Bowl games normally provide a stirring finish to the college season, with top teams engaged in significant matchups.But the sense of anticipation that normally accompanies the approach of these contests just isn't there this time.
Some jim-dandy games are almost inevitable, given the large number of bowls, 18 starting with the California and Independence on Dec. 15 and ending with the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Rose and Fiesta on New Year's Day. On paper, though, the overall slate lacks the fizziness fans expect in their bowl watching.
The problem begins right at the top, too. The major bowls just haven't shaped up as well as expected.
None of them boasts the nation's current No. 1 team, Brigham Young, which will fulfill its commitment to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 21. If the Cougars beat Michigan, the national championship scramble could for all intents and purposes be over. This, of course, would rob the New Year's Day bowls of some of their traditional intrigue.
The Sugar will pit the second place team from the Southeastern Conference (either Auburn or Louisiana State) against Big Eight runnerup Nebraska. Third-ranked Florida, which captured its first SEC crown in 52 years, should go, but the Gators are on conference punishment for a raft of NCAA violations.
The Rose brings on No. 6 Ohio State, which lost Big Ten games to Purdue and Wisconsin, to play a Southern California team that has lost to UCLA and Notre Dame since clinching the Pacific-10 title.
The Cotton is ecstatic about having Boston College and Heisman Trophy shoo-in Doug Flutie, but unranked Houston is likely to be the host team. Either Texas or Southern Methodist would make nice brand-name opponents, but they've squandered their best chances at winning the Southwest Conference championship. Their only hope now is that Houston loses to cellar-dwelling Rice this weekend.
The Orange has the closest thing to a heavyweight title bout, with No. 2 Oklahoma scheduled to meet No. 4 Washington. That's still a bit of a letdown, though, from a national championship battle that might have occurred if Nebraska and South Carolina hadn't been handed late-season defeats.
Another factor in the bowls' loss of luster may be the proliferation of regular-season TV games. Each weekend viewers can pick and choose among a cornucopia of televised contests, many of them big sectional and intersectional rivalries. Consequently, when the bowl games arrive, they are in some ways more of the same. Pass into history
Harvard and Yale may have ''The Game,'' but Boston College now has ''The Play.'' That, at least, is how B.C. fans will always think of the 64-yard spiral quarterback Doug Flutie unleashed last Friday against Miami. As the last seconds ticked away, his rainbow toss arched through the rainy Florida skies into the hands of roommate Gerard Phelan. Touchdown and incredible victory to Boston College, 47-45.
Easily the play of the year, it has been replayed almost as much as California's kickoff return through the Stanford band was two years ago.
Guaranteeing its place in history is the fact that Flutie threw it just the week before he's expected to collect the Heisman Trophy as the season's best college player. The completion certainly clinched his election and will surely stand as a memorable hallmark of his football career.
Fittingly, the play occurred in the same game that Flutie became the first player to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. For the day, he was 34 of 46 for 472 yards and no interceptions. In the delirious moments following the game , Flutie vainly sought out his Miami counterpart, Bernie Kosar, to offer consolation and congratulations. Kosar, a sophomore, had thrown for 447 yards himself, and is destined to break Flutie's passing marks if his next two seasons equal his first two.
Herein some final observations and footnotes on the game's unforgettable finale:
* Against Temple earlier in the season, Flutie and Phelan hooked up on a similar touchdown pass as time expired in the first half.
* After Miami went ahead 45-41 with 28 seconds left, the TV cameras caught the indomitable Flutie on the sidelines nodding his head as if to say, ''Okay, if that's what it takes to win I'll have to go to work.''
* Expecting a offensive spectacular, prophetic Boston Globe columnist Leigh Montville predicted a 44-43 Boston College victory with Flutie taking the team to the winning score with time expired.
* Miami's defenders probably didn't realize the compact B.C. quarterback could throw such a long pass. Give credit to Phelan, though, for tracking the ball accurately and picking it up behind a jumble of colliding bodies.
* Jack Bicknell, the Eagles' coach, says the films show the tight end open in the corner of the end zone.
* For Miami, it was the second crushing loss in as many games. The Hurricanes lost their previous outing to Maryland 42-40 after blowing a 31-0 halftime lead. Penn State's sad season
Penn State extended its national record to 46 non-losing seasons this fall, but Coach Joe Paterno can't be too cheered with the way his Nittany Lions escaped with a 6-5 record. That's the team's worst mark since going 5-5 in Paterno's first season at the helm in 1966. Not surprisingly, Penn State will not be going to a post-season game. The school isn't interested in trading on its name just to play in a minor bowl.
What must be particularly distressing to State's followers is the team's inability to show improvement, the way Paterno-coach squads normally do. On Saturday they lost to arch rival Pittsburgh, 31-11, and the Panthers were a struggling 3-7-team. In earlier losses to Texas, Alabama, and Notre Dame, Penn State scored a less-than-grand total of 10 points. Angling for an invitation
Discouraged by not being invited to any bowl, Fullerton State has put out a team resume on bright orange paper with the bold heading, ''Free the Fullerton Eleven!'' Among the selling points are an 11-1 record, a National Coach of the Year candidate in Gene Murphy; a Cinderella story (the school doesn't have a home stadium); and a wide-open offense. How The AP rates the football teams
The top 20 teams in the Associated Press college football poll, with first-place votes and records in parentheses (total points based on 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc.). 1.Brigham Young (341/2) (12-0)1,1331/2 11.Auburn (8-3) 539 2.Oklahoma (181/2) (9-1-1)1,1281/2 12.Florida State (7-2-1) 454 3.Florida (5) (8-1-1)1,048 13.Texas (7-2-1) 430 4.Washington (1) (10-1) 991 14.Louisana State (8-2-1) 427 5.Nebraska (9-2) 939 15.Maryland (8-3) 391 6.Ohio State (9-2) 837 16.Miami (Fla.) (8-4) 325 7.South Carolina (10-1) 830 17.UCLA (8-3) 222 8.Boston College (8-2) 767 18.Georgia (7-3) 163 9.Oklahoma State (9-2) 762 19.Notre Dame (7-4) 116 10.So. Methodist (8-2) 612 20.Southern Cal (8-3) 83