It didn't take long for this 72nd Rose Bowl to take on a David-meets-Goliath posture.
No. 4 Iowa (10-1), a Goliath with suspenders, is figuring ways it can become the national champion.
No. 13 UCLA (8-2-1), slingshot in hand, is just trying to figure out who will be its starting quarterback, as a thigh injury appears to have sidelined senior starter David Norrie. It seems he will be replaced by junior Matt Stevens, who hasn't taken a meaningful snap in nearly two months.
You getting the picture? More than 104,000 are expected for the 5 p.m. EDT kickoff Wednesday (WRC-TV-4), and this is what the Hawkeyes figure needs to happen for that national crown to rest on their heads:
No. 3-ranked Oklahoma must beat No. 1 Penn State, but not convincingly, in the Orange Bowl; No. 2 Miami must lose to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl and, of course, Iowa must become only the third Big Ten team in 17 years to beat the Pacific-10 Conference champion in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes figure they must win soundly.
Iowa Coach Hayden Fry, who already feels his Hawkeyes are the best team in the land, reasoned, "The best thing for us is if all the guys (media, coaches) abstain from drinking the night before they cast their votes (in the polls)."
The Hawkeyes' deck is 52-strong, ready and willing. The offense possesses quarterback Chuck Long, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, and Rodney Harmon, the 1,100-yard runner from Queens, N.Y., and receiver Brian Happel, whose father played on Iowa's Rose Bowl team in 1956, and an offensive line big enough to form the skyline of Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes have a defense led by linebacker Larry Station, the school's all-time leading tackler.
Long said the Hawkeyes learned from their 28-0 loss to Washington in the Rose Bowl four years ago that too much pregame partying and Disneyland sightseeing can be hazardous to a good team's health. There are nine Hawkeyes, including Long, who remain from that team.
"That's why we only came out here for five days this time," Long said. Fry concurs that it is serious business this time.
Ask him if he has let his Hawkeyes enjoy the Southern California night life prior to kickoff and Fry will say, "Yeah. We let them bring their own cards, checkers and some of them know how to play mumbletypeg."
Nobody was laughing today on the UCLA side. Norrie, the Bruins' starting quarterback in 10 of 11 games, has a leg injury and Coach Terry Donahue said Stevens, who threw just 41 passes this season, likely will be the starter. Donahue said it's possible Norrie will play at some point.
"The situation with David Norrie is a disruption," Donahue said, "and of concern because Matt Stevens hasn't played in seven weeks."
Stevens replaced Norrie in the fourth quarter of the season opener and completed six of 11 passes for 117 yards to generate a 27-24 victory over Brigham Young. Stevens threw a 62-yard completion on his first pass that day.
One week later, though, Stevens completed just nine of 19 and threw three interceptions against Tennessee and Norrie came on to help the Bruins to a 26-26 tie. That was Sept. 14 in Knoxville, Stevens' first and only start of the season.
There exists a cloud of doubt over the Bruins' heads, largely because they backed their way into this Rose Bowl: they lost to Southern California, 17-13, in the last game of the year and made it here only because Arizona State lost to Arizona, 16-13, later that night. UCLA, ASU and Arizona each finished with two Pac-10 losses, but UCLA beat both teams and was declared the conference champion.
Yet there are those here who insist they know better than to doubt Donahue. This is his fourth consecutive New Year's Day bowl appearance, and he's won the previous three (two Rose, one Fiesta). The Bruins are the only team to have appeared in a New Year's game each of the past four seasons.
These people trust Donahue and his Bruins because they have the nation's best defense against the run (allowing 70 yards per game) and Donahue rates with the best of coaches in winning when his team is the underdog.
UCLA also has Gaston Green, a sophomore breakaway-type running back who gained 194 yards against Tennessee, and is recovered from an early-season knee injury.
Most important, if this game is close, the Bruins possess college football's preeminent tie breaker: senior kicker John Lee, who holds NCAA records for most career field goals and best career accuracy percentage (.859, on 79 of 92).
"I do think Hayden's team is of national champion caliber," said Donahue. "(But) the difference between a 10-1 team and an 8-2-1 team is not as significant as it would appear to some people."
The Hawkeyes have appeared in three Rose Bowls and their only victory was a 38-12 rout of California in 1959. "The last time (1981 season), we just wanted to go to the Rose Bowl," Fry said. "This year, we not only wanted to go to the Rose Bowl, but we wanted to win it.
"We would like to amend our poor performance," Fry said. "Particularly the score, 28-zip . . . Some members of our football team took a look at the film of that Rose Bowl recently. Their evaluation was that it was embarrassing."