For the Memories: Part 1



Notre Dame Rolls, Oklahoma Chokes in First Round As Tournament Revives Strat-O-Matic College Football



By Glenn Guzzo


Strat-O-Matic’s college football game of the late 1980s brings together several of the issues often discussed in The Talk Show: Desire for Strat-O-Matic college football, nostalgia and some of the unique ratings that were found in that game.


Unlike SOM’s pro football game, the college teams had their own interception-return column. Punters were rated for kicks that could not be returned. Blocked punts were refined statistically with split chances. And the Long Gain chart had shorter gains in the college game. All were attempts to provide compensating interest in a game that lacked individual player cards for offensive skills players (all players at a position were grouped into a collective rating for that position), ratings or names for offensive linemen and names for defensive players.


The game is easy and fun to play, with 48 teams per year (probably all of the major teams with winning records and four to six teams per major conference). Even the Ivy League was represented, with four teams offering easy fodder for Division I schools. All teams were rated in consideration of the strength of their schedule. And even that wasn’t enough to deflate some of the Ivy schools – they were given the dreaded “breakdown” ratings that turned fumbles and other good defensive plays against the run into Short Gains.


So we gave the last of three Strat-O-Matic college sets – the one based on the 1988 season – a whirl. We thought we should see blowouts and close games and we wanted to determine a true national champion. So we put all 48 teams into a tournament. All three of our wishes were granted.


Teams were seeded 1-48, but not very analytically. I put the four Ivy League teams at the bottom, in order of won-lost record. Then I seeded the rest in approximate order of “blemishes” (losses and ties) on their carded records. The Strat-O-Matic cards show only the regular-season won-lost records, so the seeds do not conform to the final AP Poll. Nor do they reflect a careful analysis of the cards to determine relative strength. In the case of teams with identical records, seeding orders usually were determined by which teams had the widest differential in offensive touchdowns allowed vs. defensive touchdowns allowed.


            So it’s easy to argue about the seeds, because they are arbitrary. But whether a team was ranked No. 10 or No. 40 made little difference. As it turned out, few of the higher seeds had an easy time of it in the first round.


            Here’s how the first round matched up:


1        Notre Dame     (11-0) vs.        48        Dartmouth        (5-5)

2        West Virginia    (11-0) vs.        47        Princeton          (6-4)

3        Nebraska         (11-1)  vs.        46        Cornell             (7-2-1)

4        Miami               (10-1)  vs.        45        Penn                 (9-1)

5        Auburn (10-1)  vs         44        Navy                (3-8)

6        Florida State     (10-1)  vs         43        Texas Tech       (5-6)

7        USC                (10-1)  vs         42        Penn State        (5-6)

8        Arkansas          (10-1)  vs         41        Oregon             (6-6)

9        Wyoming          (11-1)  vs         40        Baylor              (6-5)

10    Houston           (9-2)    vs         39        Arizona State    (6-5)

11    Oklahoma        (9-2)    vs         38        Pittsburgh         (6-5)

12    Oklahoma St.   (9-2)    vs         37        Florida             (6-5)

13    Clemson           (9-2)    vs         36        Texas A&M     (7-5)

14    UCLA              (9-2)    vs         35        Wake Forest    (6-4-1)

15    Syracuse          (9-2)    vs         34        Michigan St      (6-4-1)

16    S. Mississippi   (9-2)    vs         33        Illinois               (6-4-1)

17    UTEP               (10-2)  vs         32        Virginia (7-4)

18    Army                (9-2)    vs         31        Arizona            (7-4)

19    Michigan          (8-2-1) vs         30        Iowa                (6-3-3)

20    Colorado          (8-3)    vs         29        BYU                (8-4)

21    Georgia            (8-3)    vs         28        Indiana             (7-3-1)

22    Washington St  (8-3)    vs         27        N.Carolina St.  (7-3-1)

23    Alabama           (8-3)    vs         26        Hawaii              (9-3)

24    LSU                 (8-3)    vs         25        S. Carolina       (8-3)


After the first round, surviving teams will be seeded again to decide the Final 12. Repeat the process to whittle the tourney down to the Final 6. Then, give the top two surviving seeds a bye. Those two, plus the survivors of the other two games will make a Final 4.


Here are the results of the first half of the first round. Future installments on Strat-O-Sphere will follow the progress of the tournament.


            Keep in mind, we used the basic game for ease of solitaire play (in the college game, a given team might have separate alignments for 3-4, 4-3 and 5-2 defenses). We called the offensive plays for both teams and let the solitaire play-calling chart choose run/pass. There was no keying or double-teaming. However, we used the recommendation on the play-calling chart to adjust defensive run calls for teams with run-dominated or pass-dominated offenses. As you will see, this very effectively simulated the way a human manager would dare a bad passing team.


