Orange and Rose Bowls Will Play Key Roles In Deciding College Football's No. 1
BOSTON — THE Sunshine State is known as a land of Hurricanes, Gators, and Seminoles.Those are the nicknames of its college football teams, of course: the University of Miami, the University of Florida, and Florida State University, respectively. This year the three teams have combined for a dazzling 31-3 record. Take away Florida State's losses to its intrastate rivals, and the only loss outside the state was Florida's early-season ambush at Syracuse. Not surprisingly, all three have dates to play in major bowl games come Jan. 1. Miami (11-0) will be getting the most national attention. If the Hurricanes can defeat Big Eight champion Nebraska (9-1-1) in the Orange Bowl, they'll likely be crowned by the polls as national champions. Since Miami has been virtually unbeatable in the Orange Bowl, its home stadium, in recent years, some observers have already conceded it the No. 1 ranking. Miami, loaded with talented juniors and sophomores, was thought to be a year or two away from challenging for the national title again. But quarterback Gino Torretta has ably followed in the cleats of such previous Hurricane stars as Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, and Vinnie Testaverde - all now quarterbacking in the NFL - and the Miami defense has been as stingy as usual. Steve Spurrier returned this year to coach Florida, where he won a 1966 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback, and has put a troubled program back on track. The Gators will take on Notre Dame, an early-season favorite for No. 1, in the Sugar Bowl. But even a thrashing of the thrice-beaten Irish is unlikely to vault Florida to the top spot. In Tallahassee, coach Bobby Bowden must feel snake-bitten after going 10-0 and leading the polls for most of the year, only to lose squeakers to Miami (17 to 16) and Florida (14 to 9) in the last two games. The consolation prize for the Seminoles, led by quarterback Casey Weldon, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, will be a Cotton Bowl date with Texas A&M. The Florida threesome would win the "best three college teams in one state" trophy hands down, if such an award existed. But two other teams, squaring off some 3,000 miles away at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., will also have a lot to say about who is crowned national champion. Don James's Washington Huskies (11-0) rarely play in the national spotlight except at bowl time. But a win over the 10-1 Michigan Wolverines, on top of earlier triumphs over bowl-bound Stanford, Nebraska, and California, will make pollsters think twice about voting Miami No. 1, even if the Hurricanes defeat Nebraska. Michigan's national title hopes rely on an upset loss by Miami combined with its own victory over Washington. Early in the season, the Wolverines gave up 51 points in a home-field loss to Florida State. But they've been undefeated since, posting wins over bowl-bound Big 10 rivals Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, and Indiana. Wide receiver Desmond Howard, winner of the Heisman Trophy as the nation's outstanding player, gives Michigan a special weapon. Should Miami and Washington both win, the cry will inevitably intensify for a national championship playoff, rather than letting polls of sportswriters or coaches decide between undefeated teams. Such a playoff system is used at lower levels of college football and seems to work well. Last weekend, for example, Youngstown State defeated Marshall 25-17 to win the NCAA's Division I-AA championship, the level just below major-college Division I-A. "We congratulate the NCAA for giving us a chance to win a ch ampionship on the field," said Youngstown coach Jim Tressel. "There's no other way to do it." Standing in the way of an orderly playoff system are the bowls themselves. Corporate sponsors, whose names appear in the titles of the games, put up large amounts of cash. The bowls, in turn, bid willy-nilly for the best matchups, often locking in teams before the regular schedule is complete and the best pairings clear. The top college conferences and bowls are trying to establish a more orderly set of matchups, but so far no agreement has emerged.