Ohio State Gives Northwestern University a Rosy Future

SELDOM has an Ohio State football defeat been more crushing than the one inflicted by Michigan, 31-23, Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich. It ruined an undefeated season and possible run at the national title (as determined by the polls), besides giving Northwestern University the Big Ten championship and passage to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949.

''Gave,'' of course, is not really the right word. Northwestern clearly earned its dizzying date in Pasadena, Calif. The Wildcats' perfect 8-0 record in Big Ten play included impressive victories over Penn State and Michigan. The conference schedule, however, didn't call for Northwestern and Ohio State to meet, a fact that would have been insignificant most years, but must now loom large in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes will probably head for the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., to meet Tennessee.

The most telling statistic from Ohio State's Black Saturday loss was the 313 yards rung up by Michigan tailback Tim Biakabutuka, whose rushing total surpassed that of any opponent in Ohio State's 106-year football history. Biakabutuka was a workhorse, with 37 carries compared with 21 for OSU's Heisman Trophy candidate, Eddie George, who gained 104 yards.

The Michigan-Ohio State result surely pleased those within college football circles who love a Cinderella story (Northwestern) or relish the possibility of the nation's top-ranked teams going head-to-head in bowl play. Ohio State's loss means that undefeated Florida, which knocked off Florida State Saturday, is now No. 2 behind No. 1 Nebraska. The two will meet in the Fiesta Bowl if Florida defeats Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference championship this Saturday in Atlanta.

The Fiesta Bowl has dibs on the top teams from something called the Bowl Alliance, which was formed in hopes of creating a national championship game. Spotless Nebraska and Florida certainly fit that bill, although Northwestern, with its first winning season in 24 years, might have claimed it deserved No. 1 consideration if it had not lost to Miami of Ohio, the lone, almost inexplicable blemish on an otherwise flawless season. Northwestern will meet the University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: Now that Northwestern has earned its first trip to the Rose Bowl in many years, which member of the Big Ten Conference has been absent from Pasadena the longest? (See answer below.)

* With Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen retired, the United States speed-skating team must look for new ways to remain competitive. Toward this end, team members have spent time studying tae kwon do and tai chi at a Milwaukee-area martial arts studio. They hope it will help with breathing, balance, and discipline. Speed-skaters may be pioneers in such training. Last year, a book about the National Football League's first 75 years forecast that the use of body-control disciplines such as ballet and martial arts will be common among NFL players.

* There's little doubt that to be fully prepared for next summer's Olympics in Atlanta, athletes will have to be heat-toughened. That's why Australia's track and field team plans to really sweat it out in practice. The Aussies will train during the southern hemisphere's summer in the heat of the day wearing track suits. ''We're going to mimic the conditions the athletes can expect to experience as well as we can,'' says Dick Telford, Australia's high-performance coach.

* Pro golfer Nick Price says that most amateur players practice improperly, placing more emphasis on hitting lots of balls than on consistency. ''One day they stand aiming 50 yards left of where they want the ball to go, another day they're aiming 20 yards right,'' he told USAir's in-flight magazine. For Price, one way to be disciplined on the practice tee is to lay a club along the target line and use it to set up. ''Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect,'' Price says.

* Which schools spend the most on college sports? The Birmingham (Ala.) News took the latest year for which comprehensive statistics were available (1993) and determined that the University of Florida has spent $27.2 million on its intercollegiate athletic program, University of Tennessee $25.4 million, and the University of Michigan $25.1 million.

* United States Swimming, the sport's national governing body, will award US Olympic team members $50,000 for a gold-medal effort in Atlanta next year. Relay team members will split their winnings.

* Quiz answer: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers last played in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1962, defeating UCLA, 21-3.

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