            We used the advanced timing system. All plays that stop the clock – including first downs – were 15-second plays.



No. 1 NOTRE DAME – 81               No. 48 Dartmouth – 0

            Without a single play gaining more than 30 yards, a backfield full of future pros (Mark Green, Tony Brooks, Ricky Watters, Anthony Johnson, Rodney Culver) gained 587 yards rushing. Overall, Notre Dame outgained Dartmouth, 631-41. The Big Green’s   eight turnovers – three interceptions, three fumbles on runs and two fumbled kickoff returns – helped Notre Dame to five touchdowns on drives of 42 yards or fewer. The Irish were turnover-free and racked up 32 first downs.


No. 2 WEST VIRGINIA – 52           No. 47 Princeton – 0

            The Mountaineers were unspectacular, but didn’t have to be very sharp in outgaining the Tigers 539-143. QB Major Harris ran for two scores and passed for a third. TB A. B. Brown rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown. Princeton had just one turnover and managed 9 first downs to keep the score down.


No. 3 NEBRASKA – 51                    No. 46 Cornell – 0

            Nebraska looked a lot like Notre Dame, but against a much better opponent (Cornell doesn’t have the “breakdown” Short Gains on its run defense that Dartmouth does). The score was just 13-0 at haltime, but the relentless Cornhuskers ran for 489 yards (276 and four touchdowns by their four tailbacks, including 154 by Ken Clark) and outgained the Big Red, 543-51 while holding a 29-3 edge in first downs.


No. 4 MIAMI – 37                            No. 45 Penn – 3

            The Hurricanes showed the first balanced offense, running 39 times for 216 yards and passing 35 times for 216 yards against the best the Ivy had to offer. QB Steve Walsh passed for two scores and FB Cleveland Gary ran for 88 yards and a TD. Penn becomes the first underdog to score – a third-quarter field goal following an interception. Miami outgains the Quakers, 532-129. PK Carlos Huerta booked field goals of 27, 32 and 40 yards.


No. 5 AUBURN – 45                         No. 44 Navy – 6

            WR Lawyer Tillman caught eight of Reggie Slack’s passes for 136 yards and two TDs as Auburn was impressive on the ground, in the air and on defense. Navy QB Alton Grizzard gained 89 yards rushing with gallops of 38, 22 and 18 yards and also hit passes of 32 and 24 yards as the Midshipmen continued the progression of the underdogs – Navy is the first to score twice. Navy actually held a 3-0 lead before Slack connected with Tillman on a 31-yard first-quarter TD pass that put the Tigers ahead to stay.


No. 6 FLORIDA STATE – 49                       No. 43 Texas Tech – 10

            The Seminoles struck for 28 points in the final 10:30 to turn a 21-10 game into a route. RB Sammie Smith ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns, QBs Chip Ferguson and Peter Tom Willis each threw for a TD and the Florida State defense frustrated Tech QB Billy Joe Tolliver (13-28 for 159 yards and a fourth-quarter interception returned for a touchdown). Tech does become the first underdog to score a touchdown – FB Ervin Farris’ 6-yard run to cap a second-quarter 71-yard drive.


No. 7 USC – 21                                  No. 42 Penn State – 14

            Trailing early in the fourth quarter, The Trojans blocked a punt and turned it into a go-ahead field goal, then marched 89 yards to a TD after a Penn State fumble to avoid a huge upset. The Nittany Lions became the first underdog to score twice – on Michael Timpson’s 78-yard punt return, and on an 82-yard interception return. Both scores gave Penn State the lead, while the Lions’ tough run defense frustrated USC (92 yards on 42 carries) most of the day. USC QB Rodney Peete passed for 215 yards to offset some of that. But Penn State’s offense was its biggest enemy – it suffered a safety, an interception and four lost fumbles – three of them in Trojan territory, the last one at the USC 11 while trailing 15-14.


No. 8 ARKANSAS – 34                                No. 41 Oregon – 14

            The Razorbacks ran to a 17-0 lead and built it to 34-7 with a Mr.-Inside (FB Barry Foster)-Mr. Outside (QB Quinn Grovey) ground game. Two Oregon fumbles led to first-quarter TDs by Grovey (who had 180 yards rushing on 19 carries) and Foster (125 yards on 23 carries). The Ducks became the first underdog to get two offensive touchdowns, thanks to 241 yards passing by Pete Nelson and Bill Musgrave. FL Terry Obee had seven catches, but TB Derek Loville managed just 34 yards (and one TD) on 19 carries.


