Barring the biggest upset of the season at Florida State tomorrow, Maryland is going to finish the regular season with a 6-5 record. If Navy can get by Tulane tomorrow and Army on Dec. 2, the Mids would have the same record.
So why is Maryland talking about a bowl game, while Navy doesn't have any goals beyond its first winning record since 1982?
The answer is the bowl requirement of six victories over Division I-A opponents. Two of Navy's four wins came against Villanova and Delaware, members of Division I-AA and the Yankee Conference. The requirement is also a sticking point for Iowa, Miami and Georgia Tech, which would have more concrete bowl plans if one of their nonconference wins hadn't come against a I-AA team.
Major-college teams play a Georgia Southern or Florida A&M; or Colgate because they need a win. The I-AAs, meanwhile, comply and get a hefty cash guarantee for their trouble.
The bowl requirement has affected Maryland's scheduling policies. The Terps canceled a 1996 game against the Virginia Military Institute, a I-AA team, and instead they will face Alabama-Birmingham at Byrd Stadium next year, when UAB will be the nation's newest I-A team.
"To me, it just made good sense," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "Those of us in the rebuilding phase can't afford to play I-AAs, as long as the six-win requirement is in effect."
The requirement could change before next season. A proposal at next January's NCAA convention in Dallas would allow a Division I-A to count one victory against a I-AA toward the six wins necessary to qualify for a bowl game. The only catch is that the I-AA have a serious commitment, on the order of 60 scholarships.
"I think it will be a tough thing to pass, but it's good for everyone," said Jack Lengyel, the Navy athletic director. "We shouldn't be so concerned about drawing strict lines that don't provide opportunities for upward mobility and geographic rivalries that bring people some pretty good paydays."
Pall over Tallahassee
It's been hard for administrators and coaches to focus entirely on tomorrow's game in Tallahassee, because both Florida State and Maryland are dealing with the death of some remarkable player advocates.
Joe Blair, the assistant sports information director who handled Maryland football and lacrosse, died of stroke-related illness on Wednesday. That same day, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden missed an Atlantic Coast Conference teleconference because he was attending the funeral of Doc Fauls, the Seminoles' longtime trainer.
Any character named "Rooster" in a film starring Burt Reynolds, who lettered for Florida State in 1954, was a tribute to Fauls.
The sixth-ranked Seminoles were dealt a huge distraction last Saturday, when a truck returning from their victory at North Carolina caught fire and nearly $300,000 worth of equipment was damaged. Florida State has been able to replace jerseys, pants, shoes, video equipment and foul-weather gear that were damaged, but the players' biggest complaint is having to break in new helmets in November.
Fourth and short
Should Nebraska win its last two games, against Oklahoma and the Florida-Florida State winner in the Fiesta Bowl, the Cornhuskers would become the first team to win consecutive national titles with perfect records since Oklahoma in 1955 and '56. Penn State went 11-0 in both 1968 and '69, but got snubbed both years.
If Oregon beats Oregon State tomorrow, the Ducks could end up the Cotton Bowl, and it would be the first time they have played in New Year's Day bowls in consecutive years.
One of the more odd matchups of the season sent Wagner, of Staten Island, N.Y., 3,000 miles west to San Diego last week. Both are members of Division I-AA, running nonscholarship programs, but San Diego athletic director Tom Iannacone worked for several Eastern schools.
Wagner, which spent approximately $30,000 on the road trip, plays Duquesne in the ECAC Intercollegiate Football Conference Bowl tomorrow. Towson State is departing that group and entering the Patriot League.
Game to watch
No. 17 Alabama at No. 21 Auburn
Site: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
Time: 5:30 p.m.
The real battle: Despite the enmity in this Southeastern Conference West Division rivalry, it's not the biggest fight the Crimson Tide will face this week. Alabama (8-2) went before the NCAA appeals committee yesterday, trying to reverse the bowl ban it received for a lack of institutional control.
Whither the Tigers? Auburn (7-3), which finally qualified for a bowl when it held on to beat Georgia, 37-31, last week, could land as high as the Florida Citrus Bowl, or it could drop all the way down to the Carquest or Independence if Alabama beats both the NCAA and the Tigers. The difference in payouts is $2.25 million.
It's more than that: "It is a great rivalry," Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix said, "but you've got to realize that it is just a game. Win or lose, life is going to go on."