Bowl tie-breaker considered; Columbia's Lions tamed again

With a lot of corporate and TV money as bait and no inhibiting conference tie-ins, the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., has come up with what amounts to a national championship pairing between No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State. But what if these perfect-record teams play to a tie in their prime-time showcase game Jan. 2? What then? Will the millions watching, to say nothing of the players participating, be disgusted that nothing was settled? That possibility has obviously crossed some minds.

Asked if an overtime has been considered, Bruce Skinner, executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, replied earlier this week, ``Most definitely we're thinking about it.''

The Fiesta folks have to be careful not to skirt National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, lest they lose their certification and become a maverick bowl. Though the rule book provides for tie-breakers only at the lower levels of competition (Divisions I-AA, II, and III), where national playoffs are held, the Fiesta could argue its match-up amounts to a playoff final.

NCAA bowl liaison Bob Minnix has even been quoted as saying of a Fiesta tie-breaker, ``Off the top of my head I don't see any reason they can't do it.''

Ties, of course, seldom occur, partly because the two-point conversion option allows college teams to go for the win. Among hundreds of major-college games each season, there may be only a dozen or so ties.

But while a tie is a long shot, if one results in the Fiesta Bowl it would leave an unfinished feeling, just as the famous 10-10 tie between Michigan State and Notre Dame did in 1966.

At the divisions that have tie-breakers now, the procedure is to give each team the ball on the opponent's 25-yard line, first and 10, and go until one team scores more points on an equal number of possessions.

Not everybody is happy with this arrangement, and if a tie-breaker were ever adopted at the major-college level, Arizona coach Larry Smith would like to see the ball moved back to the 50. ``That gives your defense a little chance to operate and your offense has got to come up with something. They just don't rely on the field goal kicker.'' Light at end of Lions' tunnel?

Poor Columbia must be wondering if it will ever win again.

The Lions have gone winless the last three seasons and now own a 31-game losing streak. If they open with four more defeats next season, they will break Northwestern's record for futility at the major-college level. Northwestern lost 34 games straight between 1979 and 1982.

Despite getting annihilated most weeks, Columbia came close to snapping its string on three occasions. It actually led Villanova 28-14 at the half, but lost, 42-34. Princeton beat the New Yorkers, 20-14. And against Lafayette, the team was five yards from scoring the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left, but on the last play of the game Dave Putelo was sacked on a rollout, giving the visitors a 26-21 victory.

Sadly, none of Columbia's seniors ever tasted victory, since freshmen are ineligible for varsity competition in the Ivy League. Future players, though, might be encouraged by what has happened at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. The Scots set an NCAA record with a 50-game losing streak that ended in 1980. This year they equaled the school record for victories in a season with a 7-2-1 finish.

If that's not enough of a boost, the record of Columbia's freshman team should be. The first-year Lions opened with three losses, then beat Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell for the squad's best record since 1980. Vinny collects Heisman

As expected, Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde ran away with the Heisman Trophy. There's still one more collegiate mountain to climb, though, when the Hurricanes take on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. No Heisman-winning QB has led his team to a national championship since Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack turned the trick in 1947. Furthermore, Testaverde would like to make amends for Miami's poor showing in last season's Cotton Bowl, when Tennessee sprang a shocking 35-7 upset.

The nation's passing efficiency champion paid his dues at Miami, where he had to wait his turn at the starting job behind Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar. His patience was rewarded, as he became only the second quarterback to win the Heisman in the last 15 years, joining Boston College's Doug Flutie, the 1984 winner.

Tailback Paul Palmer finished a distant second to Testaverde, with Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh third. Briefly speaking

A funny thing happened on the way to coach Francis Peay's departure from Northwestern; the team finished with victories over Michigan State and Illinois and the Wildcats' interim mentor was signed to a new five-year contract. Earlier in the season Peay had removed himself from consideration as the permanent coach when the school didn't offer him the job. But getting carried off the field after the team's last game may have helped change his mind. The team's 4-7 record, the best since 1973, may also have convinced Peay that Northwestern was ready to turn another corner under his leadership. If nothing else, Northwestern's showing was another indication of the increased parity in the Big Ten, where each team won at least two league games for the first time ever.

Resilience is an important quality in the coaching profession, where people get bounced and have to bounce back. Fred Akers, fired at Texas after the school's first losing season (5-6) in 30 years, is already on the rebound. Purdue has hired him to guide a program that finished tied for last in the Big Ten with a 2-6 conference record. Akers was far from a failure at Texas. In fact, his .731 success rate (86-31-2) was the third-best winning percentage among Southwest Conference coaches who remained at the same school for a decade or more. But that wasn't good enough for the demanding Longhorn faithful, who want Texas to be in the Top 20 every year, go to and win major bowl games regularly, and ride herd on league foes. Feeling too much erosion had occurred, Texas canned Akers with the meter still ticking on his contract and replaced him with David McWilliams, who had been a Texas assistant before guiding Texas Tech to a 7-4 campaign this year.

Oklahoma's Tim Lashar and Alabama's Van Tiffin have closed out their regular-season college careers in a dead heat, sharing the NCAA record with 135 straight extra points. Tiffin never missed in four years, while Lashar began his string after an early miss. Quotable quotes

General manager Jim Finks of the New Orleans Saints trying to sidestep National Football League prohibitions against blasting officials: ``We're not allowed to comment on lousy officiating.''

Oklahoma State quarterback Mike Gundy on the crowd noise at Nebraska: ``You all need to move those stands back a ways.''

Raymond Berry, coach of the New England Patriots, on why he didn't kick the locker room door after last Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals: ``It's oak. You've got to be careful about which doors you kick.''

Doug Collins, coach of the Chicago Bulls, on his team's balanced scoring in a game in which Michael Jordan scored 50 points: ``We had seven men in double figures - Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, [Charles] Oakley, and [Earl] Cureton.''

Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson on why ``C'' students shouldn't be underestimated: ``They are the `B' and the `A' students resting.''

Comedian Bill Cosby recalling his days playing for Temple University's hapless football team: ``We lost to schools I never heard of. I think guys used to get together and invent a name just so they could play us. One year we lost to a school called `We Want You.'''

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