After No. 1, bowls leave 'em kicking

December 07, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- The first-year bowl coalition achieved its goal of matching college football's two highest-ranked teams for the final No. 1 spot, but, at the same time, created controversy by eliminating the rest of the field from national championship contention.

Coalition chairman Steve Hatchell announced yesterday that No. Miami (11-0) will meet No. 2 Alabama (12-0) in the USF&G Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the first time No. 1 will face No. 2 on New Year's Day since 1988.

But matching No. 3 Florida State (10-1) against No. 11 Nebraska (9-2) in the Federal Express Orange Bowl and No. 4 Texas A&M (12-0) against No. 5 Notre Dame (9-1-1) in the Mobil Cotton Bowl upset several coaches, athletic directors, conference com missioners and even coalition committee members themselves.

Because the Sugar Bowl was obligated to take Southeastern Conference champion Alabama and the Cotton Bowl to take Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M, the likely Cotton match appeared to be the Aggies and Florida State, thus giving both teams an outside chance at a national title if Miami and Alabama tied.

But Cotton Bowl president Bob Smith chose Notre Dame -- and its large following -- over the Seminoles. The choice touched off ,, some criticism of the coalition, but most of it was directed at Cotton Bowl officials who were accused of being greedy.

"I walk away without any heartburn," said Miami athletic director Dave Maggard. "But the biggest loser in all of this is Texas A&M. To go unbeaten and not really be considered for the national championship? Well, that's hard to swallow.

"You know, television dictates a lot of what happens in college athletics," Maggard said. "I thought this coalition was about matching No. 1 against No. 2 and No. 3 against No. 4. In the future, we have to determine if economics and possible repeats of a bowl played last year are going to weigh heavily."

Smith defended his group's decision. He said he waited for the outcomes of Alabama vs. Florida (Alabama won, 28-21) and Nebraska against Kansas State (Nebraska won, 38-24) Saturday night before making his decision.

"We didn't want a repeat bowl game, and we had Florida State and Texas A&M last year," Smith said. "This game does not play in the national championship picture, and it keeps within the coalition agreement of pitting No. 1 against No. 2. We played within the spirit of the rules, which obligates us to provide classic matchups. But we don't have to match No. 3 against No. 4.

"And we're not going to make matches on if someone ties. Those chances are remote," Smith said.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and Texas A&M coach R. C. Slocum expressed disappointment. Bowden, whose only loss was to Miami, said he heard rumblings about Cotton Bowl officials' possibly selecting Notre Dame last week.

He said he called Slocum in hopes that Texas A&M could change Cotton officials' minds. Bowden also said he rooted for Florida on Saturday night. A Gators win probably would have made the Seminoles No. 2 and pitted them against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

"We've lost twice in two days without playing a game," Bowden said. "Sure, I'm always disappointed when you're not No. 1. I thought this coalition was supposed to work from top to bottom in the pairings. But they better get this right. No one wants to come here knowing that, if you're not No. 1 or No. 2, you don't have a shot at winning a title."

Slocum said: "We're disappointed because we worked to play the highest-ranked team. We really haven't had a chance for people to see us, but against Notre Dame, we'll get that kind of exposure. Hopefully, if we win, we can swing a few votes and climb into the national championship."

Conference commissioners and athletic directors expressed surprise at the selection process. The coalition was broken into two tiers, with bowl executive directors from the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar in one tier, and executive directors from the Blockbuster, Outback Steakhouse Gator and John Hancock bowls in the other.

The commissioners and athletic directors worked in the structure of the committee, but were not involved in the selections.

Sugar Bowl president Vernon Brinson said his group met yesterday, basing their selections on the Associated Press poll that was released earlier in the day.

"I thought we were going to sit down and talk with the bowl officials about the invitations," said Cecil Ingram, Alabama's athletic director. "I spent all year trying to figure this thing out, and then I thought I would figure it out once I got here. Now, I still haven't figured out what is going on. Quite frankly, I'm disappointed with the way things worked out. I thought the top four teams would play each other."

"It's been a long year. We've learned a lot, grown together and worked together," said coalition chairman Hatchell, who is also the Orange Bowl's executive director. "We're not perfect, but we'll get better in a lot of ways. I'm happy with the way things transpired."

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