This is the time of year that Floridians bask in the sun and fairly gloat over their toasty climate. For the remainder of the winter, they'll also have some wonderful football memories to keep them warm. In an outcome made in Disney World, the University of Miami and Florida State both scored major bowl victories to finish 1-2 respectively in the final rankings. In the history of Associated Press writers' poll, which dates to 1936, no state, not even such gridiron hotbeds as Texas, Pennsylvania, or California, had ever cornered the top two spots in final season ratings. The most monopolistic previous coup belonged to a conference, the Big Eight, which in 1971, placed Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado 1-2-3.
In this case, however, Oklahoma and Nebraska were unwilling parties to college football's Florida-tion, Oklahoma losing to Miami, 20-14, in an Orange Bowl showdown of 11-0 teams, and Nebraska bowing to Florida State, 31-28, in an exciting Fiesta Bowl matchup.
The only cloud to darken the Sunshine State's football skies was the University of Florida's 20-16 loss to UCLA in the Aloha Bowl. But even there, the result was encouraging, since the unranked Gators and their freshman running back Emmitt Smith (128 yards) played well.
The Aloha game was held Christmas Day, which meant the result was practically forgotten once the flood of better known New Year's bowls began.
While the outcome of that contest meant little, connoisseurs of the sport are now pinning greater significance to a game played even further ago - the Oct. 3 battle for Florida bragging rights between Miami and Florida State.
The Seminoles could have settled for almost a sure tie by kicking an extra point, but they failed on a two-point conversion attempt and lost, 26-25. That gutsy move may have cost Florida State a shot at the national championship, although some fans (especially those in Tallahassee) will just think of the Hurricanes and Seminoles as 1-A and 1-B, or co-champions of 1987.
Florida State's daring decision is destined to be second-guessed almost as much as Auburn's game-tying field goal in the Sugar Bowl will be debated. Under the circumstances, many observers felt that Auburn should have been playing for a win over Syracuse instead of driving to the 13-yard line before settling for a field goal with one second left.
There are two reasons for the controversy. The first involves Syracuse's bid for a 12-0 season. The feeling in some circles is that the Orangemen deserved an opportunity at a perfect record, and playing for a tie denied them the chance. Secondly, Auburn was the lower-ranked team and seemingly had more to gain than lose by going for a victory.
After the game, Auburn coach Pat Dye provided a succinct explanation: ``My decision was not to get beat.'' That may not play some places, but Dye's first responsibility is to his players, and they perhaps had given too much of themselves to gamble away an almost sure tie.
Additional bowl-watching observations follow:
If Florida enjoyed the most glittering bowl results, Michigan was the most prolific winner, with three teams from the state coming up victorious, including Michigan State, which held off Southern Cal, 20-17, for a rare Big Ten win in the Rose Bowl. Eastern Michigan got things rolling on Dec. 12 by beating San Jose State, 30-27, in the California Bowl, and Michigan knocked off Alabama, 28-24, Jan. 2 in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Michigan coach Bo Schembechler was recuperating from surgery and missed the latter contest.
Notre Dame, which started off the season with such a blaze of excitement, was snuffed out in its last three games. A 35-10 wipeout by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl clearly indicated that more rebuilding is necessary. The Irish will have to do it without Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, who let mounting frustrations get the better of him by chasing after and tackling a Texas A&M player who taken his towel after a kickoff return.
Miami appears to have Oklahoma's number just the way Oklahoma has Nebraska's. The Sooners have lost just three games in the past three seasons, and Miami was the opponent each time. Miami obviously benefits from having a coach, Jimmy Johnson, a former Oklahoma assistant, who is well schooled in defensing the Wishbone attack, which the Sooners employ. Just as important, though, the Hurricanes have a diversified offense and the horses to run it effectively even against a power like Oklahoma.
Miami didn't push to get leading tackler George Mira Jr., back into uniform after he flunked a pre-bowl drug test. The school probably didn't want to squabble with the NCAA or risk losing a $2.5 million Orange Bowl payoff. Of course, everything went the 'Canes way anyhow, particularly in the kicking department, where they got lifts from a 56-yard field goal and a 68-yard punt.