It's indisputable: Seminoles No. 1

January 02, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MIAMI -- Bobby Bowden didn't care if Florida State beat Nebraska by only one point.

"I'll take my chances on you voters," Bowden said Friday. "Excuse me, us voters."

Well, Florida State won by just two points, not the 17 by which it was favored. Still, its 18-16 victory over Nebraska in last night's Orange Bowl should be good enough to make it the undisputed national champion.

Now the decision rests with the writers and coaches, two groups governed by their own agendas. The process is inherently flawed, but who's going to decide this, the Supreme Court?

The bowl coalition poll is an attempt to offset the conflicting opinions and get the right teams in place on New Year's Day. It isn't perfect, but now that all is said and done, it figures to produce the right result.

By winning the Orange Bowl, the Seminoles will stay No. 1 in the writers and broadcasters' poll. And, with both undefeated teams ahead of them losing, they figure to jump from No. 3 to No. 1 in the coaches' poll as well.

Please, not another word out of Nebraska and West Virginia. Each blew its chance.

Nebraska could have been the undisputed national champion, but lost after leading 7-6 at halftime.

West Virginia could have claimed the coaches' title, but lost the Sugar Bowl to Florida, 41-7. Florida State, remember, beat Florida, 33-21, in its final-regular season game.

So the controversy should be over. Frankly, the only problem scenario was if Nebraska (No. 1 coaches; No. 2 writers) upset Florida State to become the undisputed national champion.

That could have left another potential unbeaten -- West Virginia -- with no title, but the Cornhuskers and Mountaineers never got that far, did they?

Now, the only squawking will come from Notre Dame, the team that considers any ranking below No. 1 an unjust slap by a heathen society.

The Irish beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 24-21, but they needed a more resounding win for any chance at No. 1.

Lou Holtz can spare us the sermon about Notre Dame's victory over Florida State -- at home, in a game that went down to the last play, and never mind about Boston College.

So, who got shafted?

And who did the shafting?

Most of the criticism this season was directed at the writers, for ranking Florida State ahead of Nebraska and West Virginia even after its loss to Notre Dame.

Depending on whom you believe, the writers:

* Preferred the Arizona sunshine to the Florida sun-crime, and tried to arrange a Florida State-Notre Dame rematch in the Fiesta Bowl.

* Wanted no part of the annual New Year's Day collapse by Nebraska, a team that hasn't won a bowl game since Ronald Reagan was president.

* Figured West Virginia would be content to win its first bowl game in 10 years by routing Division I-AA runner-up Marshall in the Hillbilly Bowl.

* Rewarded Bowden for being a nice guy.

The truth? The writers had it right.

It's no surprise really, because the writers are the only ones accountable for their votes -- if someone doesn't vote Florida State No. 1, the AP can publicly identify the culprit.

The coaches cast secret ballots. In other words, if West Virginia coach Don Nehlen ranks Florida State 15th -- heh, heh, heh -- no one will ever know it.

Of course, moral beacons that they are, the coaches would never think of such a thing.

Nor would they be jealous of someone like Bowden, someone honest and funny, someone who isn't paranoid of the media.

Oh, no, not the coaches.

Yet, for all the self-interest employed by both sides, the two polls reflect a simple difference of opinion.

The coaches pick the best record.

The writers pick the best team.

Obviously, the latter choice is more subjective. But the split is nothing new. Three years ago, unbeaten Colorado won the coaches' poll, and once-tied Georgia Tech won the writers'.

Still, as Bowden noted, "All of a sudden, this undefeated thing has gotten really popular." Joe Paterno's first three Orange Bowl teams ('69, '70, '74) came to Miami with a combined 31-0 record, won all three games, but didn't earn a single national championship.

Strength of schedule counts. So does a winning bowl tradition. West Virginia didn't rate on either count, and was in position to win a share of the national title.

What was so unfair about that?

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