The major bowl games probably will be frivolous, save for the much awaited meeting of No. 1 and No. 2, but that doesn't mean they won't get whole communities stirred up when that exercise called the college football postseason begins in earnest this week.

Aside from the winner of the Orange Bowl, between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Miami, those who emerge victorious in the various bowls will get trophies and credit for trying, but no national championship. This is the third straight season a clear-cut national champion will be determined by a single postseason game. While that may appeal to those uncomfortable with ambiguity, it obscures some other worthy games.

Only a tie in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night could give national championship significance to No. 4 Syracuse's meeting with No. 6 Auburn in the Sugar or No. 3 Florida State's matchup with No. 5 Nebraska in the Fiesta. But all the New Year's Day bowls have something to offer, including the Cotton, which has Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Brown of Notre Dame leading the Fighting Irish against Texas A&M, and the Rose, which has a Michigan State team for the first time since Jan. 1966 going against time-honored Southern California.

"It's pay day," said Syracuse kicker Tim Vesling, who might have been speaking for everybody playing on New Year's Day.

Perhaps no team was as compelling this season as Syracuse, which, featuring Heisman runner-up Don McPherson, went undefeated for the first time since 1959. But the Orangemen probably are sentenced to become trivia unless there is a tie between Oklahoma and Miami. They then could win a national championship by becoming the only 12-0 team in the nation with a victory over Auburn (9-1-1).

But the first issue in New Orleans will be whether the Orangemen can prove themselves against Southeastern Conference winner Auburn after playing a lesser, largely East Coast schedule. There is considerable doubt that Syracuse is a powerhouse; it may even be an overachiever.

"We look at it this way: we can't do anything unless we're 12-0," Vesling said. "It's a funny situation because we haven't been here in so long, and we're not greedy. We're really happy with the season already."

Highlighting the Sugar Bowl are the comparable passing skills of two potential NFL quarterbacks: Auburn's Jeff Burger (178 of 267 for 2,066 yards, 20 touchdowns) and McPherson (129 of 229 for 2,341 yards, 22 touchdowns).

The game may turn on which defense is less intimidated. During the regular season, Auburn allowed just 10.5 points a game, while Syracuse, with outstanding nose guard Ted Gregory, allowed just over 15.

A tie in the Orange Bowl also would raise the possibility of Florida State sneaking off with a national title. But that is only if the Seminoles (10-1) blow out Nebraska and Syracuse loses. The Seminoles' only loss was a 26-25 heartache to Miami, and many who witnessed them build a 19-3 lead in the third quarter of that game suspect they might have been the better team that day.

"We know they {the Seminoles} feel they should be in the Orange Bowl, and they've got a right to," Nebraska running back Keith Jones said. "We just want to compare ourselves with them."

Nebraska (10-1) probably cannot move higher than No. 3 because its 17-7 loss to Oklahoma was so convincing. As Coach Tom Osborne put it, the Cornhuskers are playing on character, because they had pinned their hopes to a victory over the Sooners. "We're playing now in hopes of No. 2 or No. 3," Osborne said. "We've pretty much removed ourselves from it. We're not counting on anything."

Since Nebraska and Florida State are two of the nation's fastest teams, the game could hinge on foot speed. Nebraska's hybrid pass-option offense, led by quarterback Steve Taylor, is yearning to prove it can be more effective than it was against Oklahoma. Florida State's offense, with quarterback Danny McManus, is ranked second only to Oklahoma's; the Seminoles' defense is ranked 12th.

While it has virtually no clout this year, the Cotton Bowl could be more uproarious than the other New Year's Day games. When Notre Dame (8-3) and Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M (9-2) meet in Dallas, it not only will be the dynamic Brown's homecoming, but also a meeting of two loud traditions.

In theory, a perennial powerhouse like the Fighting Irish should be well-acquainted with New Year's Day games and a slight favorite. But an oddity about this Notre Dame team is that none of its players ever have been to a major bowl. Meanwhile, this is the Aggies' third straight Cotton Bowl appearance, a factor that could give them the advantage.

The Fighting Irish received a holiday gift in the form of senior Terry Andrysiak, their original starting quarterback this season. Andrysiak has recovered from the broken collarbone he sustained in Notre Dame's fourth game of the season, Oct. 10, and can be expected to play -- if not start over sophomore Tony Rice and freshman Kent Graham. While the younger players led Notre Dame's conversion to an option attack, the Irish were vulnerable without the passing combination of Andrysiak to Brown.

If Andrysiak is not quite ready, added pressure will be placed on a Notre Dame defense that has been hardly solid, allowing almost 17 points a game.

The Aggies also are unsteady offensively, averaging 338 yards per game total offense despite using three players at quarterback. But they offset their offensive inconsistency with the nation's seventh-best defense, which allows just 2.5 yards per rushing attempt. They also are accustomed to seeing Heisman winners: Two years ago they defeated Auburn and Bo Jackson.

The Rose Bowl is the curiosity of the New Year's Day games, a relic that lately has lost title significance, but continues to arouse interest if only to see how many times the faltering Pac-10 can prove the Big Ten inferior. The westerners have won six consecutive Rose Bowls, 12 of the last 13.

This year's is a change of pace, however, as both teams are unexpected and intriguing entries. USC (8-3) upset UCLA to get there; Michigan State (8-2-1) is making only its fourth Rose Bowl appearance, and points out it had no input in the Big Ten's embarrassing Rose record.

"It doesn't matter to me what they've done in the past," Coach George Perles said. "None of us had anything to do with the poor record. It's not my responsibility. I've got enough problems without worrying about that. If you want to know more about it why don't you ask the people who got beat consistently?"

The Spartans already have demonstrated they can defeat a Pac-10 team. In fact, in their first game of the season, they did so by defeating USC, 27-13. They haven't changed much since then. Running back Lorenzo White went on to gain 1,459 yards rushing and the Spartans' defense went on to rank first in the nation against the rush, holding teams to 61.5 yards a game.

USC, however, has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season and so has junior quarterback Rodney Peete, who completed 60 percent of his passes and averaged 231 yards total offense per game.