Rose Bowl finally counts will it rain on its parade? Washington's hopes for title at stake

January 01, 1992|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,Sun Staff Correspondent

PASADENA, Calif. -- This time, for a change, the Rose Bowl is not simply the game that follows the parade. This year, it actually counts.

Any time you've got the Heisman winner and the Outland winner on the field at the same time, you've got a treat that should beat some flower-covered float. Michigan's Desmond Howard ran away with the Heisman, and Washington's Steve Emtman was everyone's best lineman. And then you have two very hot, very exciting, very talented teams playing in what may be the most important Rose Bowl since Southern Cal won a piece of the national championship in 1978.

So, why is it that nobody here is talking football?

It's because of the weather. For days now, they've been predicting -- hold on to your all-weather hats -- rain. Yes, rain.

If you don't understand what that means, you don't understand sunny Southern California, where, even in the so-called rainy season, it never rains on the Rose Bowl. The last time it rained here on New Year's was 1955, the first year that Woody Hayes brought his Ohio State team to the Rose Bowl. The band went on before the game, ruining the field and making Woody very unhappy. As it turned out, he was unhappy the rest of his days.

But now, it seems -- and anyone could have predicted this -- the storm is going to hold off a day, and we should get sunny weather at 5 p.m. (EST) for No. 2 Washington and No. 4 Michigan.

If unbeaten Washington, which is also tied for No. 1 in the coaches' poll, beats Michigan, and top-ranked Miami loses to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, then Washington would win the title. If Washington and Miami both win, it's anyone's guess, and maybe a split vote as there was last season. If they both lose, then there is chaos, unless you happen to be from Michigan.

Michigan coach Gary Moeller sees it this way: "I'll tell you this, if we beat Washington, we're as good as any team in the nation."

The Michigan people couldn't say too much about Washington. Certainly, there is plenty to talk about. Washington is as much a track team as it is a football team. According to Moeller, the Huskies are the fastest team he's ever seen on tape, and presumably he didn't have his finger on the fast-forward button.

That speed could be a problem for Michigan, which, in its only loss, gave up 51 points to very quick Florida State.

"I think we psyched ourselves out," said Michigan's star lineman, Greg Skrepenak, who is 6-foot-8 and 325 pounds. "We thought Florida State was the fastest team we'd ever seen, and we let it go to our heads. We're not going to do that again."

The question is, which is quicker, the Huskies' offense or the defense. Both sides do pretty well, given that the average score of a Washington game has been 42-9. The defense gives up 1.9 yards per run. The offense, meantime, piles it on. Beno Bryant and Jay Barry carry the lightning out of the backfield, but the real speed comes from wide receiver Mario Bailey.

It's time you met Bailey. He's Desmond Howard without the rep. Look at the numbers: He caught 62 passes to Howard's 61, and for 1,037 yards to Howard's 950. "I want to do better than Desmond," he says. "If I say I didn't, I'd be lying."

The Washington quarterback is Billy Joe Hobert, who said during the season that he'd as soon skip the Rose Bowl and just play Miami. That's the stuff they put on the bulletin boards, but that doesn't worry Hobert. "It's just who I am," he says.

Michigan counters with quarterback Elvis -- yes, Elvis -- Grbac, who gets to throw the ball to Howard. He also gets to hand it off to Ricky Powers, who is just one of three Michigan runners with breakaway ability. Of course, teams don't simply break away against Washington.

"People talk about the trouble we had with Florida State's quickness," Grbac says. "Well, we did score 31 points against them."

And Washington's defense may not get full use out of Emtman, who, although expected to play, has been sick for a week. He spent all day in the hospital Sunday being fed intravenously. Earlier, he set the tone for Washington.

"I don't give a [darn] about Miami," Emtman said. "I'm just concerned about Michigan."

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