Bowl talk focuses on battle for No. 1; USC's `superfan' still going strong

Who could have imagined - West Virginia playing for a possible national championship (alias the No. 1 ranking)? Actually, ESPN commentator Beano Cook basically predicted this would happen when he made the Mountaineers his preseason choice to finish atop the polls.

Cook, an astute observer of the college scene for many years, realized West Virginia had two of the main ingredients needed to scale the heights: an outstanding quarterback and a soft schedule.

The former, of course, is Major Harris, a charismatic sophomore who might have won the national passing championship if he'd made the requisite number of attempts.

As for the schedule, there were only three real tests all season, and West Virginia passed each with flying colors - beating Pittsburgh, 31-0, Penn State, 51-30, and Syracuse, 31-9.

Some might argue, therefore, that No. 3 West Virginia has backed into national title contention, and shouldn't be allowed to vault ahead of second-ranked Miami by upsetting No. 1 Notre Dame in Monday's Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Still, few voters would be inclined to ignore a perfect 12-0 record, especially one secured against a heralded bowl opponent which handed Miami its lone loss and also scored regular-season victories over Southern California and Michigan.

Notre Dame, also 11-0 now, could take the pollsters entirely off the hook and nail down the top spot for itself by winning, which is the widely expected outcome. The Sporting News, for instance, has predicted a 17-point Irish victory.

For what it's worth, however, the Fiesta rivals shared two common opponents during the regular season - Penn State and Pittsburgh - and West Virginia was the more dominant in these matchups, racking up a combined 42-point victory margin to a 28-point spread for Notre Dame.

West Virgnia, therefore, won't be in awe of the Irish. The Mountaineers, however, are far less accustomed to playing on natural turf, the Fiesta playing surface, than is Notre Dame, which played all but two of its games on real grass this year. West Virginia played on grass just twice, against Virginia Tech and East Carolina, in its lowest-scoring games of the year. Special perspective on Trojans The University of Southern California will conclude its centennial season against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, where 82-year-old superfan Giles (Perpetual) Pellerin plans to watch his 678th consecutive Trojan game. The streak, which includes both home and away games, began in 1926 when he was a sophomore at USC.

Pellerin has obviously witnessed many of the school's great gridiron moments. There was the time in 1967, when O.J. Simpson dashed 64 yards in a dramatic victory over top-ranked UCLA, and a pair of memorable come-from-behind efforts against Notre Dame - in 1964 when a 17-0 halftime deficit turned into a 20-17 win, and a decade later when the Trojans rallied from a 24-0 hole to an electrifying 55-24 triumph.

Given such classics, it may come as a surprise that Pellerin's favorite USC game was a 1939 victory over Duke in the Rose Bowl. Those were the days before the Big Ten champion became a Pasadena regular, and the Blue Devils were undefeated, untied, and unscored upon. Pellerin remembers a pair of sophomores, quarterback Doyle Nave and end Al Krueger, coming off the bench to lead USC to a 7-3 last-minute victory. Rebirth of an award

Since 1946, college football writers have declared the nation's top interior lineman the Outland Trophy winner. Problem is there hasn't been a regular trophy for many winners, since the original award mysteriously disappeared two decades ago.

This year, though, the Outland literally was reborn in the hands of Syracuse University professor James Ridlon, a noted sculptor and college backfield mate of Jim Brown in the 1950s.

The new award, a bronze lineman, went to Auburn defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, who swept the honors given to linemen by also capturing the Lombardi Award. Auburn's only other Outland recipient was guard Zeke Smith in 1958.

The Outland, incidentally, was the inspiration of surgeon John Henry Outland, who played and coached college football around the turn of the century and later in his life proposed and underwrote the cost of a trophy for the sport's unsung heroes. Early-season bowls?

Tonight's Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., one of a swirl of lesser postseason games, is looking to set itself apart in the future. One option under consideration is a switch to the preseason, or at least to a date ahead of most openers.

The NCAA would have to approve such a change, which might take some doing, and any conflict with the Kickoff Classic would most certainly have to be avoided. The idea, however, is basically to copy the Kickoff format of matching two highly regarded teams in a tantilizing early-season appetizer.

Whether this could be legitimately called a bowl game is questionable. There might also be questions about the precedent this could establish for other ``bowls'' to jump to late August or early September. The whole idea of a bowl being a reward for a good season could be distorted.

The problem, of course, is that the bowl season is overcrowded with 18 games and more reportedly slated to join the confusion. There aren't enough good teams or times to play all these games and make each a compelling attraction, as evidenced by the Freedom Bowl's unranked opponents, Colorado and Brigham Young.

One bowl that apparently doesn't feel it can compete anymore is the Independence, whose chairman predicted the end was near even before Southern Mississippi and Texas-El Paso met Dec. 23. The game drew a sparse crowd of 20,242 in Shreveport, La.

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