Oregon, unbeatens stay tuned

November 12, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Will it be another good day for Ducks?

Can the Irish rediscover their luck?

Can the Crimson Tide give the national championship debate another perfect team?

For the second straight week, the college football schedule is bereft of blockbuster matchups, but there is still plenty of ground to be won and lost in the bowl picture and the fight over who's No. 1.

Top-ranked Nebraska (10-0) faces winless Iowa State. The challenge is bigger for No. 2 Penn State (8-0), which plays at Illinois (6-3), a team that has lost only to Michigan in its past five games.

There's one other unbeaten that's not on probation, and No. 6 Alabama (9-0) hopes to begin a campaign for votes and respect in Starkville, Miss., today.

Mississippi State (7-2) is No. 20 and gaining speed under fourth-year coach Jackie Sherrill, and it's the stiffest test yet for Alabama, which remembers its surprise run to the national title two years ago.

Here's the daydream for the Crimson Tide and quarterback Jay Barker, who's 32-1-1 as a starter: win today, upset No. 3 Auburn in Birmingham next week, knock off No. 4 Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game Dec. 3 in Atlanta and finish with a victory in the Sugar Bowl over defending national champion Florida State.

If Alabama can negotiate that minefield, it will get a groundswell of support in the polls. If it can't, Nebraska appears in control, with the not-so-small proviso that it will probably finish against Miami in the Orange Bowl, where the Cornhuskers have lost five straight.

Penn State wouldn't have as much to gain from a Rose Bowl date with No. 15 Oregon, which hasn't been to Pasadena since 1958, but coach Joe Paterno isn't complaining.

"I wouldn't say getting pigeonholed into the Rose Bowl is the worst thing that could happen to you," he said. "When we moved into the Big Ten Conference, we were aware that there were a lot of positives, and there might be a negative included, which is true of every conference in the country."

The Ducks (7-3) are in a three-way tie with Arizona and Southern California atop the Pac-10, but they can claim the conference title with wins at Stanford today and at home next week against Oregon State.

Year-end losses to those two teams left Oregon with a 5-6 record in 1993, and its start this year was just as rocky, as the only win in its first three games came over Division I-AA Portland State. Everything seems to be going the Ducks' way now, though, and Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom, who has a broken bone in his throwing hand, will not play.

From the how-the-mighty-have-fallen department, the rematch between Florida State and Notre Dame rematch in Orlando, Fla., has none of the significance of last year's meeting, when those teams were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

Notre Dame (5-3) is in the midst of its worst season under Lou Holtz since a 5-6 finish in 1986, his first in South Bend. Nevertheless, it parlayed its mystique into a deal with the Bowl Coalition that will still get the Fighting Irish a berth in one of the Tier One bowls -- the Orange, Sugar, Cotton or Fiesta -- if they can win two of their last three.

No. 8 Florida State (7-1) has outscored three Atlantic Coast Conference teams 117-30 since its Oct. 8 loss to Miami. The Seminoles haven't been able to make up any ground in the polls, but they can in two weeks, when they finish the regular season against Florida.

The Sugar Bowl blazers could turn down a Florida-Florida State rematch, and the best-case scenario for the Seminoles is a Jan. 2 date in New Orleans opposite an unbeaten Alabama. More likely is a visit to the Cotton Bowl and a meeting with the champion of the soon-to-disband Southwest Conference.

Baylor (6-3) and Rice (4-4), two of the teams in the running in the muddled SWC, meet today in Houston.

For the fourth time in five years, the ACC could have five bowl teams, as Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia and North Carolina are all under consideration. No. 18 Duke (8-1) plays at N.C. State (6-2), which, like Virginia (6-2), has yet to meet the bowl requirement of six wins over Division I-A opponents.

Maryland is once again on the outside looking in, but the Terrapins can have an impact on the bowl selection process. They're at Virginia today, and will finish at No. 14 Syracuse.

In the top game in the East today, the Orangemen (6-2) play at No. 25 Boston College (5-2-1), which is unbeaten since season-opening losses to Michigan and Virginia Tech.

On the probation front, No. 3 Auburn (9-0) can run its record to 21-0 under Terry Bowden against Georgia, and No. 9 Texas A&M (8-0-1) plays Louisville. Neither team can go to a bowl.

Some players from No. 22 Washington have abandoned their fight for a postseason spot. After their third loss, several Huskies withdrew their motion for an injunction that would have temporarily ended the probation that bars Washington from a bowl.

POSSIBLE MATCHUPS

ORANGE

No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Miami

ROSE

No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 15 Oregon

SUGAR

No. 4 Florida vs. Notre Dame

COTTON

No. 8 Florida State vs. Texas Tech

FIESTA

No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 16 Va. Tech

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