There are 11 games on a college's football schedule, and theoretically all of them are equal. But to paraphrase what we've learned in "Animal Farm," some games are more equal than others.
Losing to Virginia might not have cost Joe Krivak his job, but beating the Cavaliers certainly clinched a new contract for Krivak. That one game was more equal than all the previous 43 of his head coaching career.
Houston's coach, John Jenkins, might have foolishly assumed he was helping David Klingler win the Heisman Trophy, by leaving him in to plunder Division I-AA Eastern Washington with 11 touchdown passes. Instead, he buried him. Nobody will vote for Klingler now, not even "M*A*S*H" fans.
Colorado might have calculated that keeping its controversial fifth-down win over Missouri was worth the tempest it engendered on the grounds it would propel the Buffaloes to the national championship. But the fallout lingers. Even though they stand at No. 1, there's a sense they got there through a back alley, and that losing in the Orange Bowl would somehow reset a moral compass.
There is no argument here with Krivak being retained. He has brought honor -- if not an abundance of victories -- to an athletic department that otherwise has been plagued by ongoing major and minor scandals. Indeed, Maryland has been joyless for so long that we can almost let its appearance in a bowl game with a 6-5 record go by without comment. Almost. (The Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl? This we're supposed to say with a straight face? And what's the deal with the Blockbuster Bowl -- buy a ticket, get an extra night's free rental?)
Virginia could not have come at a better moment for Krivak. At the time the Cavaliers were still a top 10 team, a coveted Sugar Bowl invitee. They were the last game on Maryland's schedule, quite possibly the last Maryland game Krivak would coach, hallmark circumstances for a nothing-to-lose game plan.
The rap on Krivak as head coach has been that he shied from the bombs-away confidence he had while offensive coordinator under Bobby Ross, that he coached guardedly. Against Virginia -- seemingly for the first time -- Krivak exhumed his old personality. The results were spectacular, and the momentum Krivak carried into his contract talks overpowered any late realization that Virginia was not the juggernaut it once appeared.
Jenkins's hubris in trying to pillage the Heisman eliminated Klingler from serious consideration, and left it a match race between BYU's Ty Detmer and Notre Dame's Raghib "My Nickname Is Rocket, But You Can Call Me" Ismail. Detmer is another in an endless line of BYU quarterbacks whose impressive statistics accrue naturally within the BYU offensive scheme. In that regard, Detmer's 38 touchdown passes are mitigated by his 24 interceptions. Also, I wonder -- Jim McMahon's and Steve Young's successes notwithstanding -- if the ghost of Marc Wilson will rise up and bite Detmer among voters who can't help but cringe at Wilson's enduringly hollow performances in the NFL. Admittedly, Notre Dame has a gross advantage, appearing on TV every week as the University of Football, but Rocket seems to be gaining 40 yards every time he touches the ball. Even if he's not the best college player, he's surely the most compelling.
The larger question in the college game this year, though, is: Who's No. 1? More to the point: Is anyone? The axiom most often quoted states: You can't win the national championship with two losses. This year that easily could happen. If Notre Dame beats Colorado in the Orange Bowl, they'll both have two losses. If Miami beats Texas in the Cotton Bowl, they'll both have two. Long shots Penn State (with nine straight victories), Washington and Florida State have two. Florida has one loss, but plays at Florida State Saturday; anyway the Gators are ineligible for a bowl and the UPI coaches' poll by virtue of yet another probation -- how they've escaped the death penalty only Houdini knows -- and are unlikely to leapfrog through attrition. BYU has one loss and a victory over Miami, but voters aren't enthused by the Western Athletic Conference. Georgia Tech has the best record, 9-0-1, and yesterday moved up to No. 2 in the AP poll. But like BYU, Tech suffers from association with a weak conference, the ACC, particularly in light of Virginia's implosion; beating Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl won't mean much now, after the way Oklahoma slugged them. Tech needs Notre Dame and Texas or Miami to win small. Colorado can take the title outright in the Orange Bowl, but because of that fifth down it's a mythical title that may forever carry a mythical asterisk. Do you want me to repeat any of this? No? I didn't think so.
This is the kind of muddled season that begs for a championship tournament, to settle what the bowls cannot. So many of the bowls have become silly; six of them have teams with only six victories, a ludicrous number. We wish Maryland the best of luck, and we pray for an abundance of weeds so Poulan flourishes.
Odds of a two-loss mythical champion will increase as TV payout convinces better teams to risk tough intersectional games. Notre Dame, Miami, Colorado, Texas and many teams in the Southeastern Conference -- the toughest conference -- play schedules that discourage unbeaten seasons. Scholarship limits help level the playing field. For years the sole rationale behind a national tournament was money. Starting now there's a better reason: making order out of chaos in the accession to No. 1.