The bowl system, the Heisman Trophy and television - college football's triple-tier of aristocracy - may have gone too far this time. In their common quests of money, money, and did we mention money, they have finally met a season crazy enough to match their personal craze, which is a mixture of greed (roughly 99 percent) and the uncontrollable urge to dress in coordinated plaid or cranberry-colored blazers and present gold-plated watches to the coaches and players who make their holidays possible.
Is this terrific or what? Finally, a season to foil and expose the system. Most seasons, the teams that are supposed to win keep right on winning through November and into December as the regular season winds to a close. And the players who are supposed to win the Heisman Trophy keep doing the things that made them a viable candidate right into the first weekend of December. Thus, the bowls are able to get away with signing their secret pacts the first week of November, and the Heisman is able to call for ballots with almost a quarter of the season still to play.But not this year. This is the year:
- That the top contender for the Heisman Trophy got hurt before halftime during the 10th game of the year, failed to touch the ball in the second half against Penn State, and saw his then-No. 1 ranked team lose. Now, if Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail wins the Heisman Trophy, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City will be exposed as a P.R. firm whose biggest account is the University of Notre Dame.
- That the bowls have wound up with unranked Virginia playing on New Year's Day in the Sugar Bowl against Tennesee, a game that might, but might not, outdraw that day's re-runs of Sky King.
Also, there will be such blind dates as 25th-ranked Ohio State vs. Air Force's worst team in a decade in the Liberty Bowl; as Washington vs. Iowa in a Rose Bowl game between teams that lost three of their last five games of the regular season; and as California vs. Wyoming in the Copper Bowl, a.k.a the Black Hole Bowl, a game between a Wyoming team that lost its last three regular season games and a Cal team that lost two and tied one in its last four.
All of which are dream matchups compared to the one at the Fiesta Bowl - the bowl, incidentally, that started all these rampant early-signings three years ago - and is now left with a barely ranked Louisville team vs. either Alabama or Auburn, whichever draws the short straw in the SEC. Thus, the Fiesta Bowl's choices boil down to inviting a school from Alabama to play in one of only three states in the union that doesn't recognize Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.
And, while we're on the subject, how about the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., where 24th-ranked Southern Miss will meet unranked N.C. State? Meanwhile, sitting home watching on TV will be invited-to-nowhere Virginia Tech, the team that defeated both teams in the final three weeks of the season. (Virginia Tech will also watch the Sugar Bowl with curious disdain, since it also dispatched Virginia in a late-season game as the plaid-jackets in New Orleans watched in horror . . . the Hokies could have wrecked the bowl season almost single-handedly if they'd managed to get past No. 2 Georgia Tech instead of settling for a 6-3 loss - after Georgia Tech had already accepted its Citrus Bowl invitation).
With 19 sanctioned bowl games involving 38 teams, the bowl selection derby has obviously become more competitive and muddled than ever, creating the early deals that have resulted in the grand mess now listed in your TV Guide.
If the bowls had waited until after this weekend's games, they could have come up with, for example, a Colorado-Georgia Tech matchup in the Orange Bowl between the nation's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams, Tennessee-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, and Virginia vs. Virginia Tech in a revenge-minded Fiesta Bowl.
And If the Heisman Trophy had waited until the end of the college season - which isn't now, but a month from now, after the stars finally start playing each other - it could have avoided this weekend's potential disaster of awarding it to a part-time player from Notre Dame who suffered an injury and has faded out of sight in the national statistics.
But they didn't wait, and now they're left barely standing, bleeding from the foot. If this doesn't push a national championship tournament system in and the bowls out, then you've got to think nothing will. After these bowls are played, there will be more confusion, not less. Unless Virginia beats Tennessee and Southern Miss and N.C. State tie. In which case, the players from Virginia Tech will emerge as the national champion - from the couches in front of their television sets.