Penn State's Nittany Lions, the nation's only major unbeaten team, moved into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press and United Press International college football polls yesterday for the first time in history.
Penn State, 19-10 winner over North Carolina State, benefited from previously unbeaten Oklahoma's 17-14 loss to Nebraska and from the No. 2 spot. The defeat dropped the Sooners to No. 4. Nebraska gained second place in a tight race with Alabama, setting up the possibility of an Orange Bowl showdown between the nation's 1-2 teams.
Penn State Coach Joe Paterno took the No. 1 ranking in stride. "I don't feel any different now than I did when we were ranked No. 2," he said. "We have two tough games to play before we can stake a claim to being No. 1. I've always said the only poll that means anything is the final one."
Penn State, 10-0, concludes its regular season Nov. 24 against 20th-ranked Pitt.
The Nittany Lions, who finished second in AP's final 1968 and 1969 polls and fifth in 1971, 1973 and last year, attracted 55 of 66 first-place votes and 1,296 of a possible 1,320 points from AP's nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters.
Nebraska received six first-place votes and 1,209 points. Alabama, 31-10 winnr over Lousiana State, was third with four first-place votes and 1,203 points.
In the UPI poll, Nebraska's margin over Alabama was two points. That might have been reversed if all the coaches had voted this week. Three of the 42 members of the coaches board failed to turn in a ballot.
Nebraska already has been assured it will represent the Big Eight Conference in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day and Penn State is the likely opponent when the bids are extended Saturday evening.