Although no one is expected to be wearing a raccoon coat, the 1988 college football season officially gets under way this Saturday when Grambling plays Howard in Yankee Stadium and Nebraska plays Texas A&M across the Hudson River in Giants Stadium. How it came to this - four teams from the hinterlands kicking off the season in the nation's No. 1 market - only TV knows for sure. But nonetheless, the season is upon us, and no true fan of the college game should launch into the campaign without brushing up on his base of trivial knowledge.
More than any other sport, football lends itself to the knowledgeable aside, to the "Say, did you know?" said at the opportune moment during a timeout; to the well-timed "By the way . . . " Just in time, the NCAA has delivered its updated college football record book and its 1988 Media Kit, chock full of inside information on college football.As a kind of get-started primer for the '88 season, here are several Interesting Facts, with special emphasis on the local schools. Some of this you might find useful during suitable lulls in the TV action this fall.
Interesting Fact No. 1: For the first time, the NCAA has included in its record book a listing of "cliffhanger games." To qualify as a "cliffhanger," a game must be decided on the final play. Since 1971 there have been 71 cliffhangers, or roughly five a season - which means that your odds of actually seeing a cliffhanger on any given Saturday are extremely rare, or about one in five hundred . . . Of the 71 cliffhangers, 46 have been decided by field goals, one by a kickoff return, and 16 by last-gasp passes. NONE have been decided by a run from scrimmage . . . Local aside: the University of Utah has been involved in four of the 71 cliffhangers, an extremely high rating. They include a 43-41 loss to UNLV in 1979, a 39-37 win over UNLV in 1985, a 29-27 win over Hawaii in 1985 and last year's 31-28 win over Wisconsin when Scott Lieber kicked a field goal as the clock ran out in Madison. Neither BYU nor Utah State are on the cliffhanger list.
Interesting Fact No. 2: Conventional style (or straight-on) kickers are becoming as rare as clean programs in the Southwest Conference. As the '88 record book notes, a decade ago, in 1977, the number of conventional and soccer-style kickers was practically equal. Soccer-style kickers made 665 field goals in 1,317 attempts that year, for a .505 average, while conventional kickers made 513 of 1,054, .487. Then the decline began in earnest. By last season, soccer-stylists were making 1,275 of 1,892 field goals, for a .674 success ratio, while in all of major college football there were only 50 field goals attempted in the conventional style. Thirty-five were hit, for a .700 percentage.
I.F. No. 3: When a team goes for a one-point PAT, it is successful 94.9 percent of the time; when a team goes for a two-point PAT, it is successful 43.5 percent of the time. The moral: the kick wins in the end.
I.F. No. 4: The Utah-Utah State series, which dates back to 1892 and covers 85 games, is the 15th longest series in college football. The longest series is Minnesota-Wisconsin, which covers 97 games since 1890. The longest and most competitive series is Auburn-Georga. They've played 91 games and the record stands at 42-42-7.
I.F. No. 5: Byron "Whizzer" White, of Supreme Court justice fame, is still the all-time best all-purpose runner. Playing for Colorado in 1937, Whizzer averaged 246.3 yards per game in all-purpose running. No one before or since has come close.
I.F. No. 6: The most points ever scored in a football game were by the Wyoming Run-It-Up Cowboys in 1949, when they beat Northern Colorado 103-0. Wyoming scored 15 touchdowns. The rivalry died soon thereafter and has never been revived.
I.F. No. 7: On the all-time collegiate winning charts, Utah, with a .570 average, is 48th. Utah State, at .539, is 64th, and BYU, at .528, is 69th . . . At the top, Notre Dame, despite all the dying echoes of late, is still the winningest program of all time, at .758. Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Tennessee round out the top 10. Georgia and Auburn might have made it, if they didn't keep beating up on each other.
I.F. No. 8: For some reason, teams from Utah have, over the years, provided an inordinate number of kickoff-return and punt-return heroes. Between them, BYU, Utah State and Utah have had eight such NCAA champions in the past 30 years. They are Overton Curtis and Altie Taylor of Utah State; Chris Farasopoulos, Bruce Samples and Golden Richards of BYU; and Steve Odom, Carl Monroe and Erroll Tucker of Utah.
I.F. No. 9: The state of Utah hasn't lacked for offensive football the past five years. NCAA statistics show that from 1983-87, BYU's total offense average of 470.02 yards-per-game is No. 1 in the nation . . . and Utah's 426.62 is No. 5.
I.F. No. 10: Since 1936, there have been 23 games between the No. 1-ranked team in the Associated Press poll and the No. 2-ranked team. So what's the way to bet? Well, overall, the No. 1s have won 14 while losing seven and tying two. But over the past two years there have been four 1-2 showdowns, and No. 2 has won each time.
There, that should be enough for starters. In later weeks we could get into heavier topics, like how the football scores help indicate who will win the presidential race. But there's plenty of time for that. The whole thing doesn't get over until New Year's Day, or until five cliffhangers have been played.