The way the football fanatics of Texas see it, not to mention coach Fred Akers, there is no national championship on the line Monday when top-ranked Texas takes on No. 5 Notre Dame in the 42d Cotton Bowl Game.

"Everyone keeps asking me about what if we lose," Akers said. "I'd rather think about what if we win. But if we do lose, we'll be 11-1 just like a lot of other folks. Then I think you should ask yourself how did all those folks get to be 11-1. We're the only ones who defended the No. 1 ranking week after week."

The Notre Dame partisans and players vehemently disagree. "Anybody who wins Jan. 2 probably will claim the national championship," said Irish safety Joe Restio. "And that includes Notre Dame, as well. If Texas wins, nobody argues. If we win, we should be No. 1 What else would you expect me to say?"

And so, depending on the point of view, the Cotton Bowl is either a game for national supremacy, or a meaningless exhibition between two dynamic football teams.

On one side, there is Earl Campbell, the Tyler Rose, the Heisman Trophy winner, the back the Texas coaching staff insists gained 1,054 of his total 1,744 yards after first being hit by a would-be tackler.

Campbell is a 224-pound bammer with speed, the fifth-leading rusher in NCAA history and a man who scored 19 touchdowns and 114 points his senior year.

Texas runs out of the split-back veer and I formations, and is not afraid to throw the ball. The man usually under those flying footballs is flanker Lam Jones an Olympic sprinter, who is the world's fastest football player. He is the Longborn's leading receiver with 21 catches and averages 26 yards per reception.

Quarterback Randy McEachern came off the bench to lead Texas past Oklahoma and Arkansas early in the season, and is now up there with all your favorite Texas folk heroes. He can't sing like Jerry Jeff or Willie but his handoffs to Campbell make sweet music for the Texas attack.

He can also throw, if necessary, having completed 45 of 89 passes for 906 yards and eight touchdowns.

On the Notre Dame side, a nationwide television audience can watch one of the game's most gifted tight ends. His name is Ken MacAfee, and quarterback Joe Montana will aim often at this 250-pound bruiser with the bull neck and the sure hands.

The Irish run mostly from the wing-T and I formations, using draws, sweeps, counters and a whole bunch of play-action passes to free MacAfee, who caught 54 passes in 1977.

Tailback Jerome Heavens also is no slouch, with 994 yards rushing and a 4.3 yard average per carry this season. "The key to winning this game is for us to control the football," said Iirish coach Dan Devine. "We need to move the ball on the ground, and I believe we can."

The Irish must move the football against a young Texas defense that allowed opponents 2.1 yards per rush this season, and only 223 yards total offense per game.

The best of the defensive Longhorns is tackle Brad Shearer, the 1977 Outland Trophy winner. This season, he was in on 109 tackles, forced four fumbles and had seven sacks. "I've got a lot of respect for him," said MacAfee. "Their whole defense is impressive. It looks like they like to hit. But then, so do our guys."

Indeed, Notre Dame's defensive line features two of the nation's most impressive defensive ends in Ross Browner and Willie Frye. And nose guard Bob Golic plugs the middle with his 245-pound body.

Cornerback Luther Bradley is Notre Dame's career interception leader. The Irish usually rush only three men, with eight defenders in the secondary on obvious passing downs.

Texas has the advantage on the specialty teams, mostly because of The Boomer, punter-placekicker Russell Erxleben. Though Erxleben has missed his last six field goal attempts and has been hobbled by a pulled muscle the last weeks, he said, "I've been kicking great in practice. I'm looking for a big game."

Erxleben, who averages 45 yards punting, is also a master of the pre-game psyche. Often he will warm up with 10 60-yard field goals. "That drives a lot of folks crazy," he says. "It gets my adrenalin pumping a little faster, too."

Notre Dame kicker Dave Reeve has been steady this season, hitting 12 of 20 field goal attempts, including one of 51 yards. Restic, who also punts, carries a 43-yard average into the game.

There will also be an intriguing battle of wits on the sidelines between two talented coaches.

Akers, who replaced the legendary Darrell Royal this season, took a young Texas squad many thought would be lucky to win its conference and brought it to the brink of the school's third national title.

Devine, in his third season, came under harsh criticism from Notre Dame's rabid national followers after losing six games in his first two years.

They howled long and loud, after the Irish lost to Mississippi in the second game of this season, mostly because Notre Dame was picked to win the national championship at the start of the season.

Now, with a victory Monday, they still have a chance to finish No. 1. Everywhere, of course, but in Texas.