It's that time of year. The men in the bright blazers are visiting press boxes across the country, scouting teams for their bowls and just generally providing the indoor equivalent of fall foliage.
Since these men in the blazers--pity the guys who work for the Orange Bowl--have as much as $2 million potentially available for each of these teams, they are considered most welcome and forgiven their ridiculous coats and what they do to sensible color schemes everywhere.
It is generally believed, moreover, that teams do more to impress these men in blazers than just suffer their rainbow coalition and serve them free hot dogs. It is believed, in the case of independent teams who can't take bowl bids for granted, that these teams run up scores for them.
Did somebody say Miami?
Well, it's true that the Hurricanes are independent of any conference and must impress bowl selectors on their ability to play and to draw fans. Those abilities alone. It's also true that the Hurricanes are eager to force the Orange Bowl into making a bid for them to play the Big Eight champion for, presumably, the national championship, even though Miami has two games after bids come out.
It's true, furthermore, that Miami does produce some terribly one-sided scores. The Hurricanes have scored 46 or more points in half of their games. They beat poor little East Carolina, 41-3, last week, and the folks started remembering some other Miami massacres. Like that 58-7 pounding of Notre Dame two years ago. Maryland, which got throttled, 46-16, earlier in the season has vowed never to play those run-it-up Hurricanes again.
Coach Jimmy Johnson sniffs at the suggestion. "It was irritating in '85, and irritating a little bit in '86, and now it's amusing," he said. "If somebody could beat us, 100-0, that's fine. It would be my fault, not the opponent's fault."
He also observed: "I happened to catch the Notre Dame-Navy game. Notre Dame scored 56 points--a good round number--and threw a couple of passes on the way to their 56th point, and then put the first-team punt return team in to allow Tim Brown to try to get another touchdown on a punt return. I just thought I'd bring that up."
So what about it? Does Johnson run it up? Does Barry Switzer at Oklahoma (four games with spreads greater than 53)? Does Bobby Bowden at Florida State (61-10, 73-14)? Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, which hasn't had a decent bowl bid in years?
And do bowl scouts really care?
John Junker, associate director of the Fiesta Bowl--kind of a bright yellow blazer--says the answers are all probably no.
"About four or five times so far this year, guys from our selection committee have come back from 56-2 games, whatever, and said, 'You know, the amazing thing is, they weren't trying to run up the score.' The thing is, I don't believe we see the parity we did a few years ago. You look at the major bowl picture and you have teams like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami, Syracuse, Auburn, Florida State, maybe UCLA. And then you see a little gap."
Junker said that Switzer, for example, simply can't help it. And in fact, his first team rarely plays much beyond the first half. Same with Nebraska. "They're just out of this world," Junker said.
"I don't think they're running up the score and I don't think a lot of coaches believe it's in their best interests to do that. There's beginning to be a sensitivity that might not have been seen in the past."
Anyway, Junker said, bowl committees are not overly impressed by lopsided scores. For bowls, rankings are everything when it comes to selecting a team. "Maybe 10% of the time (comparative scores) would come into play. But remember, Penn State beat Maryland by one point last year when Maryland missed the PAT. We took Penn State, anyway."
Notre Dame's Lou Holtz has been doing a credible Frank Leahy impersonation, not so much in coaching the Irish but in continually downplaying their chances. This from Holtz, going into Saturday's game with Boston College: "It is reaching the point where it (injuries) is really going to hurt us, and if this situation doesn't change, we can forget about winning any more football games."
Actually, Notre Dame is in a spot of trouble, what with injuries and a tough schedule. Quarterbacks Terry Andrysiak and Tony Rice have gone down, and Holtz may start freshman Kent Graham. Also, flanker-everything Tim Brown has been held out of practice with a broken finger. All are needed, especially for a home game with Alabama and dates at Penn State and Miami.
Meanwhile, bowl scouts continue to follow the 6-1 team. Notre Dame, which hasn't been to a New Year's Day bowl since 1981, is being seriously courted by the Cotton and Fiesta bowls.
The Fiesta may very well have the Oklahoma-Nebraska loser to offer as an opponent--a deal could be struck before they even play in their Nov. 21 showdown--and could conceivably provide a national championship game. The Cotton Bowl may be stuck with a .500 team--leader Texas is 4-3--from the Southwest Conference.