We can avoid it no longer. With bowls to the right of us, bowls to the left, "for and aft," these ponderables:
Many speak of the team that will be voted No. 1 by sportswriters and coaches by midweek as being a grab-bag champion, as though the situation is unique.
Recall last year, when Notre Dame knocked off front-running Colorado, giving the mythical title to Miami. Or 1983, when Miami leapfrogged all the way from No. 5 to No. 1 by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, the same thing that happened to Notre Dame in 1977 when it hammered Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Then, millions yelped because the Fightin' Irish went streaking by No. 3 Alabama, which had put in a pretty good New Year's Day, too, smashing Ohio State by 29 points.
The next year, 1978, things were even more mixed up, with Alabama and Southern Cal sharing the top spot. Which is probably what should have happened the year no one could decide between Texas and Penn State, so then President Nixon stepped in and called it in Texas' favor. Is there a chance political considerations came into play regarding his decision?
During the decade of 1965-75, the AP and UPI polls, the big boys, disagreed no fewer than five times.
No. 1 Colorado can end all the speculation and controversy raging since November by beating No. 5 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Of course, the Buffs had that chance last season and blew it. Besides, will a team that benefited so dramatically from a massive mistake by officials to squeak by sub-par Missouri ever be truly accepted as champ? Was Brigham Young in 1984?
Georgia Tech, despite its No. 2 ranking, isn't even favored against No. 19 Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl. Still, it could be a compromise candidate should it win, Colorado lose and No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Miami stink out the Cotton Bowl.
Joining in the "why not us?" screams would be the Irish and
Florida State, which always starts slow but is brutally efficient come December.
* What this all means, of course, is increased pressure for a playoff system, which TV and the athletic directors favor, while the bowl people and college presidents are opposed.
A rough estimate is that there are 926 obstacles to overcome to marshal all the forces and get a playoff off the ground. But, in actuality, there's only one consideration: Will an eight-team elimination tourney generate more revenue than the bowls can?
Since 1902, colleges have scooped up $578 million while playing bowl games, with television in the habit of annually tossing $60 million their way these days. A playoff would match that figure with no sweat, but missing would be all the volunteerism, civic pride and the economic impact that have long been the special passion of the bowl communities.
* Considering all the money involved and the fact players are giving at least an extra month of their time, not to mention sacrificing the joys of Christmas and semester break, there's absolutely no doubt they should be paid for this action above and beyond the call of duty.
While some guys are carrying on for "dear old State," their counterparts on losing teams are trudging off to all-star games and picking up decent money.
* Miami-Tennessee, Penn State-Oklahoma, Iowa-UCLA, Auburn-Texas A&M;, Michigan-Nebraska (circa 1985-86). Same teams year after year, just a switch in the pairings and the name of the bowl writing the check. Maybe the reason for this is the "haves" gain the benefit of an extra spring practice with the constant involvement in postseason play.
* The men running the bowls will meet shortly to discuss rectifying a system that saw the Holiday Bowl seeking an opponent for BYU as early as September and Virginia getting to the top of the polls, landing a big-money day in the Sugar Bowl, then dropping off the edge of the world.
The farcical signup date for teams this year was Nov. 24. No one adhered to it and so the NCAA said simply do what you want. While bowls are seeking the best and most marketable matchups, the schools are looking to underwrite their entire athletic programs and the wheeling and dealing begins. It's all but a mistake when things work out to the satisfaction of those involved.
Chances are the bowls will agree no bids will be tendered until Thanksgiving, but that still doesn't mean the behind-the-scenes stuff still won't flourish.