If you like your football scrambled, with a generous side order of upsets, the 1980 college season is the perfect blue plate special. While it can be argued that there's a topsy-turviness to the game generally, the current madness goes above and beyond the call of duty.
For example, one would seldom expect both the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country to lose on the same weekend, in major upsets, long after the early-season shakedown period has ended. That is what happened, though, when top-ranked Alabama had its 28-game winning streak snapped by Mississippi State, a forgotten school in the Southeastern Conference, and second-ranked UCLA fell to rather lightly regarded Arizona.
At the same time, Notre Dame and Georgia were solidifying their claims to the vacated top spots, a surprising development in its own right.
Oh, sure, both schools have proud football traditions, but neither was even considered a Top 10 candidate in most preseason speculation. In fact, Notre Dame was supposedly fielding a squad no better than last year's, which had the dubious distinction of being the first Irish team in 16 years to finish out of the Top 20.
At each school, a star running back has surfaced to rally the troops. A reserve when the season began, senior Jim Stone has been The centerpiece of top-ranked Notre Dame's undefeated, united season, while freshman Herschel Walker fills that role for the nation's other "U-U," as the NCAS Statistics Service labels spotless teams.
Forced to wait in the wings until Vagas Ferguson and Jerome Heavens finished their careers, Stone has become the first player in school history to gain 10 or more yards in four consecutive games.
Walker, an Earl Campbell-like package of speed and power, underlined his talents in last Saturday's nationally televised victory over South Carolina. Anticipated as a long- awaited showcase for Carolina's George Rogers, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, the game awakened the nation to Walker as well. Herschel, in fact, outgained Georged by 51 yards (219 to 168) and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 76-yard jaunt.
Though this ballcarrying duel held the nation's attention momentarily, the week's big stories were the aforementioned upsets, plus those of two other previously undefeated, untied teams -- No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Baylor.
The mere fact that these latter teams were rated so high to begin with tells us something about the state of the game. Scholarship limitations, which prevent the traditional powers from stockpiling players, have obviously begun to place everyone on more equal footing.
North Carolina had a chance to climb even higher in the polls by defeating Oklahoma, a juggernaut experiencing some difficulties (namely in losses to Texas and Stanford). Just to prove that college football's Old Order isn't passe just yet, however, the Sooners manhandled the visiting Tar Heels 41-7, embarrassing a defense that had not surrendered a touchdown until Saturday. "I think we're the best 5-2 team in the country," Coach Barry Switzer volunteered, making an observation he's never had to make before at Oklahoma.
Baylor, a private school generally lost in the Shadows of the Southwest Conference, was handed its first defeat by unranked San Jose State. Within the conference the Bears remain 5-0 and in strong contention to capture only their second league championship since 1922. This weekend they host Arkansas, one of the season's biggest flops. The Razorbacks (1- 3 in the conference) are virtually relegated to the league's spoiler role, while Southern Methodist and Rice are among a pack of teams still vying for the SWC title and Cotton Bowl berth. A Six-way tie is even a possibility in this crazy race, which has seen mighty Texas lose on back-to-back weekends.
The outcome in the Southeastern Conference looks to be just as confusing. Goergia could fo undefeated, yet see Louisiana State steal off with the Sugar Bowl berth reserved for the conference champion. Unranked LSU is sporting a perfect league record, does not play Georgia, and has been absent longer from the Sugar Bowl than Georgia, meaning that the Fighting Tigers would go in the event of a two-way SEC tie. The catch? Before the season ends, LSU must play Alabama and Mississippi State, and Cinderella team guided by Emory Bellard, the Wishbone-formation inventor.
Out West, everybody keeps wondering who's going to win the watered-down Pac- 10 sweepstakes. The biggies -- Southern Cal and UCLA -- are ineligible for the Rose Bowl because of disciplinary reasons, leaving unranked Washington (3-1 in the conference) leading the Eligible 5 standings.
Southern Cal, meanwhile, is forced to set its sights on the No. 1 ranking, a position it achieved two years ago in the season's final UPI poll. Oregon played the Trojans to a 7-7 tie, partly tarnishing their 6-0-1 record, but not denting a 27-game unbeaten streak, the nation's longest, USC pounded California 60-7 last Saturday, demonstrating the kind of execution it will need to get by Standford,Washington, UCLA, and Notre Dame in its remaining games.
In the Big Ten, Mark Herrmann, Purdue's Heisman hopeful, has passed the Boiler- makers into a three-way tie with Ohio State and Michigan, also 5-0. The Buckeyes may own something of an edge in the Rose Bowl race because they don't play Purdue and host Michigan in the season finale.