At noon Saturday, a group of 10 prominent Miami businessmen will gather in a comfortably furnished room at Orange Bowl Committee headquarters and close the door.
No outsiders will know what, if anything, theymix with their orange Juice, or what they say to each other for the next six hours.
They will watch college football games on television, and talk by phone to six of their fellows deployed strategically around the country: two each at the Maryland - Clemson game in College Park, the Nebraska - Missouri game in Lincoln, and at State College, Pa. - where they will keep Joe Paterno, head coach of idle Penn State, company.
The men in Miami will discuss - mostly in the cool voice of reason, occasionally with heated words of passion - most of the teams ranked in the top 10 nationally, debating their relative merits on the gridiron and at the gate.
They will assess theoretical matchups, argue the strengths and weaknesses of each school's offense, defense, coaching staff, athletic department and administratio.
They will talk about each team's appeal on national television, the attractiveness of their stars and styles, their ability to bring free-spending out-of-towners with them to Miami for the holidays.
They will take straw votes, outline contingency plans, and promptly at 6 p.m. - barring unexpected circumstances - they will invite Penn State (ranked No. 1 in the lastest national polls of both the Associated Press and United Press International) to play Nebraska (No. 2 in both polls) in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night.
The only unexpected circumstances likely to affect the deliberations of the 16-man Orange Bowl Selection Committee would be a Nebraska loss to Missouri. Should that occur, it would touch off a chain reaction of furious rhetoric and politicking of similar conclaves in New Orleans, Dallas, Jacksonville and in other cities where pigskins are worshipped.
Saturday is D-Day, Decision Day, when the Cardinals of the college-football religion choose the teams that are to be rewarded - competitively, financially and hedonistically - for having outstanding regular-season records.
Six p.m., Eastern Standard Time, is the appointed hour at which post-season bowl games, major and minor, can tender invitations to the colleges of their choice. Likewise, it is the earliest time schools can officially accept bids.
At stake are dreams of a national championship, hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, rankings and television exposure important to coaches trying to build programs. And the holiday plans of teams, student bodies, alumni and large segments of entire communities.
The "major" bowls played on Jan. 1 are, of course, competing for the most attractive parings they can concort from among the highly rated teams available. As soon as their lineups fall into place, the spate of "minor" bowls that keep college football flowing along with the eggnog throughout the holiday season swoop in to snatch up the choicest leftovers.
This all adds up to an auction among slick organizations, with big bucks and athletic prestige riding on the outcome. How is it all decided?
First, the givens. By contractual agreemnt between the major bowls andthe traditionally most powerful conferences, the Rose Bowl pairs the representatives of the Big Ten and the Pac-10, the Southwest Conference sends its best to the Cottong Bowl, the Southeastern Conference winner plays in the Sugar Bowl and the Big Eight boss goes to the Orange Bowl.
The Rose Bowl at Pasadena will pit Michigan (8-1), Purdue (7-1-1) or Ohio State (6-2-1) against the winner of Saturday's game between Southern California (8-1) and UCLA (8-2) at Los Angeles. Michigan hosts Purdue this week and plays at Ohio State Nov. 25.
Nebraska (9-1) clinched an Orange Bowl berth by defeating previously unbeaten and top-ranked Oklahoma, 17-14, last Saturday.
If Nebraska beats Missouri Saturday, it will almost surely play Penn State (10-0, with only Pittsburgh remaining on the regular-season schedule, Nov. 24). If the Cornhuskers stumble, Penn State would probably go elsewhere, leaving the Orange Bowl scrambling for a replacement. Perhaps the scouts at the Maryland-Clemson game indicate where they would look.
Georgia (8-1) needs only to beat Auburn Saturday to secure a place in the Sugar Bowl. A victory would tie the Bulldogs for the SEC title with third-ranked Alabama (9-1), which does not play Georgia this year. By a conference tie-breaking rule, Georgia would go to the Sugar because Alabama represented the SEC in New Orleans last year.
Houston (8-1) won its Showdown of the Southwest against Texas last weekend, and needs only to knock over mediocre Texas Tech Saturday or weakling Rice Nov. 25 to secure its position as the Cotton Bowl host in Dallas.
After the designated spots have been determined by the conference races, the real fun begins. Completing the bowl lineups is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces keep changing shape, and this is what will happen in the selection committee meetings Saturday.
Scouting and glad-handling have been taking place on far-flung campuses for weeks. Bowl representatives have watched teams, met with coaches and administrators, and then reported back to weekly conferences with their fellow committeemen. Orange Bowl selectors, probably the most-traveled of all, have seen more than 50 games this season and have carried on what chairma Tom Wood calls "a year-round-campaign to sell the game and the city of Miami."
The end product of all the trips, meetings, intelligence reports, consultations with executives of the television networks carrying the various games, and pep talks on behalf of personal favorites will be decided in sessions like the one at Orange Bowl headquarters.
Like so many juries considering evidence, the committees will look at three main factors - rankings, TV considerations and ability to draw hometown fans - and then render their verdicts.
"We'll meet by day, starting at noon, and discuss the various combinations," said Wood, an affable Miami attorney and president of a mortgage bank company.
"we'll put all our intelligence into thepot. Who has a colorful running back? A potential Heisman Trophy winner? A coach who attracts national press? And most important, what team of national prominence will draw large crowds of tourists toour community?
"We'll run through all the data, the members will lobby for their choices, and eventually I'll call for a vote. It's a democratic process."
Those close to the the bowl selection process insist that rankings, TV and drawing power are the major considerations, with behind-the-scenes political maneuvering and wining and dining of bowl committeemen coming into play only marginally, in cases of deadlocks.
NBC-TV, which pays more than $3 million in rights fees for the Rose Bowl, $2.3 million for the Orange Bowl and $400,000 for the Fiesta Bowl on Christmas Day, does not try to influence bowl selections, according to knowledgeable sources.
CBS, which pays in the neighborhood of $3 million to televise the Cotton Bowl, and much smaller amounts (less than $300,000) for the Sun and Peach Bowls, reportedly makes "suggestions" to selction committees for those games, but does not exert untoward pressure.
ABC, which pays close to $3 million for the Sugar Bowl, about $350,000 for the Gator Bowl and less for the Liberty Bowl, takes an active role in influencing the invitations for those games according to insiders.
ABC has more leverage than the other networks because it televises the regular season NCAA football package, and can influence a school to go to a particular bowl with the promise of lucrative extra regular season TV appearances.