"There are lots of ifs and ands and buts and candy and nuts." -- a major bowl director, yesterday
There are 16 bowl games sanctioned by the NCAA, but as of yesterday only one team was a certain participant: Nebraska will be in the Orange Bowl, as Big Eight Conference champion.
Its opponent, bowl sources agreed yesterday, almost certainly will be second-ranked Clemson, unless the Tigers are upset by South Carolina Saturday.
Otherwise, bowl directors -- and their partners, the television networks -- are waiting on four developments to bring the postseason picture into focus:
* A 7:30 a.m. meeting of the Sugar Bowl Committee today.
As part of its new contract with ABC television, the bowl chooses which team it wants to play host in case there is a tie for the Southeastern Conference championship and those teams have not met this season.
Fourth-ranked Georgia clinched a tie for the SEC title Saturday by beating Auburn. Alabama can tie by beating Auburn Nov. 28. Georgia and Alabama did not play each other this season. The smart money yesterday said Herschel Walker of Georgia is a better television draw than Bear Bryant going for coaching win No. 316.
The likely opponent on New Year's Night is top-ranked Pitt. "I want to stomp on Bourbon Street," Panther tight end John Brown said Saturday. "I'll be there with him," said quarterback Dan Marino.
The Sugar Bowl Committee is supposed to notify Georgia, Alabama and the conference office of its intentions after today's meeting. Officially, bids cannot be offered until 6 p.m. Saturday or whenever a team's game is finished that day, whichever is earlier.
* What Southern California would like to do.
The third-ranked Trojans' surprise loss to Washington Saturday left them only a slim chance of reaching the Rose Bowl. For that to happen, Washington and Washington State must tie, while USC beats UCLA. So that leaves a number of possibilities. One possibility is the Cotton Bowl, where the Southwest Conference representative is likely to be Texas, as conference runner-up to Southern Methodist. SMU is on probation and ineligible for bowl games.
A Texas-USC game would match what some bowl directors consider the two best draws in college football after Notre Dame. For the Cotton Bowl, the matchup also is a good defensive move against the Fiesta Bowl, which moves to New Year's Day and is to be played at the same time as the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl television contract with CBS expires after this game and the television ratings drawn by USC and star running back Marcus Allen would help the Cotton in new negotiations.
Most observers are taking for granted that the Cotton will jump on whomever the Sugar passes up as its host school, meaning Alabama. And it may well be that Bryant will force the Cotton Bowl to make a commitment prior to Saturday, when a UCLA win over USC would make the Trojans a less attractive 8-3 team.
Note: Alabama played in the Cotton Bowl last year.
* What Pittsburgh intends to do.
Before this year, the Sugar Bowl was the lowest-paying of the major bowls. But the new contract with ABC will jump the probable payoff from $1 million to about $1.4 million. If Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill chooses any bowl other than the Sugar, it will come as a major surprise to most bowl people, and to Pitt players.
* The wire-service polls. Some bowls pick solely on national ranking. The polls this week are for release at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. That might even keep the Sugar Bowl people from making a decision today, if they think that Alabama's impressive win over Penn State Saturday will jump the Crimson Tide ahead of Georgia.
Speculating on any possible matchups in the lesser bowls at this point is a matter of reciting a list of teams with two and three losses and perhaps a tie.
Locally, Navy remained in the Hall of Fame Bowl picture and less so in the Holiday Bowl's.
The Midshipmen (7-3), who do not play until Dec. 5 against Army, are likely to play Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State or Tennessee if they are chosen for the Hall of Fame Bowl. A Holiday Bowl spokesman said his bowl would prefer a Pac-10 or Big Ten opponent, but Navy still is under consideration.
Some other bowl factors to consider:
The Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl.
It will be Michigan if the Wolverines beat Ohio State at Ann Arbor Saturday. Michigan would have a 7-2 conference record and the best Iowa could be is 6-2 by beating Michigan State Saturday. However, if Ohio State ties or beats Michigan, then Iowa can beat the Buckeyes out of the Rose Bowl berth with a victory.
* A clause in the Fiesta Bowl contract.
It prohibits a Pac-10-Big Ten matchup, or a Runner-Up Rose Bowl.
* Notre Dame, the best draw in college football, but only 5-4 going into Saturday's game at Penn State, is sure to be invited somewhere if the Irish win. The TV numbers talk; last year, going head-to-head against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl had its worst television ratings ever, with Alabama-Baylor. The year Tony Dorsett played for No. 1 Pitt in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, the Cotton Bowl matchup was Maryland-Houston. It outdrew the Sugar by two Nielsen rating points.