Southern teams flood the bowls; rushing champ; punts soaring

You know things are getting watered down when seven schools from the same conference land post-season assignments. Bowl officials obviously couldn't have been grading on the curve when they invited all but three Southeastern Conference teams to their games. Georgia (11-0) and Louisiana State (8-2-1) lead the way with Sugar and Orange Bowl berths. Then come Vanderbilt (Hall of Fame Bowl), Auburn (Tangerine) and Florida (Bluebonnet) with 8-3 records; followed by 7-4 Alabama in the Liberty and 6-5-1 Tennessee in the Peach.

In garnering seven bowl invitations, the Southeastern Conference ties the national record it set in 1974. The SEC was in even better position to secure bids then, since the Big Ten and Pacific Eight (now Pac-10) weren't allowing non-Rose Bowl teams to go bowling. That policy has been dropped, though, and four schools will join Pasadena-bound Michigan in representing the Big Ten in bowl action.

Southern schools, of course, will always have the edge when it comes to post-season participation. Many bowls are situated in the South and are naturally inclined to invite teams familiar to the region's fans. This practice not only generates rooting interest for the ''local'' team, but helps sell tickets to supporters within driving distance of the game.

SEC teams are playing bowls in New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, Birmingham (Ala.) , Memphis, and Orlando (Fla.), with only Tennessee venturing slightly beyond the area to play in Houston. Anderson wins rushing title

To his credit, little-known Ernest Anderson of Oklahoma State held on to win the national rushing title and prove he's no flash in the pan. Anderson's per-game average did drop from above 200 to 170.6 during the course of the season, but that was to be expected as OSU met tougher opponents and defenders began keying on the junior tailback.

Some observers might consider Ernest's achievement somewhat hollow, since Herschel Walker would have had a better average, and thus won the rushing crown if he hadn't played in Georgia's opener. Though not expected to see any action, Herschel came off the bench with an injured hand to gain 20 yards, far below his season average 159.3.

Anderson, it should be pointed out, kept running despite an assortment of injuries, which led him to wear a flak jacket and special air-filled shoulder pads rather than sit on the sidelines. Walker a double threat

Georgia running back Herschel Walker would appear a cinch to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner next year, when the cupboard will be nearly bare of serious challengers. Just about every player with Heisman aspirations during the current season, including Stanford quarterback John Elway and Southern Methodist running back Eric Dickerson, completes his collegiate career. If Herschel repeats, he would join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner. Other players who had a chance to reinscribe their names on the trophy are junior recipients Doc Blanchard (Army, 1945), Doak Walker (SMU, 1948), Vic Janowicz (Ohio State, 1950), and Roger Staubach (Navy, 1963). SMU and No. 1

Practically everyone agrees that the Sugar Bowl, with No. 1 Georgia facing No. 2 Penn State, will decide the national championship. Maybe so, but Southern Methodist could wind up unbeaten and with a better record than either of these teams.

For that to happen, SMU (10-0-1) must beat Pittsburgh in the Cotton Bowl while Penn State (10-1-0) knocks off undefeated Georgia in the Sugar.

Many people tend to overlook the Mustangs because they were on NCAA probation last year and banned from making TV and bowl appearances. Punts up, up, and away

Punters, it seems, are often overshadowed by today's placekickers, who come in for a lot of attention with their incredible accuracy, long-range capabilities, and late-game heroics. Punters, though, still practice a prettier art, that of arcing spirals across an azure sky. And like their kicking cousins , punters are getting stronger by the year.

This season, in fact, they set a new record with 39.75 yards a punt (a distance measured from the line of scrimmage, not from where the punter stands). This average is more than a half a yard better than major colleges turned in a year ago. ''Just one-tenth of a yard is a good jump,'' says Jim Van Valkenburg, the NCAA's Director of Statistics.

With a 48.1 yard average, Reggie Roby of Iowa became only the third player to win back-to-back punting titles. Part of Roby's success can be traced to the fact that he's a specialist's specialist. In other words, he only handles Iowa's long-distance punting needs, leaving someone else to angle shorter kicks out of bounds.

Such specialization is one factor in increased proficiency, as are football camps that teach the science of punting and schools that reward the better punters with college scholarships. Artificial turf fields may also be contributing to rising yardage figures, since balls bounce higher and often roll further on these harder man-made surfaces.

As punting improves, though, efforts to block punts increase. Consequently, two-step, rather than three-step, punters may be the wave of the future. Sounds like the old quick kick might make a comeback.

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