Oklahoma spoiled a wonderful scenario. Some of us were openly rooting for the Sooners and Penn State to roll into the Orange Bowl unbeaten, for there has not been a Game of the Century in nearly 10 years. Then we were prepared to insist that the winner represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
What we have at the moment is a No. 1, Penn State, and seven No. 2s. That and the ancient Bear growling in Alabama and assorted bowl officials ready to chew their breast patches in frustration if Nebraska fails to beat Missouri and Georgia wins this weekend.
It is possible, if the above takes place and Penn State stumbles against Pitt Nov. 25, for Alabama to be top-ranked in the nation and relegated to a minor bowl, for the usual New Year's Day suspense to be hung-over boredom.
For nearly two weeks, however, the coach of the No. 1 team is the one who believes college players ought to be able to autograph a football in addition to passing and catching it.
Joe Paterno is unusual, although not unique, in semiamateur football for his insistence on severe academic standards. He also has the landable notion that the national championship ought to be decided on the field instead of in the polls.
But whatever fretting Paterno has done over his Lions should play in what bowl has been a waste of energy, for it says here there is no single No. 2 at this time. There might be more than seven by the time most bowls extend their bids this weekend.
At the risk of having worn chemistry books hurled in this direction from such as Tuscaloosa, Ala., Omaha, Neb., and Los Angeles (to say nothing of the Golden Dome), the view here is that temas two through eight in the latest wire-service polls are of equal ability.
How's that, Bear?Yes, I know it smells of Orange Bowl conspiracy jfor a team you beat, Nebraska, to vault over Alabama and into second place after barely winning over an Oklahoma team that won't pass and fumbles everything after the National Anthem.
From L.A. comes an equally loud hleat: Southern California beat Alabama and still was ranked two notches behind the TIde. And the best of the bunch might well be Houston, although the Southwest Conference historically is vastly overrated.
All of which reinforces the opinion that, with minor variations, Georgia is Michigan is Oklahoma is Nebraska. As Mr. Agnew might say, there isn't a dime's worth of difference in the lot.
In truth, John Talady and Cappy Gagnon said that very thing yesterday, and they are as qualified as anyone in the country. They are even more qualified than the coaches and writers who vote in the polls, because they check on the polls.
All season and with their separate methods, Talady and Gagnon have been using the polls and then ranking the teams based on who they beat and by how much and also who their vanquished opponents beat.
Their conclusions after 10 weeks is that the wire-service polls - after all the politics, occasional apathy and voter ignorance - are basically useful. But that No. 8 is as good as No. 2.
In Talady's view, Penn State beat though Ohio States and Marylands to be a clear No. 1. His composite two through six, in order, was Alabama, Houston, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Maryland.
Gagnon had Penn State and Oklahoma tied for No. 1 before the Sooners tripped over Nebraska. Based on his system, the most overrated team in the country has been Texas A&M and the most underrated team has been Notre Dame, because its two losses were to fine teams.
Before the polls were released yesterday, all manner of rumors were afoot, with Bear Bryant assuming his Rostropovich role and trying to coax Paterno and Penn State into a one-vs-two showdown before the major bowls take place.
A tale out of Birmingham had Penn State and Alabama colliding in the Liberty Bowl, with ABC luring the schools to Memphis with a few zillion each and the promise of being the first Monday night attraction after its NFL series ends.
The Gator Bowl was mentioned. That would have been appropriate for Penn State, because it gained a measure of national prominence in the '61 Gator Bowl. And Paterno earned early attention in the '67 Gator Bowl, when a decision not to punt on fourth-and-inches near the Nittany Lion 15 allowed Florida State to gain a 17-17 tie.
Later, Paterno would say: "Those sophomores out there - they understood and I meant when I said, 'If you're sure you know what you want to do, don't be afraid to take a chance. Don't just stand back and play the way you're coached. A great player must rise to the occasion and turn the game around on his won.'
"I may be rationalizing, but in the long run that fourth-down call may have been the best thing I ever did for Penn State football."
It is in this spirit that Paterno wants to win the national championship, ducking no one. Penn State might chase Alabama to some obscure bowl if a variety of odd circumstances occur Saturday.And Pitt still could turn the Lions into relative turkeys the day after Thanksgiving.
But Alabama had better be the best team in its own conference before it calls a fould on the polls. An unbeaten Penn State vs. 10-1 Nebraska in Miami makes the other major bowls more attractive. It is acceptable, by any rational standard, if hardly ideal.