st postseason appearance when it takes on Army in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 24 in El Paso, Texas. Texas is second on the all-time list, with 33 appearances, but the Longhorns aren't going anywhere this year after a 4-7 season.
Army, incidentally, once had a no-bowl policy like Notre Dame's. Consequently, some of West Point's greatest teams, such as those in the mid-'40s graced by Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, never played during the New Year's period. Briefly speaking
Although Michigan may not be the most aerially minded team around, the Wolverines are not the stick-in-the-muds some people might think. Starting quarterback Michael Taylor and his backup, Demetrius Brown, attempted 182 passes this season and completed about 62 percent of them. That's a good accuracy mark, but what probably pleased coach Bo Schembechler equally as much was the infrequency of interceptions. Michigan had only two passes picked off all season, a pleasant development, considering that Brown threw a Big Ten record seven interceptions in a single game last year.
One of the best teams ever to play college football showed its class this season by committing more than a $1.2 million to Ohio State's athletic scholarship fund, certainly a welcome gesture in what turned out to be a very disappointing season under new coach John Cooper (the 4-6-1 Buckeyes had their worst season since going 4-5 in '66). The 1968 national championship squad established the fund in honor of the late Woody Hayes, the team's coach, and his widow, Ann. The prime mover for the gift was Rex Kern, the sophomore quarterback of a 10-0 Buckeye squad that also featured John Brockington, Jim Otis, Jack Tatum, and Jim Stillwagon, and is ranked ninth in a new book titled ``College Football's 25 Greatest Teams.'' Kern, president of Nautilus of California, said at the team's 20-year reunion that the gift was made in the spirit of Hayes's oft-repeated philosophy, ``You can't pay back, but you can pay forward.''
The Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., has rather rapidly horned its way into the big time. For the second time in the last three years, the Fiesta will field what is being billed as a national championship game. Two years ago it was Penn State vs. Miami. This time it's Notre Dame vs. West Virginia, and to make sure viewers don't get sidetracked, the kickoff has been moved up half an hour, from 5 to 4:30 p.m., Eastern time. This provides a jump on the Rose Bowl, with its 5 o'clock start, and helps avoid any conflict with the Orange Bowl, which NBC is scheduled to televise at 8 p.m. after the network's Fiesta coverage concludes.
Coach Jim Walden, in his first year at Iowa State, was fairly ecstatic about what his 5-6 team accomplished under his direction. ``No coaching staff in the country could feel any better than ours. We've done a marvelous job,'' Walden says. He isn't being facetious, either. The Cyclone coach feels Iowa State is in an unfair competitive situation that won't be remedied until all the teams in the Big Eight Conference have an equal number of players on football scholarships.