Now this is silly. Couldn't happen. Not in a hundred years. College football coaches are nice guys who are as honest as the day is long. They are incorruptible and most of them would not kick a small dog. They certainly hold each other in high esteem and would never undermine another man's program to build up their own.

But for the sake of today's argument, suppose there is a coach who is not a saint.

This coach has a team rated No. 2 in the country. In a big bowl game, his team beats the No. 1 team.

Let's say, just for fun, that this coach who is not a saint is one of 42 coaches who vote in th weekly poll conducted by United Press International.

Those coaches vote fo the top 15 teams in order. The No. 1 team gets 15 points, the No. 2 team gets 14 and so on, down to one point for 15th place.

Well, when the coach's team beats the No. 1 team, he knows the voting for the national championship is going to be very, very close.

Naturally, being in love with his university, he puts his own bosy No. 1 in the UPI ratings.

Then this coach who is not a saint has this unsaintly thought.

He can win the national championship with a stroke of his pen.

All he has to do is vote his team No. 1 and put his main competition No. 15. Right there is a difference of 14 points in a close vote. That might be enough to win the whole ball of unsaintly wax.

Couldn't happen.

Not in a hundred years.

Sportswriters also vote.

Sportswriters are made in heaven. They are infallible judges of all they see and most of what they don't see but hear on TV while drinking beer and eating popcorn late at night. They are above petty geographical biases. Their voting would never be influenced by extraneous factors such as a coach who is not a saint threatening to drop a 260-pound tackle on their typing fingers.

The polls are good ways to determine the national championship as long as coaches love one another and journalism continues to attract a few guys who can find their cars early New Year's Day.

Someday, though, there ought to be a national championship playoff. Right now we have the coaches telling United Press International that Southern Cal is No. 1. The Associated Press poll of sportswriters and sportscasters came out in Alabama's favor.

Now everyone gets to argue about it. Why don't they just play a game and get it over with? The national championship, if it's so all-fired important that we argue about it, ought to be decided by the players, not by sainted coaches and heavenly sportwriters.

The governor of Louisiana agrees. Edwin Edwards proposed yesterday that Alabama and Southern Cal meet for the national championship. The governor is a wise and just man with only the good of college football at heart. It is only incidental tht he proposes the game be played in the New Orleans Superdome.

It is similarly an accident, surely, that the AP voting showed a geographical pattern.

In the South -- 10 state from Kentucky to Florida -- Alabama took in 16 first-place votes to Southern Cal's three and Oklahoma's one. The East went for 'Bama over SC, 7-3; the Midwest had 'Bama leading SC and Oklahoma, 8-6-4, and the Southwest was an Alabama-Oklahoma deadlock at 3-3 with SC getting a single vote.

Only in the West did Southern Cal prevail, getting eight first-place votes to Alabama's four and Oklahoma's one.

Bear Bryant, the Alabama saint/coach, voted for his boys No. 1, according to the school's sports information director, Kirk McNair. Bryant put Penn State No. 2 and Southern Cal third, McNair said.

That means Bryant cost himself UPI's version of the national championship, because Alabama finished only five points behind Southern Cal in that poll. Had he put USC ninth or lower, Alabama would have been No. 1.

"What we're trying to figure out," McNair said, "is who put us No. 4."

Alabama fourth?

"Two coaches did it. We think it was Robinson and Devine."

John Robinson coaches Southern Cal, Dan Devine coaches Notre Dame.

I couldn't reach Robinson. Devine was furious.

"He's a damned liar," Devine said. "I don't intend to tell how I voted, but the first two teams I voted for -- not necessarily in this order -- were Alabama and Southern Cal. To say I voted Alabama fourth is a lie."

Devine, Robinson and Bryant were among 35 coaches who voted in th UPI poll. There are supposed to be 42 voters. Fo reasons ranging from unemployment to surgery, seven coaches were too busy, or too indifferent, to help determine the national championship.

So here we are arguing over voting that doesn't include one-sixth of an appointed panel. And we are arguing over voting that runs loyally to geographical patterns.

There is a good way to resolve this argument.

"A national championship playoff," Devine said. "I'd go for that a thousand times. "It's unfair for it to be decided by polls."