As recently as Nov. 28, 1994, Nebraska, Penn State and Alabama were ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the Associated Press top 25 with a combined record of 34-0. By last season, though, a gradual decline seemingly reached rock bottom: All three finished the year unranked and with no more than six victories.

Several factors -- Alabama's NCAA probation, Tom Osborne's retirement at Nebraska, Joe Paterno's refusal to retire at Penn State -- have been cited for the downward direction of the storied programs. Now, after one month of the season, Nebraska, Alabama and Penn State are a combined 11-0, each looking to further reestablish itself today against an undefeated conference opponent. What second-year Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said this week about his players applies to all three schools: "They are trying to live up to tradition."

The programs are recognized as much by images -- Paul "Bear" Bryant's houndstooth hat, Nebraska's "Blackshirts," Joe Paterno's thick glasses -- as by numbers: Alabama, Nebraska and Penn State have combined to win 14 consensus national championships and produce 95 first-round NFL draft picks.

While all are undefeated, only Alabama (15th) is ranked; Nebraska did not even receive one vote. And even if all three win their home games today, a feat considered unlikely, few would mention them as national title contenders.

"We really are getting better," Paterno said. "That doesn't mean we are great. We are just a pretty good football team right now."

-- Eric Prisbell