If ever a Heisman Trophy winner had a chance to prepare his acceptance speech well in advance, Mike Rozier did. Nebraska's talented I-back (he lines up directly behind the quarterback and fullback in an I formation) was clearly the award's leading candidate long before the season ended. Consequently, last Saturday's nationally televised award ceremony from New York was merely a formality. Rozier picked up the hardware, kissed his mother, mugged for the cameras, and fielded questions about being the country's best college player.
It was almost like coming home, since Mike grew up in Camden, N.J., where he sometimes longed to return during four years in the Midwest. In order to get his classroom credentials in order, he spent a year in Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College before transferring to Nebraska.
In Lincoln he shared the running back duties with Roger Craig his first season, rushed for a school record 1,689 yards his junior year, and wound up leading the nation in rushing this year with 2,148 yards. The only other player to break the 2,000-yard barrier was Southern California's Marcus Allen.
Perhaps the most eye-opening statistics in Rozier's portfolio were his 7.81 -yard carrying average this year and his 29 touchdowns, both national records.
Mike, of course, was playing for a Nebraska team that raced through a 12-0 regular season, held the No. 1 ranking from start to finish, and may be among the best in the game's history. That meant he was in the spotlight, even more so than other other two finalists, quarterbacks Steve Young of Brigham Young and Doug Flutie of Boston College, who led their teams to Top 20 finishes.
Some skeptics might say Rozier's path to the Heisman was made easier by the elimination of such rivals as Herschel Walker, who turned pro after winning as a junior last year, Marcus Dupree, who left Oklahoma at mid-season, and Ernest Anderson, who spent an injury-riddled season at Oklahoma State. Even if these players had been on the scene, though, it's hard to imagine anyone could have topped Rozier, who became the 11th straight pure running back to capture the Heisman and the second Nebraska player. The Cornhuskers' Johnny Rodgers, a runner, receiver, and return man, was the 1972 recipient. In brief. . .
* Notre Dame is headed for the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, but not too enthusiastically. The seniors weren't overwhelmingly in favor of going, a sure sign that some weren't convinced a 6-5 squad deserved an invitation, especially this one, which beat no opponents of note. The six victories came against losing teams with a combined record of 19-43-2.
* Credit North Carolina with one of the classiest gestures of the season. After beating Duke, the Tar Heel players decided to give the game ball to losing quarterback Ben Bennett in recognition of his outstanding college career. Bennett, who completed 27 of 35 passes against North Carolina in this season's finale, set a new national record with 9,614 passing yards during four years with the Blue Devils. That's 96 football fields worth. Not bad for a guy opponents were geared to stop.
* In case you hadn't noticed, the Cotton, Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls will be played on Jan. 2 and not on New Year's Day. The reason is simple: Jan. 1 falls on Sunday, a pro football day. Rather than go-head-to-head with the pro playoffs, the bowls have been switched to Monday, a day off for most people.
* Of the countless exciting plays this season, one that this writer and millions of TV viewers may remember for years to come occurred in the Oklahoma-Nebraska game. The player who produced it was Sooner running back Spencer Tillman, who punctuated an 18-yard touchdown scamper by leaping over a blocker and would-be tackler in covering the last five yards.
* Fourth-ranked Miami (Fla.) lost only one game this season and that was in an opener that logically should have been played at home, rather than on the road. But the University of Florida apparently wants no part of playing Miami, an independent, in the Orange Bowl. To get the Gators on the schedule, therefore, the Hurricanes agreed to journey to Gainesville for the second straight year, where they lost 28-3. Next year's game will be played in Tampa, a neutral site.
* Placekickers play a prominent role in today's college game, but imagine how they'd hog the spotlight if field goals were worth five points. Actually, for a brief time field goals were assigned five points, touchdowns two, kicks after touchdowns four, and safeties one. This was a hundred years ago, when the college football rules committee adopted the first scoring system. Before that a team's score would include a listing of goals (kicks), touchdowns, and safeties, with no point designations. The emphasis in the early days, clearly, was on kicking.
* Kentucky and Memphis State were this year's most improved Division I teams. Winless a year ago when it managed one tie, Kentucky (6-4-1) is headed to the Hall of Fame Bowl. Memphis State jumped from a 1-10 to a 6-4-1 mark.
* If Oklahoma had a hard time beating Hawaii 21-17 last Saturday, it was probably because the players found it difficult to get up for this relatively meaningless 12th game. Since the Sooners aren't going to a bowl, this was their time to have some fun. As a road trip, though, it couldn't compare to Oklahoma's last trip to the islands in 1931, when the Sooners spent 14 days on a train and boat getting to Honolulu. OU won the game 7-0, thereby defeating the Rainbows under a rainbow. How UPI rates the football teams
The United Press International Board of Coaches Top 20 1983 college football ratings, with first-place votes in parentheses (total points based on 15 points for first place, 14 for second, etc.)
1. Nebraska (31) (12-0) 507 2. Texas (3) (11-0) 475 3. Auburn (10-1) 435 4. Miami, Fla. (10-1) 375 5. Illinois (10-1) 373 6. Southern Methodist (10-1) 345 7. Georgia (9-1-1) 258 8. Michigan (9-2) 217 9. Brigham Young (10-1) 211 10. Iowa (9-2) 195 11. Florida (8-2-1) 123 12. Boston College (9-2) 116 13. Ohio State (8-3) 82 14. Pittsburgh (8-2-1) 71 15. Maryland (8-3) 41 16. Air Force (9-2) 29 17. Baylor (7-3-1) 23 18. Virginia Tech (9-2) 17 19. West Virginia (8-3) 14 20. Oklahoma (8-4) 11