The Fiesta Bowl, which has been a semi-major bowl game since it moved to New Year's Day in 1982, could wind up playing host to a national championship game if Penn State and Air Force -- the only major undefeated teams in the nation -- win their two remaining games, according to network television and bowl sources.
Penn State, which became the No. 1-ranked team in the Associated Press poll yesterday, would be in the driver's seat to select where it wanted to play if the Nittany Lions beat Notre Dame on Saturday and Pitt on Nov. 23.
The Fiesta Bowl, which has no conference affiliation, pays about $1 million to each team, half as much as the Orange and Sugar bowls. But Penn State Coach Joe Paterno's policy has been to play the highest-ranked team if at all possible. And the highest-ranked opponent available could turn out to be Air Force, ranked fourth in this week's poll, or even No. 6 Miami under the right circumstances.
Many of the 18 postseason bowl games, including the Orange, Sugar and Cotton, will be affected by what Penn State and Air Force do on Saturday. A loss at No. 16 Brigham Young probably would knock Air Force (10-0) out of the top five and perhaps into the Sugar Bowl. And a loss for Penn State against either Notre Dame or Pitt will rearrange almost everything.
The Cotton Bowl would like to have the runner-up in the Big Ten, either No. 3 Ohio State, No. 8 Michigan or No. 5 Iowa, play its Southwest Conference representative, which apparently will be No. 17 Baylor or No. 9 Arkansas. The Sugar, besides its Southeastern Conference rep, could have the Big Eight runner-up (No. 2 Nebraska, No. 7 Oklahoma or No. 10 Oklahoma State) as a visiting team.
The Orange Bowl would love to have the Big Eight champion playing against Penn State or Miami. And the Orange Bowl could find itself already rooting for Nebraska to win the Big Eight to lure Penn State.
Oklahoma could mess up that scenario by beating Nebraska in Norman, Okla., on Nov. 23. Oklahoma, which has two games after that (with Oklahoma State and Southern Methodist) easily could be ranked below an undefeated Air Force or Miami, which could keep Penn State out of the Orange Bowl.
Indications yesterday were that Maryland had been under consideration from the Cotton Bowl committee, but Saturday's loss to Miami ruined all that. When a Cotton Bowl source was asked if the Terrapins were being considered before Saturday, he said, "Absolutely. We were definitely very interested in Maryland."
Most every "minor" bowl is now interested in the Terrapins, who still need to win at least one of their final two games with Clemson and Virginia to get a bid. Among those interested have been the Freedom Bowl, the All-American and the Citrus.