Nebraska, Fla. State to battle, not bicker, for No. 1

December 06, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

New Year's Day bowl invitations went out yesterday, and the monthlong controversy for this season's national championship went on thanks to Lou Holtz.

For the first time since his Notre Dame team lost its only game this year, Holtz went public with his claim that the Fighting Irish should merit consideration for No. 1.

"I'm not concerned about that," Holtz said during a Bowl Coalition teleconference to announce pairings. "I'm not going to campaign or politic for it. I'm just going to give the facts."

And then he began to do both.

"I have no problem with anybody explaining to me why West Virginia, Florida State and Nebraska have a chance at the national championship, but nobody has explained to me why we shouldn't," Holtz said. "I can't understand why Penn isn't playing for the national championship. They're 10-0."

Notre Dame (10-1), which will play Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M (10-1) in the Cotton Bowl, is the only team to beat Florida State this season. The second-ranked Seminoles (11-1) will meet top-ranked Nebraska (11-0) in the Orange Bowl in what amounts to a national championship game.

Depending on what happens in Miami, the other game with national championship implications is the Sugar Bowl. That is where third-ranked West Virginia (11-0), which passed on an invitation to Dallas for a higher payday in New Orleans, will meet Southeastern Conference champion Florida (10-1).

So why the controversy? It dates to 1989, when Miami lost to Florida State early in the regular season and beat Notre Dame late in the season. After both the Hurricanes and Fighting Irish won their respective bowl games to finish with one loss, Miami was voted No. 1.

"It's frustrating, but it was frustrating in 1989, and we had to live with that a whole year," said Holtz, whose team lost the inside track for this year's national championship when it was upset at home by Boston College, 41-39, the week after it beat Florida State, 31-24.

Holtz's case certainly received the support of Texas A&M coach R. C. Slocum, whose Aggies lost to Notre Dame in last season's Cotton Bowl, 28-3. Slocum said that if the Irish repeat their performance of a year ago, there is no reason not to vote Notre Dame as No. 1. "I sympathize with Lou," Slocum said. "We've got a team here that beat the team everyone said was the best in the country. Florida State had every opportunity, and they didn't do it."

And West Virginia coach Don Nehlen continued his campaign for No. 1 by saying: "We all know that Florida State is a great football team. But they stubbed their toe. Nebraska didn't stub their toe, and we didn't stub our toes."

Stubbed toes -- not to mention bruised egos -- aside, Florida State is in position to become the first team since Southern Cal in 1967 to lose a game in November and win the national championship.

It marks the first time the Seminoles have played in the pivotal New Year's Day bowl game and the first time for the Cornhuskers since 1984. That was the year Nebraska lost to Miami, 31-30, after Tom Osborne chose to go for the win and lost when a two-point conversion failed.

"We've been bridesmaids the past six years," said Bowden, whose Seminoles beat Nebraska in last season's Orange Bowl, 27-13. "It's been a long time. We beat Miami one year, and they won the national championship. We've been through all that."

Bowden said that he wasn't comfortable until yesterday's final regular-season polls were released. After going to church, Bowden went to a restaurant in Tallahassee and was told that the Seminoles remained second in the Bowl Coalition poll.

"It was a big relief," he said. "Until then, I did not feel we were in. I kept getting the feeling that there was a group [of coaches] who wanted to see that we weren't up there. I'm glad it didn't work, if that's what happened."

The controversy, which began when Notre Dame beat then-top-ranked Florida State on Nov. 13, has generated more talk about a possible playoff system.

"It does seem like we're doing a lot more talking than playing," said Osborne, who will be looking to break a string of six New Year's Day losses. "That's a little disconcerting."

The talk will go on until Jan. 1. And, considering the possibilities, perhaps long after as well.

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