STATE COLLEGE, PA., SEPT. 11 -- On the first full Saturday of cheerful hate and amiable rivalry across the country, the second- and third-ranked college football teams meet, Heisman Trophy candidates have a showdown and new coaches will know more about their fortunes.
No. 3 UCLA will try to live down a reputation for flimsiness at No. 2 Nebraska and defending national champion and No. 11 Penn State's untried new team will play host to No. 19 Alabama in the first real test of Crimson Tide Coach Bill Curry. A Heisman run-off between No. 9 Michigan's Jamie Morris and No. 16 Notre Dame's Tim Brown will be held in Ann Arbor.
No. 1 Oklahoma will entertain a North Carolina team that possesses the one thing that could conceivably upset the top-ranked team, a passing game behind quarterback Mark Maye. Fifth-ranked Ohio State, with new quarterback Tom Tupa, will meet West Virginia. Also, sentimental Heisman favorite Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross will begin his two-way season against Army.
But the glamor game will be in Lincoln, where it's not often that two national championship contenders such as Nebraska (1-0) and UCLA (1-0) meet this early in a season. In the last two meetings between the schools, UCLA lost big -- 42-10 in 1983 and 42-3 in 1984. UCLA claims it has bulked up since then, with 12 players who can bench press 400 pounds, and has thought of little else but proving it is more than a nice regional team.
"The two Nebraska encounters weren't games," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. "They were lopsided slaughters. We want to demonstrate we can play better than that and do better against teams like Nebraska."
The Bruins are ranked third, mainly on the basis of tailback Gaston Green, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight straight games and is hankering for Heisman Trophy attention. He gained 135 yards on only 19 carries in a 47-14 victory over San Diego State last week, and left the game in the third quarter. Quarterback Troy Aikman, the Oklahoma transfer who lost his job to Jamelle Holieway, is clearly more suited for the Bruins' drop back offense, completing eight of 10 passes for 166 yards in his first start.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne calls them the most talented Bruins yet and doesn't recall the last time he had a game of such significance so early.
"We've just got to play it out and see," he said. "I can't remember too many times that we've played a team ranked that high, and been ranked this high ourselves."
The Cornhuskers are coming off a 56-12 rollover of Utah State and have added a new facet to their usual lumbering power: speed. Tailback Keith Jones, the fastest man on the team, got three touchdowns and 118 yards against Utah State, and quarterback Steve Taylor set a Nebraska single game record for quarterbacks with 157 rushing yards.
Typically, Osborne likes to poormouth the Cornhuskers, remarking that his team needs to show improvement over that one-sided Utah State game. But even he is forced to compliment the Cornhuskers, if laconically.
"My impression is that we're talented," he said.
At Beaver Stadium at 8 p.m., Alabama (1-0) and Penn State (1-0) will meet in the first truly significant game for former Georgia Tech coach Curry, and a crucial one for the Nittany Lions, who replace 15 starters. Last year's 23-3 victory over the Tide started the Nittany Lions on their national championship run and second straight unbeaten season.
But this time no one quite knows what to expect from Penn State, which has lost its leading passer, leading rusher, leading receiver and leading tackler. The Lions beat Bowling Green last week, 45-19, but that was hardly an indication, and Coach Joe Paterno bemoans his team's unpredictablility.
"We were not very good in anything," he said. "Whether that means we're just not very good remains to be seen."
Quarterback Matt Knizner is a fifth-year senior who has mainly backed up John Shaffer the last two years. The defense returns only four starting members, including linebackers Pete Giftopoulos and Trey Bauer. One of the few sure things is tailback Blair Thomas, who replaces D.J. Dozier and averaged 8.4 yards a carry last fall.
Curry was not the most popular choice to take over from Ray Perkins, and the Tide needs to be reassured by some new talent. Senior quarterback Dave Smith succeeds Mike Shula and outside linebacker Derrick Thomas is called the new Cornelius Bennett. Running back Bobby Humphrey is one of the best of the Heisman favorites, but the Tide has an uncertain defense that lost most of its line and secondary.
Notre Dame's 24-23 loss to Michigan last year started a nightmarish season in which five of the Fighting Irish losses came by five points or less. Whether second-year coach Lou Holtz has been able to make up that difference will most likely be seen at Michigan in a much-awaited game between Heisman candidates.
Expectations are higher for the Irish with Brown. But Notre Dame returns only three starters from the team that nearly beat the Wolverines, and Terry Andrysiak will be making his first start after backing up Steve Beuerlein for what seemed like a decade.
"I have no idea how good we are," Holtz said. "None whatsoever."
But the Wolverines are not self-assured, either, despite Morris. They have a dilemma in Demetrius Brown and Michael Taylor fighting to replace graduated quarterback Jim Harbaugh.