AMERICANS often seem prepossessed with knowing who is No. 1, especially involving sports. Playoffs and championship games are the normal instruments for determining who's king of the hill, but major college football has neither. Two wire service polls issue ''Top 20'' rankings. This procedure, however, has become increasingly unsatisfactory to some enthusiasts. Now, with bowl games coming up, calls will again be heard advocating a ''national playoff'' system.
A penalty flag should be thrown down on the field once and for all for such a playoff concept. The college game enjoys a unique flavor that would be eroded by a pro-style playoff. The logistics of sending a football team to more than one major postseason game would be formidable. The players, after all, are students. College football deserves a setting and rules that match its purpose: building character and good sportsmanship.