Johnny Majors, now the ex-coach of the nation's No. 1-ranked team, had to get up early today to catch a flight to Hawaii, where he will coach in the upcoming Hula Bowl hame. Before he left, however, he made sure Tony Dorsett was on the plane with him.

"I'm not going anywhere without you until I have to," Majors told Dorsett with a big grin. "Hey, isn't there any way you can come back and play with me next year, at Tennessee?"

Dorsett, of course, won't be able to help Majors any more after the Hula Bowl. But the duo already has accomplished more than anybody could have expected four years ago when Majors became Pittsburg's head coach and recruited a running back from Akiquippa, Pa.

Although there are certain to be dissenters in Los Angeles wearing USC colors, Pittsburgh today can lay legitimate claim to the mythical national college title, the culmination of Majors and Dorsett's efforts.

The Panthers did everything they were asked to this year, winning 12 straight games, producing the Heisman Trophy Winner and runner-up for the Outland Trophy, and beating three quality teams, Notre Dame, Penn State and Georgia - a 27-3 victim in Saturday's Sugar Bowl.

USC, which quite possibly has more depth than Pittsburgh, and which beat Michigan, 14-6, in the Rose Bowl, would have finished No. 1 if it had been able to beat Missouri in its opener. But when the Trojans, who were ranked higher than Pitt in the preseason polls, lost in September, it also lost its poll advantage over the Panthers.

Both USC and Pittsburgh demonstrated clearly on New Year's Day that large, quick players are no longer the province of the Big Eight Conference. The rest of the country has caught onto the Big Eight's recruiting habits and the result is that strong teams are now spread throughout the nation.

This is especially true in the East, which one was ruled without challenge by Penn State. But now the Nittany Lions, Pitt, Maryland, Boston College and others all either have strong orograms or are building them.

When Majors cam to Pitt from Iowa State, he brought with him most of his assistants. And it was that staff that recruited the agile, quick, large athletes that had been escaping the East and going to the Big 10 and Big Eight for so many years.

Now Pitt's Eastern rivals are going after the same players. But the new Pitt coach, Jackie Sherrill, isn't going to be left without talent next year.

"We're going to have a good team, no doubt about it," said sophrome linebacker Al Chesley, the former Eastern High star. "We won't have Tony (Dorsett) but a lot of other real good ones will be back."

That includes Chesley, who came to Pitt weighing 200 poinds and is now up to a muscular 225 spread over a 6-foot-4 frame. He played behind leading tackler Jim Cramer most of the season but Majors feels he has a chance to be an all-American by his senior season.

Also returning are wide receivers Willie Taylor and Gordon Jones, quarterback Elliott Walker, 6-6 defensive tackle Randy Holloway, the entire defensive secondary and All-America offensive guard Tom Brzoza.

Pitt, however, won't be necessarily be favored to win the national title. That role will probably be filled by either Notre Dame, which has 20 starters and three injured players who once were starters returning, of Michigan, which loses only two members from the nation's No. 1 offense.

Other strong teams will include Penn State, which had only six senior in its starting lineup at the end of the year; Alabama, which trampled UCLA with a young squad; Maryland, which has most of its standoit defense plus Steve Atkins and Mark Manges returning, and Oklahoma, which may think was the best team around by season's end.

Majors, meanwhile, will be trying to straighten out his alma mater's football program. "Don't expect us to be No. 1 next year at Tennessee," he said. "The problem with what we did this year is that now people think I'm a miracle worker. I'm not.

"I'm not saying I can't have another teams as good as this one but it's going to be hard."

Unlike the wishbone teams that dominated the early part of the 1970s, Majors' offense had great balance. Dorsett, of course, supplied the running threat, but the passing game (as Georgia found out) was also effective, with a fine passer in Cavanaugh and good quickness in Taylor, Jones and tight end Jim Corbett.

"Sometimes I think I'm making a mistake leaving," said Majors. "It's like leaving a dream world."