Top-ranked, previously undefeated Virginia's loss to Georgia Tech Saturday forces college football bowl officials to rethink their positions, and losses by Associated Press No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Auburn and No. 5 Illinois scrambled the New Year's Day bowl picture just three weeks before bids officially are extended.

"Everything fell so apart," said Cotton Bowl official Rick Baker.

"We will meet {today}, and I have no idea where we're going," said Mickey Holmes, executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "Time will tell. That's our bromide. Like the coaches say, 'We have to look at the tapes.' "

In the new United Press International poll, Notre Dame is first, followed by Washington, Colorado, Miami, Iowa, Brigham Young, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Virginia and Nebraska. Notre Dame received 38 first-place votes, Washington 18 and Colorado 2. The AP rankings will be released today.

Virginia (7-1) previously held the key as one of three unbeaten, untied teams in Division I eligible for postseason play. The Orange Bowl was hoping to match Virginia against another one, Nebraska, with the national championship in the balance. (Wyoming, which fell to Colorado State, was the third unbeaten, untied team.) The Citrus Bowl, which takes the ACC champion but would have had to compete financially with the bigger bowls for a No. 1 team, was trying to increase its payoff in order to attract a Virginia-Notre Dame game.

Now, only this seems certain: Colorado is all but assured an Orange Bowl bid after beating Nebraska, Washington will represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, and Georgia Tech can be the host team in the Citrus Bowl by beating lowly Wake Forest.

The Cavaliers' best shot at a New Year's Day game apparently is the Fiesta Bowl -- possibly against Miami, Florida State, Auburn or even Penn State, especially if the Nittany Lions upset Notre Dame in two weeks -- assuming the Cavaliers finish by beating North Carolina and Maryland. Virginia Athletic Director Jim Copeland said he hasn't been able to communicate with bowl committees since Saturday's game. "The bowl committees won't meet until Monday morning. . . . I'll start having a better idea of where we are Monday or Tuesday."

The Orange Bowl matchup seems the most clear. With Colorado likely as Big Eight champion, the Orange apparently would like to cement a tentative deal with Notre Dame if the Irish beat Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville. Hometown Miami, its only loss to the Irish, would be the backup.

Notre Dame, with its ranking and national following, is the top choice of all the major bowls. "We just want to go where we can play for the national championship. If we're number one we'd be in the driver's seat and have a choice where we'd go," said school spokesman Roger Valdiserri. "I don't think anybody can predict the bowl picture right now."

The Sugar Bowl matchup also is muddled, though Nebraska seems the most likely opponent for the Southeastern Conference champion. The Sugar Bowl, of course, would like Notre Dame to face the SEC winner; it also is interested in Miami, Virginia and the Big Ten runner-up, Holmes said. In the SEC, AP No. 17 Mississippi holds a half-game lead over Tennessee, and they play in two weeks.

The Cotton Bowl also would like Notre Dame, but a more realistic choice is Miami, against the mandatory opponent, the Southwest Conference champion. The Cotton could wind up with Florida State, if the Seminoles don't go to the Fiesta.

The bowl picture may begin to clear this weekend, but for the first time in a while, some athletic directors and major bowl officials might have to wait until games of Nov. 24 before agreeing to tentative alliances. Among the key matchups this week are Notre Dame-Tennessee and Houston-Texas. The Longhorns are in line to be the SWC champions, as the AP No. 6 Cougars, the lone unbeaten and untied Division I team remaining, are on probation and therefore ineligible for a bowl game. Also of import Saturday are two games involving the Big Ten's top four teams.

"What happens if Notre Dame loses this week, Ohio State beats Iowa, and Houston beats Texas," said Holmes. "Then we'll see how scrambled it really is. {If that happens,} everybody's going to be afraid to wake up on Sunday morning."

Some who woke up this past Sunday morning in Charlottesville tried to let the memories of the last three weeks linger, while most struggled to accept the bitter ending to Virginia's 20-day reign as the top-ranked team.

Clean-up crews toiled silently at Scott Stadium, almost as if removing the trash left by a record 49,700 could erase the 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech.

Many players still were were trying to accept the destruction of their goals of becoming the school's first undefeated football team and winning the national title. "It's probably a bad thing to say, since I've never had anybody in my family die, but I felt like a part of me died out there," said defensive tackle Joe Hall, one of 12 fifth-year seniors left from Virginia's last losing team, 3-8 in 1986. "It ruined our season. Our season was to be undefeated. . . . The goal now is to win 11 games because nobody in Virginia history has ever done that."

Last year's team won 10 games, a share of the ACC championship, and a berth in the Citrus Bowl.

Virginia players and coaches gathered yesterday to watch film of the loss, with the memories of the dramatic ending already etched forever in their memories. Scott Sisson's 37-yard field goal with seven seconds left broke a 38-38 tie, 2 1/2 minutes after Virginia Coach George Welsh elected to tie the score on fourth and goal from the 6. He sent in Jake McInerney, who kicked his third field goal, after four scoring attempts inside the 5 failed. Two illegal procedure penalties contributed to that failure.

The second infraction was called after Shawn Moore hit tight end Aaron Mundy with the apparent go-ahead touchdown. Virginia had only 10 players on the field and only six on the line -- one short of the requisite seven. "We saw it on the sidelines after we came out of the huddle, but couldn't get a timeout," Welsh said.

The 31 points recorded by Navy against Notre Dame were testimony to the fact that any time a team tries something different in football, it has a good chance of success.

The Midshipmen (3-5) ran their normal offense from a wishbone look, staying on the ground much of the way when the Irish linebackers repeatedly were either cut down or simply outmaneuvered. Navy rolled up 382 yards, 221 on the ground.

Notre Dame's 52 points are proof that a team with more speed, size, skill and depth eventually will prevail, no matter what the opponent comes up with.

"We had too much speed and too much quickness," said Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz. "But they played well and had a good game plan. They're to be congratulated."