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Midwestern bowl woes; Paterno a timely `Sportsman' choice

If it's any consolation to Big Ten fans, theirs is not the only conference that experiences difficulty on West Coast bowl trips. The Mid-American Conference knows some of the same frustration. The league champion has not only lost in the last three California Bowls, but lost big. Toledo fell to Nevada-Las Vegas, 30-13, in 1984; Bowling Green was clobbered, 51-7, by Fresno State a year ago; and Miami of Ohio was overwhelmed by San Jose State, 37-7, in last weekend's sixth edition of this early-bird bowl.

To some degree, these scores echo the frustrations the Big Ten has felt in two recent Rose Bowl embarrassments - the 45-9 and 45-28 defeats UCLA administered to Illinois and Iowa in '84 and '86.

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The Big Ten's litany of frustrations, of course, runs even deeper, with 11 losses in the last 12 years, a string broken only by Michigan's 23-6 victory over Washington in 1981.

From the looks of things, though, the Mid-American Conference, which actually won two of the first three California Bowls, might be beginning a similar era of postseason disappointment.

The concern is that the MAC champions are no match for the Pacific Coast Athletic Association's representative to this Fresno-based bowl. It's too early to push the panic button yet, of course, since as PCAA commissioner Lew Cryer says, ``Maybe we just hit a run of exceptional athletes and exceptional teams.''

Miami certainly appeared a worthy foe this time, especially in light of the Redskins' upset of Louisiana State earlier this season (fifth-ranked LSU plays in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 1).

On this occasion, however, Miami couldn't handle San Jose, which, at 10-2, is the nation's most improved major-college team, with eight more wins than a year ago. Paterno honored

Sports Illustrated surprised a lot of people this week by naming Penn State's Joe Paterno its Sportsman of the Year. Since its inception in 1954, this award has only gone to one other college coach, basketball's John Wooden in 1972, when he shared the honor with Billie Jean King. Paterno indeed enjoyed a great year, guiding the Nittany Lions to another undefeated regular season, the sixth in 21 years on the job. But more than mere coaching excellence, Paterno represents an honest, reasoned approach to the game. Some may not like his goody-goody image, but he does more than preach, he practices. Integrity goes in before the name goes on Paterno-coached teams. With major college football increasingly besieged by problems, Paterno's selection is timely, which may explain why he was selected over such other ``Sportsman'' candidates as basketball star Michael Jordan, golfers Greg Norman and Pat Bradley, cyclist Greg LeMond., and World Cup soccer sensation Diego Maradona. Bennett wins Lombardi

The Lombardi Award selectors should check the trophy's inscription a little more closely. According to what it says right on the trophy's base, the ``outstanding college lineman,'' not a linebacker, should cop the hardware. Yet three of this year's four finalists - Brian Bosworth of Oklahoma, Chris Spielman of Ohio State, and eventual winner Cornelius Bennett of Alabama - are linebackers. The only genuine article in the bunch was defensive tackle Jerome Brown of Miami.

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During the award's first 16 years, the recipient was always a lineman, by whatever description - middle guard, defensive end, offensive tackle, nose guard, etc. That the mold should be broken now doesn't make sense, since a separate award just for linebackers (the Butkus) was established a year ago to assure them of their just deserts. Briefly speaking

The Fiesta Bowl will abide by NCAA rules, which, as currently written, don't allow for tie-breakers in major-college bowl games.

Speculation grew recently that the Fiesta folks might look for a loophole that would permit No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State to break a deadlock in their Jan. 2 contest. The rules state that tie-breakers are permissible only in two postseason situations: (1)where there is a playoff in which teams must advance, and (2)in the case of a national championship game. While Miami-Penn State has a national championship aura in terms of the polls, it is no different from any other bowl in the eyes of the NCAA.

Some teams seldom experience the pleasure of playing on natural turf. Not the Georgia Bulldogs, who played all 11 regular-season games on real grass this year.

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