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THE BATTLE FOR NO. 1
Rick Reilly
December 22, 1986
Using a unique and highly sophisticated rating system, which considers everything from shoes to safeties, the author explains why Miami will beat Penn State by 8.5 points
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December 22, 1986

The Battle For No. 1

Using a unique and highly sophisticated rating system, which considers everything from shoes to safeties, the author explains why Miami will beat Penn State by 8.5 points

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ONE BASIS FOR COMPARISON
This season the Hurricanes and the Nittany Lions defeated four of the same opponents—East Carolina, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia. In those games:

The MIAMI OFFENSE AVERAGED

THE PENN STATE OFFENSE AVERAGED

33 Points

17.7 Points

21.8 First Downs

21.8 First Downs

134.3 Yds. Rushing

235 Yds. Rushing

291.5 Yds. Passing

175.3 Yds. Passing

20.3 Comp. 30.8 Attempts

12.5 Comp. 24 Attempts

6.4 Yds. Per Play

5.5 Yds. Per Play

1.3 Turnovers

1.8 Tuenovers

THE MIAMI DEFENSE YIELDED

THE PENNS STATE DEFENSE YIELDED

11.8 Points

12 Points

17.8 First Downs

14.3 First Downs

159.8 Yds. Rushing

61 Yds. Rushing

140.3 Yds. Passing

162.3 Yds. Passing

11.3 Comp. 24 Attempts

12.8 Comp. 30.5 Attempts

4.1 Yds. Per Play

3.4 Yds. Per Play

And Forced 4.8 Turnovers

And Forced 2.5 Turnovers

Here we go, Miami against Penn State in the Increda Bowl, the biggest and baddest bowl ever, the Last Bowl You'll Ever Watch, the Fiesta Bowl, No. 1 vs. No. 2, a bowl so big it wouldn't fit on New Year's Day, a bowl so big only TV could create it. The game is scheduled for Friday night, Jan. 2, prime time on NBC, and figures to send Bobby Ewing back to the showers, seeing as how this is the first time since 1973 that two undefeateds have met in a clear-cut, one-fall, save-face-or-get-out-of-my-space clash for the champeen's belt. Bless you, Fiesta Bowl Committee, for delivering us from Poll Day trauma, from 119-pound sportswriters picking national champions, from the nothingness of Minnesota-Tennessee and other Forgetta Bowls with nothing at stake. This is a fiesta, a steel-cage match, El Bowl Grande. The loser proceeds directly to Oliver North's paper shredder.

When a game is this big and you have to predict a winner, no single expert will do. You need to create your own system. So we created our own system. It's highly scientific and mathematically exact to the 12th power. We borrowed it from the Ayatullah Khomeini's financial adviser. Because it's the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, we do it by segments, like this:

Best Quarterback: Miami's Vinny Testaverde is the Ritz, and Penn State's John Shaffer is Murray's Motel 5. Both get you through the night, but one does it in infinitely more comfort. Testaverde throws better, moves better, checks off better, runs better, reads better and focuses downfield under pressure better. Once this year he threw three TD passes in one quarter, which means that if you have Testaverde, you've got to be 28 points down in the fourth quarter to be out of it. He won the Heisman and was the No. 1-rated passer in the land. Next year he'll be the No. 1 choice in the NFL draft, and Shaffer will be a financial analyst. Miami plus 10.

Common Opponents: Both teams defeated West Virginia, Pitt, East Carolina and Cincinnati (see box). Miami beat them by an average of 33 points, Penn State by 17.7. When polled, most of the vanquished admitted they would pin their lunch money on Miami. For example, in a poll of West Virginia players the Hurricanes pulled down nine of 10 votes with one abstention. Miami plus six.

Best Analysis: Hurricane running back Melvin Bratton, who summed up the emotion, the complexity and the enormity of the game by saying, "The toilet flushes, and one team has to go down." Miami plus one for imagery.

Longest Held Grudge: This is close. As Miami center Gregg Rakoczy says, both teams "know what it's like to be lonely on Jan. 1." Penn State lost to Oklahoma in last season's showdown for No. 1, and Tennessee mashed Miami on the same day. Both losing teams spent miserable summers reminiscing. "I don't think that game will be out of my mind for the rest of my life," Testaverde says. Says Shaffer. "What are the odds of playing for two national championships in a row and losing both of them?" Right now, Las Vegas says the odds are Miami giving seven points. Penn State seems angrier. Penn State plus two.

What Beano Cook Thinks: " Penn State wins 31-10. It's destiny for Penn State to win. Paterno's not going to be college football's Germany and lose two straight." Penn State plus two.

Those All-Important Special Teams: About even in everything but extra points. The Hurricanes have blown six of them this year. Penn State plus one.

Best Historical Fact: In 1981, Penn State played No. 1-ranked and Dan Marino-quarterbacked Pitt, played six linebackers on pass defense, stymied Marino and upset the Panthers 48-14. Penn State plus two.

Most Talent: If nothing else this game will be an orgy for the eyes. " Miami is about as talented a team as I've seen in the last 8 to 10 years," says Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno. The game will have four AP All-Americas (Testaverde, defensive tackle Jerome Brown and defensive back Bennie Blades for Miami; linebacker Shane Conlan for Penn State) plus six players (Rakoczy, linebacker Winston Moss and fullback Alonzo Highsmith for Miami; running backs D.J. Dozier, Tim Manoa and Steve Smith for Penn State) who will likely be first-or second-round picks in next spring's NFL draft. Miami plus three.

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