MIAMI, NOV. 29 -- The final weekend of widespread action resolved the last of the bowls and most of the rankings and rivalries. There is little doubt that Miami is No. 2 and the best of the independents, that No. 7 Auburn was the strength of a hotly contested Southeastern Conference race, and that No. 15 Texas A&M got the best of a weak Southwest.
Other questions remain open-ended, however.
Can the sometimes lackadaisical yet dynamic Hurricanes, 24-0 winners over Notre Dame Saturday, survive one last test against No. 8 South Carolina before their New Year's date in the Orange Bowl, on their home field, with undefeated and top-ranked Oklahoma?
And what about the Fighting Irish's Heisman Trophy candidate, Tim Brown, who also is facing some late season skepticism?
Critics of first-year Alabama coach Bill Curry stirred after a 10-0 loss to Auburn on Friday, sending the Tigers (9-1-1) to the Sugar Bowl to meet unbeaten No. 4 Syracuse, and Alabama (7-4) to the not so lustrous Hall of Fame Bowl.
"All season long we've been answering questions," Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said.
The Hurricanes will have to keep answering them, at least until they have put South Carolina (8-2) behind them. While the victory over Notre Dame (8-3) was convincing, it came after a six-week stretch when they did not play a team with a winning record. The Hurricanes can display forcible talent, but they also show a tendency to wastefulness, like a narrow 24-14 victory over Toledo, and four turnovers in scoring position Saturday.
The Irish could not make the Hurricanes pay for their mistakes, getting into Miami territory just three times. But it was important to note that the Irish were worn out by tribulations and a schedule voted toughest in the country, with eight bowl team opponents. The Gamecocks possess a more complete offense with passer Todd Ellis, and probably won't let the host Hurricanes get away with much.
"I still want to see them play two weeks in a row," Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz said.
An indication of how hard the season has been for Notre Dame was the condition of wingback Tim Brown, who had just 95 all-purpose yards compared to his average of 175 a game. He caught three passes for 37 yards but dropped three while struggling against double coverage, and lacked his usual flair. That is perhaps because he has lost 15 pounds over the season from his playing weight of 195, he said.
"If one bad game costs me the Heisman, there's nothing I can do about it," he said.
Clearly Brown's exhausted performance did not help him garner votes for the trophy to be awarded this Saturday. His chief competition had Saturday off. That includes Michigan State's Lorenzo White, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has a number of friends playing for Miami. He told some of the Hurricanes last week they could help him win the trophy by stopping Brown.
"I'm not saying anything about what Brown did today," White said. "But I like my chances now."
There are also Syracuse's Don McPherson and Holy Cross' Gordie Lockbaum.
Like Notre Dame, No. 18 Alabama should be commended for its season in light of open controversy when Curry was hired. But while the Crimson Tide still had a chance to get a piece of the SEC title, Curry summed up the sentiment in Tuscaloosa when he said it is not acceptable to settle for Michigan in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
The loss to Auburn was Curry's eighth, counting seven while at Georgia Tech. That won't endear him to the fans who screamed so loudly when he was hired, fearing he lacks proper Alabama credentials.
Most of the other issues around the country were clear-cut. Texas A&M's 20-13 victory over Texas on Thursday gave the Aggies (9-2) a third straight SWC title and Cotton Bowl appearance, despite what was supposed to be a rebuilding year without former quarterback Kevin Murray and seven defensive starters who graduated. Jackie Sherrill may have found a player of the future in freshman option quarterback Bucky Richardson, who scored the winning touchdown with 4:33 left, but the Aggies may remain too young and thin for Notre Dame.
Florida State (10-1) kept its vague national title thoughts alive by rallying from a 14-3 deficit to a 28-14 victory over Aloha Bowl pick Florida (6-5), a rival the Seminoles hadn't beaten in six years.
"If they had won, the whole season would have been a loss," Seminoles center Mark Salva said.
Instead, Florida State won and might still be voted national champion with a victory over No. 5 Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, should circumstances combine to give the remaining unbeatens (Oklahoma, Miami, Syracuse) a loss each.
Wyoming 24, Hawaii 20:
Gerald Abraham scored his second touchdown of the Saturday night game in Honolulu on a six-yard run with 4:51 remaining, lifting Wyoming (10-2, 8-0) to its first outright Western Athletic Conference championship since 1968.
The Cowboys trailed, 17-0, late in the second quarter but will take a nine-game winning streak to the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl against Iowa.
California 17, Wash. St. 17:
Robbie Keen kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:13 left to boost the Golden Bears into a tie in a Pacific-10 game yesterday in Tokyo.
"I think we both feel lousy," said California Coach Bruce Snyder, whose team ended 3-6-2, 2-3-2 in the Pac-10. "To come so far and work so hard for a tie." Coach Dennis Erickson of Washington State (3-7-1, 1-5-1) concurred.