Moments after the Washington Huskies beat Oklahoma, 28-17, in the Orange Bowl Tuesday night, Coach Don James enjoyed a victory ride to midfield on the shoulders of his players. Late this afternoon, in a ballroom at the Omni International Hotel, James came back down to earth when the results of the Associated Press and United Press International college football polls were announced.
Brigham Young, which finished a 13-0 season with a 24-17 victory over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, finished first in the AP and UPI polls. Washington, hopeful that its big New Year's night win before 110 million television viewers would help sway the vote its way, was second in each.
"There is disappointment that we didn't win the championship," James said. "But I won't go out and jump off the damn roof. I'm not about to hang my head . . . .
"This team can put up two fingers if they have to. We won't get championship rings this year, but we'll always have a lot to remember and a lot to be proud of."
BYU Coach LaVell Edwards, preparing for the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto, Calif., told AP, "The last month has been very draining and hectic. I know the polls are not an exact science, they never have been, so we're happy to be No. 1."
Maryland, winner over Tennessee in the Sun Bowl, finished the season at 9-3, but failed to make the top 10. The Terrapins were 11th in UPI and 12th in AP.
Virginia's 27-24 victory against Purdue in the Peach Bowl helped it secure rankings of 17 in the UPI and 20 in the AP. The Cavaliers' 8-2-2 record and final rankings were the school's best.
BYU also finished first in the Football Writers Association of America poll, which is taken by a five-member committee, and the National Football Foundation poll. The Football Writers' poll placed Washington, Florida and Boston and Nebraska (tied for fourth) behind BYU.
The Sporting News magazine named Florida No. 1, followed by Nebraska, Washington, Brigham Young and Boston College.
A computer ranking by The New York Times placed BYU 10th and Florida first. Boston College was ranked second by The Times, followed by Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Washington.
James was upset that Florida, considered by many to be the strongest team in the country, finished third in the writers' AP poll, ahead of Nebraska, Boston College and Oklahoma. The Gators (9-1-1) won the Southeastern Conference championship but did not participate in postseason play because of a ruling by the SEC precipitated by an NCAA investigation.
"My biggest disappointment of all comes from the writers who voted for Florida," James said. "In the UPI poll, the coaches agree not to vote for a team on probation. I don't think you should vote for a team that got where they are with an absolute violation of the rules. If you gave me a suitcase full of money, I could go out and buy a pretty good football team, too."
In the UPI poll, Nebraska was third, followed by Boston College at No. 4. Oklahoma State finished in the fifth spot, and Oklahoma, which had a fine chance of securing the national title with a convincing win over Washington, dropped to sixth.
BYU, champion of the weak Western Athletic Conference, received 16 more first-place votes than Washington in the UPI poll. The 20-point difference between the top two teams in the AP balloting was the closest since the wire service started taking its final poll after the bowl games, in 1968.
After learning the outcome of the polls, Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer said Washington "deserves to be No. 1. They're a better team than BYU. I guarantee you."
The Cougars had been ranked No. 1 for the final three weeks of the regular season.
Edwards, who has been overwhelmed with interview requests since the end of the regular season, said "trying to legitimize" the Cougars' top ranking "got to be a little old. Parity has hit football. I don't know if we're the best team in the nation . . . But I think we're very deserving."
"I thought we'd get No. 1 in one of the polls," Washington linebacker Tim Meamber said. "I don't have a whole lot of respect for the way the AP poll was handled. It's really disappointing because it's a system we have no control over. I was upset with the way the media came out and said we didn't have a chance in the AP but Oklahoma did. That didn't make any sense.
"We lost to a better team (Southern California) than the one they lost to (Kansas). It was tough to overcome something like that, but we put it behind us and treated the Orange Bowl as if it really was the national championship. We really believed we would be No. 1."
BYU opens against UCLA next season, then plays Washington in Provo, Utah. Although certain to capture the nation's attention, the game will not resolve the controvery that has surrounded the ranking of college teams.
A playoff system would settle the issue, but most coaches, including Edwards and James, are not in favor of breaking away from the traditional postseason bowl games.
Even after failing to convince pollsters that his team should be No. 1, James stood in strong defense of the polls. "I don't know how to stage a playoff without playing 14 or maybe even 15 games," he said. "I think that's way too much to ask of kids who report several weeks early in the summer and work all the way through the Christmas holiday season. People forget that they're students, too."
James said he was "fired up about getting a chance to play BYU . . . You might even see sparks flying. One thing about the college game, these young people are so competitive, you'll probably see (BYU quarterback) Robbie Boscoe put on an outstanding performance like the one against Michigan. And efforts from our players will probably match those by (strong safety) Jim Rodgers and (defensive tackle) Ron Holmes in the Orange Bowl. They're seniors and won't be around, and that's what'll be different about the game. It'll be a two new football teams, but it'll still be No. 1 against No. 2. BYU and Washington. And that's what you should keep in mind."