Nebraska's loss to Missouri and Georgia's tie against Auburn yesterday sent Joe Paterno, coach of top-ranked Penn State, scurrying to accept a Sugar Bowl bid last night in what he hopes will be a matchup with Alabama for the national championship.
For that to happen, Alabama must beat state rival Auburn off Dec. 2 at Birmingham. A tie would send Georgia to the Jan. 1 game in New Orleans because the Bulldogs and Alabama would finish as cochampions of the Southeastern Conference and Alabama represented the conference last year.
If form had followed yesterday, Penn State would have been paired against No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl at Miami on New Year's night.
After meeting into early evening, the Orange Bowl then decided on a Nebraska-Oklahoma rematch, a rate but not unprecented move for a bowl game. Oklahoma had been ranked No. 1 until it lost to Nebraska, 17-14, a week ago. Nebraska's loss yesterday left the two teams tied for the Big Eight championship.
The Cotton Bowl, will pit Notre Dame against Houston, the South-west Conference champion, in that New Year's Day game at Dallas. Notre Dame, a network television favorite because of its national following, profited most out of yesterday's surprises.
The Irish, winners of eight straight after losses to Missouri and Michigan would have been shut out of the major bowl picture otherwise.
Southern Cal locked up the host-team spot in the Rose Bowl with a victory over UCLA yesterday. The Trojans' opponent and the Big Ten champion will be determined Saturday when Michigan plays Ohio State at Columbus.
The Big Ten announced yesterday that the loser will play Clemson in the Gator Bowl Dec. 29 at Jacksonville, Fla.
Locally, despite losses yesterday, Maryland accepted a bid to play Texas in the Sun Bowl Dec. 23 in El Paso, Tex, and Navy agreed to face Brigham Young, the Western Athletic Conference champion, in the first Holiday Bowl Dec. 22 at San Diego, Calif.
Both of those invitations were expected regardless of the outcome of Yesterday's games.
The only surprises in the seven games filled was Missouri going to the Liberty Bowl against Louisiana State Dec. 23 at Memphis, Tenn., and the naming of the Big Tea runner-up to play Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
Paterno said that as soon as he learned Nebraska had lost and Georgia had tied he telephoned Paul Suhey, the team's defensive captain, who was at the training table with the squad.
"We all agreed that we should go to the Sugar Bowl, where we have the chance to meet the highest-ranked team," Paterno said. "The way things are going, who knows what will happen? A lot happened today I didn't believe would happen."
Penn State, the nation's only major undefeated team, also has one regular-season game remaining, against Pitt Friday night in Pittsburgh. If the Lions win that one, they will take a 19-game winning streak into the Sugar Bowl.