Controversial finish to Texas-Oklahoma a focal point of season

Each fall the college football season produces as many bizarre and unpredictable bounces as an unfielded punt. The current campaign has already produced a sideline tackle by an assistant coach (thank you, Morgan State); a team outscored 274-6 in its first five games (sorry, Fitchburg State); a flood of 10 televised contests in a single city on one Saturday (flip that dial, Boston), and a serious new Heisman Trophy contender (hello, Keith Byars).

Upsets, of course, have been in plentiful supply, and few in recent years can compare to that sprung by Syracuse, which sandwiched a shocking victory over top-ranked Nebraska between scoreless losses to Rutgers and Florida.

Gator Bowl scouts have looked at a revived Army team, Penn State has been shut out for the first time in 18 years - by struggling Alabama, no less, - and the Washington Huskies (where'd they come from?) have vaulted to No. 1 entering the second half of the season.

This last point indirectly brings us to the season's most controversial game to date, last Saturday's Texas-Oklahoma shootout in Dallas. It was this contest that gave rise to Washington's somewhat questionable elevation to the top ranking.

First, let's turn to the Texas-Oklahoma clash, which had the No. 1 Longhorns going against the second-ranked team in the UPI coaches' poll (third-ranked in the rival AP writers' rankings).

Rather sadly, the drama was played out on a rain-drenched field, which kept the scoring down. By halftime, Texas had taken a 10-0 lead, which looked like it could hold up given the soggy conditions. Oklahoma, however, went ahead with 15 points in the third quarter, setting the stage for the disputed finish.

After Oklahoma relinquished an intentional safety rather than risk punting from its end zone, Texas got the ball. Trailing 15-12, the Sooners drove down the field. The march, culiminated by a 32-yard field goal as time expired, was kept alive by three controversial calls.

First came a fumble on a completed pass that Oklahoma felt it had recovered. The receiver's knee, though, was ruled on the ground before the ball came loose, ending the play. Texas then gained 12 yards on a pass interference call that Sooner Coach Barry Switzer argued shouldn't have been made since it wasn't a catchable ball.

The final fly in the ointment came on the game's next-to-last play, when an apparent interception in the end zone was nullified. The official on the scene ruled that Oklahoma's defender was out of bounds. However, a review of the films by the Big Eight Conference, of which Oklahoma is a member, indicates this was a mistaken judgment by a Big Eight official. (Texas is in the Southwest Conference.)

Fred Akers, the Longhorns' coach, claims a missed interference call should have given his team possession on the 2-yard line. From there, Texas conceivably could have gone for a winning touchdown instead of a tying kick. Akers, however, declined to say which he would have elected, replying ''I'm not going to play 'what ifs.' ''

The upshot of all this is a moot UPI coaches' poll. How, one might ask, can the top two teams play to a draw and have last week's third-ranked team (Washington) leap frog over them? Where, too, is the logic in giving undefeated Washington a promotion, while leaving fellow undefeateds Boston College (4-0) and Brigham Young (6-0) behind? B.C. and BYU still appear below No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Texas in the current polls.

By its very nature, however, voting in the polls is an inconsistent ''science ,'' which is actually one of the beauties of the beast. The discrepancies, biases, etc. inherent in the polls make for great debates among fans of the college scene.

And speaking of this scene, we should get back to Mr. Byars, who has burst upon it in spectacular fashion. The Ohio State tailback actually won last year's Big Ten rushing title as a sophomore, but got short shrift in pre-season speculation about 1984 Heisman Trophy candidates. Now, though, he has joined Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie as one of the favorites for the award by taking the national lead in major college rushing, scoring, and all-purpose running. In his latest rushing extravaganza, Byars ripped off 274 yards in last Saturday's 45-38 victory over Illinois. Ohio State trailed at one point 24-0, but came back to win when Byars scored his fifth touchdown with 36 seconds left.

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