WHEN the yule log goes on the fire, a feast of college football bowl games cannot be far behind.
Because of the unusual nature of the college season, however, only a gossamer web connects these contests with what happened in the fall, which can seem eons ago. In what other sport, after all, does a team sometimes wait a month or more to play its final game?
If the memory is fuzzy now, rest assured there was a regular season. A review of some its highlights, lowlights, etc., may help to reestablish this fact.
Most amusing protest: After seeing Auburn's Terry Daniel boom two punts against his team for an average 56.5 yards, Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill became suspicious of foul play.
The Southeastern Conference confiscated the footballs but found them filled with air, not helium. Daniel wound up as the nation's second-leading punter in a very tight race. Chris MacInnis of Air Force averaged 47 yards to Daniel's 46.92.
Most dubious technology: In the week after Notre Dame beat No. 1 Florida State in what some referred to as ``The Game of the Century,'' the undefeated Fighting Irish were ranked behind Florida State and Nebraska in the computer-generated New York Times poll. In South Bend they figure the software went soft.
Most sobering moment: Thousands of celebrating University of Wisconsin students triggered mass hysteria, and a number of spectators in the students' section were seriously injured when a restraining fence caused a massive pileup on the field after the Badgers beat Michigan in Madison, Wisc.
Most frustrating finish: Defending national champion Alabama had its 31-game winning streak snapped by Louisiana State, the first of three losses in `Bama's last four games.
Greatest feat in defeat: Brigham Young quarterback John Walsh passed for 619 yards in a 58-56 defeat to Utah State. In doing so, he helped the Cougars tie an unenviable major-college record for most points scored in a losing cause.
Most innovative game: Georgetown and Washington & Lee renewed their rivalry in Bermuda Nov. 20. The schools used football and debate scores between members of the two teams to establish a cumulative winner of the Bermuda Bowl Cup, which also included alumni golf and tennis competitions.
Best career coaching achievement: John Gagliardi of St. John's University in Minnesota, a small-college power, became only the fifth coach in any division to reach the 300-win milestone. An unconventional coach who dispenses with calisthenics, tackling dummies, and contact drills in practice, Gagliardi says he once almost took a job with the University of San Diego. But Minnesota suits him fine, especially since he's no longer coaching outdoor hockey.
Best player: Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who also plays varsity basketball, won a landslide victory in the Heisman Trophy balloting. It was the second most lopsided election in the award's 59-year history, exceeded only by O.J. Simpson's winning margin over Purdue's Leroy Keyes in 1968.
Most magical season: Boston University, which had not had a winning season since 1984 and was only 3-8 last year, turned in the first perfect season (11-0) in the school's football history. The final victory was secured in Virginia, where backup quarterback Greg Moore was pressed into service and responded by completing 38 of 58 passes for a school record 442 yards in a 24-21 win over James Madison University.
In another first, the Terriers made the Division I-AA playoffs, beating Northern Iowa in double overtime before losing to Idaho in the quarterfinals.
Most spectacular comeback: The University of California erased a 30-0 deficit against Oregon to score a 42-41 victory.
Best nonscholarship player: University of Florida walk-on Judd Davis, a junior, was named the nation's best placekicker and is expected to receive a ``free ride'' his senior season.
Most severe nose dive: Syracuse, which was seventh in Sports Illustrated's preseason rankings, lost back-to-back games to Miami and West Virginia by the combined score of 92-0. The Orangemen wound up 6-4-1.
Most conservative game plan: Baylor University didn't attempt a pass in its 31-12 win over Southern Methodist, the first time a major college team had stuck totally to the ground since 1986.
Least visible superpower: Under first-year coach Terry Bowden, Auburn University went 11-0, but because the school is serving a two-year probation for breaking National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, the Tigers cannot appear in a bowl game and are unrecognized in some polls.
Most unexpected diplomatic breakdown: Michigan State's cheerleading and dance squads boycotted the halftime show of the Coca-Cola Bowl in Tokyo, actually a final regular-season game against Wisconsin. The visitors from Michigan were none too pleased with the way they were treated by their Japanese hosts, who reportedly did little to hide sexist attitudes. A clause in the game contract allegedly called for ``20 blonde dancing girls'' to perform at halftime.