No. 40 BAYLOR – 28                                    No. 9 Wyoming – 17

            If any team figured to be overseeded it was Wyoming, even though the 11-1 Cowboys did score 62 offensive touchdowns to their opponents’ 25 in 1988. But a supposedly potent offense never got untracked, running for just 145 yards in 31 carries and, worse, completing just 9 of 34 passes against two interceptions. That cost Wyoming bad field position all day, and Baylor scored TDs on drives of 33, 33 and 18 yards after a fumbled punt, an interception and a last-ditch turnover on downs (when Baylor led 21-17 with a minute to play). The Bears, 6-6 in 1988, become the first underdog to advance.

            Baylor’s prize: They get to play Notre Dame in the second round.


No. 39 ARIZONA STATE – 23                    No. 10 Houston – 14     

            The Sun Devils would need all the breaks to upset Houston, which had the best quick-strike ability of any offense in the tournament. And that’s what happened. After a racehorse first quarter that ended 14-14, Arizona State’s Alan Zendejas accounted for all the scoring on three-for-three field-goal kicking (23, 39 and 29 yards, one in each of the final three quarters). Meanwhile, Houston QB Andre Ware was throwing three interceptions while failing to complete 30 of his 51 passes.

            The first quarter was something to watch. Arizona State took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards in 12 plays covering nearly four minutes, with TB Bruce Perkins gaining the final yard and the TD. Houston responded on its first possession with Ware’s 69-yard scoring bomb to Jason Phillips. Following a punt, Arizona State went 81 yards in just five plays, one of them Perkins’ 61-yard jaunt around end, to take a 14-7 lead. Then Houston fielded the kickoff and marched 80 yards in 13 plays to tie it.

            But with the defensive play calls leaning towards pass, Ware hit just 21 of 51 tosses and TB Chuck Weatherspoon ran for just 52 yards in 12 carries – 47 of those yards on two tries. Perkins had 181 yards on 28 carries for the Sun Devils, who also had 158 yards passing from QB Daniel Ford.

            Next up for Arizona State: West Virginia.


No. 38 PITTSBURGH – 13               No. 9 Oklahoma – 10

            This upset shocked the tournament when Alonzo Hampton raced 79 yards on a punt return early in the fourth quarter for Pitt’s only TD.

            On paper, Oklahoma features a potentially explosive running game and a suffocating defense, but the telling fact is that the Sooners will have to run guessed Right almost all game to avoid resorting to a horrific pass offense. While most SOM college teams will face being guessed right 1-4 on a 6-sided die on first-down runs, for Oklahoma’s unbalanced offense, it’s 1-6. Even with the guarantee of being guessed Wrong, Sooners QB Charles Thompson is as likely to throw an interception as to complete a Short Pass or Long Pass.

            With the Oklahoma offense reduced to the Flat Pass and running guessed Right against a better-than-average Pitt run defense, the Sooners managed only 231 yards of offense and 11 first downs. Still, Oklahoma’s staunch defense limited Pitt to 159 yards and 8 first downs. After trailing 6-0 at the half, the Sooners gained a 10-6 lead at the end of the third quarter, when the defense forced Pitt TB Curvin Richards to fumble at his own 13 and Thompson capped the short drive with a two-yard dive for the go-ahead TD – the game’s only touchdown to that point.

            Hampton’s electrifying punt return changed that. Then, with 1:45 to play and the Sooners trailing by three, Thompson lost a fumble on third down and four-to-go at the Pitt 19.

            Pittsburgh earned the right to face another Big Eight power, Nebraska, in the second round.


No. 12 OKLAHOMA STATE – 24               No. 37 Florida – 21    (OT)

            Oklahoma State avoided the tournament’s fourth straight upset by winning with modern overtime rules. The Cowboys stuffed Florida on its first possession in overtime, then kicked a first-down field goal after Barry Sanders raced for 18 yards to the Florida two-yard line.    Sanders exploded for 308 yards rushing on 38 carries in regulation, including runs of 48, 36, 27 and five more of 14 yards or more, then gained the critical yards in overtime.

            With Oklahoma State committing four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumbled punt), the teams traded touchdowns throughout regulation, which ended in a tie after Emmit Smith’s second TD of the game, a one-yard blast off tackle with 1:15 to play that capped a 77-yard, nine-play drive. Smith had 93 yards in 30 carries for the Gators, who also scored on an interception return and got 200 yards passing from QB Kyle Morris.



Stay tuned – more first-round action to come. So far, we know that in the second round, Notre Dame will play Baylor, West Virginia will face Arizona State and Nebraska will be pitted against Pitt. Who will No. 4 Miami play? There’s bound to be more upsets on the way.