SAN DIEGO — The mythical national championship was at stake a year ago when Brigham Young played Michigan in Holiday Bowl VII.
On the strength of that one-time flirtation with history, there were visions of the Holiday Bowl moving into more august company, befitting the Roman numerals tacked on to its title.
A big network contract, along with an increase in prestige, may materialize one of these years, but there's nothing mythical or momentous about this year's pairing of Arizona State and Arkansas in Holiday Bowl VIII, which begins at 5 p.m. today.
For one thing, BYU is absent for the first time since the inception of the game. The normal quota of passes can't be expected, even though Arizona State has a skilled quarterback, Jeff Van Raaphorst, a product of La Mesa's Grossmont High School.
Defense (what's that?) is represented by the other side. Arkansas gave up an average of only 11.7 points a game this season.
A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected. However, more than 7,500 tickets remain unsold, a departure from past years when the game played to more than 98% capacity at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Each school was allotted 10,000 seats, but sold only about 7,500.
Arizona State had hoped to spend the holidays 120 miles to the north, in Pasadena. But a 16-13 loss to Arizona in the regular-season finale canceled Coach John Cooper's Rose Bowl plans.
The Razorbacks would have preferred Dallas, site of the Cotton Bowl. They lost only two games, by a total of six points, but they lost to the wrong teams, Texas and league champion Texas A&M.
The Hogs, as they're known the length of the Ozarks, reflect the preaching of Coach Ken Hatfield, who did such a solid job of building a football program at the Air Force Academy that he was tapped to replace Lou Holtz at Arkansas two years ago. Holtz left for points north (Minneapolis) and northeast (South Bend).
What got the Hogs to San Diego was a defense that didn't allow a rushing touchdown in eight Southwest Conference games. As Hatfield noted, however, Arizona State isn't going to be confused with Texas, Oklahoma or Ohio State as a rushing team.
"We haven't seen a dropback passer in the Southwest Conference this year," Hatfield said. "One of our real challenges is going to be mixing it up defensively. We know we have to put pressure on Jeff Van Raaphorst. We haven't faced one like him."
In order to pressure the Sun Devil passer, Arkansas will have to get a rush from its down linemen, because Hatfield doesn't believe in the blitz. He said it's just not his style.
The leading defensive linemen for the Razorbacks are nose guard Tony Cherico and tackle Rodney Beachum. Linebackers Nick Miller and David Bazzel were All-Southwest Conference selections, and safety Greg Lasker was a third-team All-American.
This unit, which led the conference in rushing defense and scoring defense, will attempt to contain Van Raaphorst, who threw for 2,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Van Raaphorst completed 174 of 310 passes and was in charge as the Sun Devils won six straight games beginning about midseason.
His No. 1 target is Aaron Cox, who made 40 receptions and scored five touchdowns.
Mike Crawford is the Sun Devils' favored runner. He gained 684 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
Contrasting sharply with the ASU attack is the so-called flexbone employed by Arkansas. It's a ground-oriented attack that stresses ball control.
Three-fourths of the Razorbacks' yardage came on the ground. The Hogs, who finished eighth in the nation in rushing, threw only 120 passes. They rushed for 29 touchdowns and passed for only 7.
Starting quarterback Greg Thomas has a couple of capable receivers in James Shibest and Donnie Centers.
The class of the Razorback runners is halfback James Rouse, who averaged 5.6 yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns.
COLLEGE BOWL LINEUP
Bowl Date Time HOLIDAY Today 5:00 p.m. LIBERTY Dec. 27 5:30 p.m. FLORIDA CITRUS Dec. 28 10:00 a.m. SUN Dec. 28 11:30 a.m. ALOHA Dec. 28 5:00 p.m. FREEDOM Dec. 30 5:00 p.m. GATOR Dec. 30 5:00 p.m. PEACH Dec. 31 11:30 a.m. BLUEBONNET Dec. 31 11:30 a.m. ALL-AMERICAN Dec. 31 5:00 p.m. SUNKIST FIESTA Jan. 1 10:30 a.m. COTTON Jan. 1 10:30 a.m. ROSE Jan. 1 2:00 p.m. SUGAR Jan. 1 5:00 p.m. ORANGE Jan. 1 5:00 p.m.
Bowl Opponents (with records) TV outlets HOLIDAY Arkansas (9-2) vs. Arizona State (8-3) Ch. 5 (51, 8 p.m.) LIBERTY Baylor (8-3) vs. LSU (9-1-1) Ch. 11 and 51 FLORIDA CITRUS Ohio State (8-3) vs. BYU (11-2) Ch. 4 and 39 SUN Georgia (7-3-1) vs. Arizona (8-3) Ch. 4 and 39 ALOHA USC (6-5) vs. Alabama (8-2-1) Ch. 11, 69, WOR FREEDOM Washington (6-5) vs. Colorado (7-4) Blacked out in L.A.; Ch. 51, USA in San Diego GATOR Oklahoma St. (8-3) vs. Florida St. (8-3) Ch. 7 and 10 PEACH Army (8-3) vs. Illinois (6-4-1) Ch. 2 and 8 BLUEBONNET Air Force (11-1) vs. Texas (8-3) Ch. 5, 51, USA ALL-AMERICAN Michigan St. (7-4) vs. Georgia Tech (8-2) Ch. 13 and WTBS SUNKIST FIESTA Michigan (9-1-1) vs. Nebraska (9-2) Ch. 4 and 39 COTTON Texas A&M (9-2) vs. Auburn (8-3) Ch. 2 and 8 ROSE UCLA (8-2-1) vs. Iowa (10-1) Ch. 4 and 39 SUGAR Miami, Fla. (10-1) vs. Tennessee (8-1-2) Ch. 7 and 10 ORANGE Oklahoma (10-1) vs. Penn State (11-0) Ch. 4 and 39