One of the problems with the constant bleating of the media in the last month regarding Penn State's habit of going undefeated, only to miss out on being dubbed national champion, is the circumstances are rarely reviewed.
In 1969, it was between Texas and Penn State, both of whom finished at 11-0. But while the Longhorns were beating Notre Dame, 21-17, in the Cotton Bowl, State was squeezing by Missouri, 10-3, in the Orange Bowl. Besides, then President Nixon opted for Texas and he was held in high esteem at the time; so high, in fact, that coach Joe Paterno remained a Republican.
The Lions ran the board again in 1973, going 12-0, but they were only No. 6 in the rankings starting New Year's Day when No. 4 Ohio State won in the Rose Bowl, No. 3 Notre Dame nipped No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Among the top six, only ultimate No. 4 'Bama had a loss (by a point). State finished in the No. 5 hole. The Buckeyes and Oklahoma, 2-3, finished 10-0-1.
If all this is becoming slightly confusing, fear not. The local channels will explain it as part of their current "Great Network Switch" blitz. Speaking of which, do the folks up on York Road and Television Hill think we're blundering idiots, bombarding us with kindergarten-type explanations of ABC moving to Channel 2, CBS moving to Channel 13 and NBC moving to Channel 11.
* The Orange Bowl bash was all it was cracked up to be, Nebraska slipping by Miami, 24-17, Sunday night. But, seriously, would the Hurricanes have been so exhausted and susceptible when the Huskers were making their late push had they not expended so much energy showboating in the early going?
* Alabama's "Mr. Everything," Sherman Williams, should be named Sherwin-Williams, the way he covered the "whole field" in the Tide's 24-17 win over Ohio State. He had 166 yards rushing (27 attempts), 155 yards in pass receptions (eight catches) and returned two kicks 38 yards for 359 total yards.
* Come to think of it, Texas Tech's 55-14 loss to Southern Cal in the Cotton Bowl was a fitting conclusion for the Southwest Conference, which is no more. In the last seven Cottons, all defeats, SWC representatives have been outscored 211-55.
* Hey, I'd be the first one to admit that I couldn't score 700 on the SAT (Style Appreciation Test), but those pants N.C. State was wearing in the Peach Bowl were yucky.
* So OK, WMAR was proud to carry the Rose Bowl game pitting Penn State and Oregon on ABC, but that Channel 2 sticker they kept plastering up on the screen throughout the action was the height of annoyance and distraction.
* Prognosticators and oddsmakers seem to derive a great deal of pleasure in taking shots at the quality of football in the ACC. Still, wins by N.C. State, Virginia and Florida State and solid but losing efforts by North Carolina and Duke suggest we're not talking about the Big Sky Conference here.
* You have to feel good about South Carolina winning its first bowl game (over West Virginia, 24-21) after losing eight straight times going back to 1946. Gamecocks fans would follow their team to the next solar system if and when there's a game there and it gets invited. That's why S.C. got into the Carquest Bowl despite a piddling 6-5 mark.
* Some of the pro football analysts moonlighting collegiate games for the networks got off some pretty good lines yesterday. When a sideline shot at the Cotton Bowl caught former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White of USC, it was pointed out that he led the NFL in rushing one year. Quickly, Todd Christensen, said, "It was during a strike year when he played against bartenders and firemen [replacement teams]."
Not to be outdone, Randy Cross, working the N.D.-Colorado game, said, "Lou Holtz doesn't have to worry about going for a field goal in this situation. He doesn't have a kicker who can reach the lettering in the end zone, much less the crossbar, from this distance." Wish you were equally caustic regarding your former colleagues in the NFL during pro telecasts, fellas.
* After his Cornhuskers had all but sealed the national championship with their win over Miami, coach Tom Osborne talked of the two dozen practices Nebraska had getting ready. Think of the huge advantage already-good teams have, getting all the extra practice in while readying for bowls. Maybe the NCAA should even things up for the other teams, making spring practice a no-no for bowl teams.
* You're a heartless cur if you weren't pulling for Oregon to make a strong showing against Penn State in Pasadena. If the school's not Southern Cal, Washington or UCLA, its chances of making it to the Rose Bowl are mostly microscopic. In the last 35 years, USC (15), Washington (9) and UCLA (7) have given way to only Stanford, twice, and Arizona State and Oregon State, once each. The Ducks were last involved in 1958 and lost to Ohio State, 10-7 . . . and that was their first invite.