Coverage as easy as ABC, the network in the know


Buckle up that chin strap, hoss, for some mouth-smashin', leg-churnin', touchdown-scorin', pile-drivin', poll-determinin' football. Yessir, that's what we got right here.

Eight bowlfuls of college football is more than enough for anyone, certainly for me. So I could have used Keith Jackson for a little pep talk 'round about halftime of the Rose Bowl, when I was fadin' faster 'n a big ole boy who's been runnin' wind sprints in the heat of a Texas August.

Still, there was this little matter of who's No. 1, which should have been enough to hold my attention. And though who's the No. 1 college football team seems headed for a split decision, the matter of the No. 1 college football network was a knockout.

ABC is the sport's home among the major networks -- though ESPN, its cable address, was represented yesterday with the Peach Bowl. NBC carries only six Notre Dame games in the regular season. CBS is gone from the scene, barely hanging on, in fact, with yesterday's Mobil Cotton Bowl.

ABC knows college football, knows how to present it. Let's take a few examples from yesterday caught by ABC.

In the Florida Citrus Bowl, the network's cameras had two excellent shots, each one perhaps capturing the Clemson aggressiveness that would work against the Tigers.

Clemson offensive lineman Jeb Fleschman was shown blocking and blocking and blocking his California opponent, almost literally trying to drive him into the ground. ABC also zeroed in on a pile and found Tigers defender Brentson Buckner's arm pumping in a punch that got him ejected from the game.

Another fine shot -- camera shot, that is, not another punch -- showed Washington's Steve Emtman, the Outland Trophy winner, pushing two Michigan linemen into quarterback Elvis Grbac during the Rose Bowl.

Give ABC's Al Michaels some points for honesty, too. At the opening of the USF&G; Sugar Bowl, Michaels wasn't going to fool the audience into thinking it was watching part of the national championship puzzle. With No. 2 Washington's Rose Bowl win, he said, No. 3 Florida wasn't going to be No. 1, regardless of what happened to top-ranked Miami in the Federal Express Orange Bowl.

How many announcers would have been less forthcoming? Far too many.

Perhaps because NBC does little college football, or maybe because of analyst Bill Walsh's tendency to heap so much praise on those he deems praiseworthy, Miami got a bigger build-up than the Hurricanes needed.

According to NBC, Miami might as well enter the NFL right now. The Hurricanes were such Monsters of the Causeway that I was nearly scared to let their visages onto my screen. And they're so fast that the Orange Bowl sounded as if it were going to play like an episode of "The Flash."

Walsh and partner Dick Enberg -- who usually doesn't allow himself to get caught up in such hyperbole -- made me wonder why Miami didn't score every time it had the ball. After all, how could a mere Nebraska team stop this juggernaut?

As it turned out, the Cornhuskers at least slowed the Hurricanes for a while -- though maybe the rain

helped in the second half -- nearly giving the Orange Bowl a hint of being a contest.

Thanks to an apparent power failure at the stadium, the Orange Bowl did provide a bit of television history in the second half. With the audio out in Miami, it fell to NBC's Gayle Gardner, anchoring the network's New Year's bowl coverage at its New York studios, to provide some play-by-play until Enberg and Walsh came back on the air. Thus, Gardner became the first woman to call network play-by-play on a major college bowl game. You take your drama where you can find it.

It was drama that the network sought to build with its wise decision to leave the Fiesta Bowl blowout early, allowing for a brief pre-game look at the matchups. With Penn State rolling over Tennessee, not even the most zealous Nittany Lions loyalists really needed to revel in the last minutes of a 42-17 victory.

ABC had not afforded the Rose Bowl such an introduction, staying with the interminable final moments of California's 37-13 romp over Clemson in the Citrus Bowl. That game ended, on came the commercials, a short splash of graphics and it was kickoff for Washington and Michigan. Whoa, Nellie.

The best game of the day might have been the first, East Carolina's 37-34, comeback victory over North Carolina State. If nothing else, that game struck a blow for those of us who would do away with sideline reporters. ESPN's Adrian Carsten informed us that, with the Wolfpack leading, 34-17, it appeared midnight had struck for Cinderella East Carolina. Serves him right for using a cliche.

But with 12-plus hours of football to watch, there was much to learn. And learn I did:

* That Syracuse receiver Shelby Hill is the son of former Bills receiver J.D. Hill and that Clemson receiver Larry Ryans' uncle is ex-Vikings receiver John Gilliam.

* That, according to a promotional film, "N.C. State [is] a university for the world of tomorrow."

* That, if you follow a maze of games provided by ESPN, Bowling Green is the national champion.

* That, according to Brent Musburger, one of the first things I needed to know about the Citrus Bowl was that Clemson had elected to wear purple jerseys for the first time in a bowl game.

* That all networks should follow ABC's lead and list weights on linemen.

* That Terry Bradshaw should brush up on his rules before working as an analyst again.

* That, better yet, Bradshaw should stay on the set of "The NFL Today," where he is excellent.

* That, no matter how hard you try, you can't keep up with four games occurring at once.

* That I am very glad that the NFL doesn't schedule eight playoff

games for one day.

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