Bowl outlook revolves around Irish Notre Dame silent on postseason plans

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Jack French grew up in Beverly Hills, Calif., played college football at Colorado and is executive director of the Rose Bowl. At some point during those experiences, he became a fan of a certain team from South Bend, Ind. He has a Notre Dame T-shirt. He spent two weeks on the campus last summer attending an executive management seminar.

"It's hard not to root for Notre Dame," French said yesterday. "There's a powerful aura surrounding the school and the football team."

But this week, French will root against the aura as well as the Irish.

Hard.

He won't be alone.

Some bowl directors looking to play host to this year's mythical national championship game -- not to mention the entire student bodies and coaches at the universities of Miami, Washington and Colorado -- will be pulling for ninth-ranked Tennessee (5-1-2) to knock off top-ranked Notre Dame (7-1) Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

A victory for the Irish, who are coming off a disappointing 52-31 victory over Navy, might clarify this befuddling postseason bowl picture quite a bit. Until yesterday, it was presumed and reported that a Notre Dame victory would set up a rematch of last year's Federal Express Orange Bowl game against likely Big Eight champion Colorado (8-1-1). But will it?

"They'd be offered an invitation, but what they will do is not certain," an Orange Bowl source said yesterday. "A week ago, it looked as if they were coming. But there's a lot of talk and a lot of feeling going around here today that they're not coming back."

"It's very difficult to make any decisions before Saturday," said Notre Dame associate athletic director Roger Valdiserri. "I'm sure that something will be locked up by Saturday night. It would be foolish to make any predictions before that. It's a real scramble this year."

In this season of the unexpected -- Stanford 36, Notre Dame 31 -- that type of confusion is only to be expected. But this much is assured: A defeat for the Irish could set off a wild set of possibilities between now and Nov. 17, the day bowl invitations can be officially extended.

Most notably, it could open the door for fifth-ranked, twice-beaten Miami (6-2) to get back into this ever-expanding group shot of national championship contenders, and it might allow a number of bowls to stake a legitimate (or imagined) claim at the No. 1 postseason game.

"It could make things very interesting," said French.

Aside from the Orange Bowl, among those still in the running are:

* The Rose Bowl. Often an aesthetically pleasing but totally meaningless affair, it would benefit more than any postseason game by a Notre Dame defeat this week. If that should occur, and as long as both second-ranked Washington (8-1) and No. 6 Iowa (7-1) continue to win, the Rose Bowl would be the host to its first national championship game since Ohio State defeated Southern Cal in 1969.

"You always dream of having a national championship game," said French, "but there are still a lot of games left before that dream can be realized."

* The USF&G; Sugar Bowl. After seeing its chances of getting a no- doubt-No. 1 game between Notre Dame and Auburn bite the dust with the Tigers' 48-7 thumping by Florida last week, the Sugar Bowl could climb back into the race if the Irish lose to Tennessee or decide to go somewhere other than the Orange Bowl.

LTC Asked if he thinks there is a chance of getting Notre Dame regardless of what happens this weeked, Sugar Bowl executive director Mickey Holmes said: "We do, but we have felt that for some time. We're just going to have to sit back and be patient."

But if the Volunteers are the Southeastern Conference champions, would Notre Dame play them twice in 52 days? "I don't think either of them will want to play each other twice in a season," said Holmes. "We obviously would have to be ready to move in another direction. Maybe at Miami, Virginia or a Big Ten team."

* The Florida Citrus Bowl. Virginia's dethroning as the No. 1 team in the country, the result of a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech in Charlottesville, Va., did not necessarily end Orlando's chances of being the host to the national championship game. The unbeaten, once-tied Yellow Jackets, now No. 7, could still wind up playing Notre Dame. The Irish have played in a bowl game as the No. 1 team on one occasion, against third-ranked West Virginia in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl. In that instance, the Mountaineers were the only other unbeaten team in the country.

"Look what Notre Dame did two years ago," said one Citrus Bowl scout, referring to the then-top-ranked Irish's trip to play third-ranked West Virginia. By the way, Georgia Tech (7-0-1) could finish the regular season the only team without a loss eligible for a bowl. Third-ranked Houston (8-0) is on probation.

So, guess who the people down near Disney World are hoping to attract? Mickey and Minnie are already there, along with some nasty mosquitoes. Give us an N. Give us an O. Give us a T-R-E-D-A-M-E. "They're a big attraction," Bob Moore, a member of the Florida Citrus Bowl Executive Committee, said before the Virginia-Georgia Tech game.

Moore wasn't talking only about filling the stands, but selling the dead air space during timeouts as well. Ratings, not necessarily rankings, pay bills. Washington-Iowa would certainly play from the wheat belt to the Northwest, but would it help defray the cost of a $6 million-plus payout per team?

"From our standpoint, we selfishly want a good game from two good teams," said French. "But ratings are important to us."

Considering the way the season has gone and considering that three of the top four teams in the country lost in a span of five hours last Saturday, a lot can happen. This week's Houston-Texas game, regardless of the Cougars' status, will go along(horn) way to determine both the Southwest Conference winner and national champion.

If Houston is even being considered for a national championship, then why isn't Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets have already beaten Virginia and Clemson, and could be in the top five by the end of the regular season if things fall their way.

"It hasn't dawned on people yet that we're a good football team," Georgia Tech athletic director Homer Rice said yesterday. "Maybe it will sink in with some people by next weekend. I think the Citrus Bowl still has a chance for it [a national championship game]. As Yogi Berra said, 'It's not over until it's over.' "

And in this topsy-turvy 1990 college football season, the bowl picture could be developing anew by Saturday night. A lot depends on what happens in Knoxville to a certain team from South Bend.

Key games

This year's national championship will depend on the outcome of these games:

Saturday

* No. 1 Notre Dame (7-1) at No. 9 Tennessee (5-1-2), 2 p.m., chs. 11, 9: This game has loomed large all season, but given the Irish's tenuous position at the top, it's easily the most important game in determining the bowl picture.

* No. 3 Houston (8-0) at No. 14 Texas (6-1), 7:30 p.m., ESPN: The Cougars are on probation, so they have to win their remaining regular-season games even to stay in contention for a national championship.

* UCLA (4-5) at No. 2 Washington (8-1), 3:30 p.m. chs., 13, 7: The Huskies could be in the driver's seat if Notre Dame loses.

* Ohio State (5-2-1) at No. 6 Iowa (7-1): The Hawkeyes, coming off a blowout of Illinois, need to keep winning to stay in the picture. Long shots at best for a national championship.

Nov. 17

* Penn State at Notre Dame

* Washington at Washington St.

Nov. 24

* Notre Dame at Southern Cal

* Iowa at Minnesota

Dec. 2

* Houston-Arizona State in Tokyo

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