WHO'S No. 1? That topic has perplexed American football fans
ever since Rutgers and Princeton scrimmaged in the first college
game in 1869.
Again the arguments begin: Is unbeaten Nebraska this year's
best? Undefeated Ohio State? High-flying Florida? Mighty
Tennessee? Amazing Northwestern?
Sportswriter Frank Dascenzo of the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun
reflects the nation's frustration over such questions. Even though
Mr. Dascenzo votes in the Associated Press's Top 25 poll, he yearns
for a championship playoff.
"It's so sad," he laments. "Everybody sits around and talks
about, 'Well, this is a better team.' 'No, this is a better team.'
Imagine if we had to do that in basketball! It's terrible."
Lacking a playoff, football relies on the bowls - Rose, Orange,
Sugar, Fiesta - to find a champ. Yet sometimes bowl games only add
to the confusion.
The polls help - sometimes. This year, polls by AP and USA
Today/CNN both put Florida State at the top for weeks - until the
Seminoles lost to Virginia. The New York Times computer-generated
top 25, however, never rated Florida State so highly.
Currently, all three ratings put Nebraska in first place, but
there's a fight for No. 2. The Times puts Florida at No. 2, AP and
USA/CNN pick Ohio State. (See ratings box below.)
The United States has put a man on the moon, Dascenzo complains:
Can't it create a playoff to settle such arguments?
Some folks are trying. Several major bowls and football
conferences have gotten together this year in a Bowl Alliance (they
previously shared a coalition) to maximize the potential for
holding an unofficial championship.
The alliance, which creates a partnership among the Big Eight,
Big East, Southwest, Atlantic Coast, and Southeastern conferences
(plus Notre Dame) and the Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar bowls, has
bestowed this season's favored-bowl status upon the Fiesta Bowl in
Tempe, Ariz. That status rotates to the Sugar and Orange bowls in
The Jan. 2 bowl will pay the participating teams $8.5 million
apiece and the alliance $9 million.
The alliance's formula calls for the Fiesta to choose the
alliance's best available teams on Dec. 3, the day after the
regular season ends. The Orange gets the third and fifth picks, the
Sugar the fourth and sixth.
The catch is, the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences have stuck
by their 50-year commitment to play in the Rose Bowl. If a team
from those conferences is ranked No. 1 or 2 when the bowl matchups
are set (a good possibility for Ohio State), the Fiesta will not be
a championship clash.
"The Fiesta will still be the last bowl played," says CBS
spokeswoman Leslie Anne Wade, who indicates that "national
championship" promos will air until and unless it's clear that the
Fiesta won't fill the bill. …