top teams

1. Ohio State -- Because the Buckeyes don't have a terribly difficult schedule, they may have to go undefeated to wind up No. 1. With Heisman Trophy candidate Art Schlichter at quarterback and a fast, veteran-laden team surrounding him, OSU certainly has the potential for a 12-0 season. It came within a whisker of that last year, losing only to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl under new coach Earle Bruce, Woody Hayes's replacement.

2. Pittsburgh -- The Panthers come from "The City of Champions," a label they feel confident of living up to. Pitt, you may remember, won the national championship in 1976 with Tony Dorsett. Now a Steeler-like defense, led by end Hugh Green, is in the spotlight along with sophomore QB Dan Marino.

3. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers have made the Top 10 eleven straight years. The streak should continue, due in part to a superb backfield of QB Jeff Quinn, I-back Jarvis Redwine, and fullback Andra Franklin. Experienced lineman may not be in great supply, but in Lincoln, a fresh wave of talent is never far behind.

4. Alabama -- The Tide, which is seeking to secure its third successive No. 1 ranking in the writers' poll, lost nine offensive starters, so it's "hurting," right? Wrong! Replacements are on the way in the form of perhaps the best freshman class in the country. In the meantime, gritty halfback Major Ogilvie will provide the offensive leadership and eight returning regulars plenty of the same defensively.

5. Houston -- Bill Yeoman has steadied the once-umpredictable Cougars. Quarter-back Terry Elston heads up another exciting offense, which also sports Terald Clark, one of the best ballcarriers in the school's history. A pair of huge tackles, Hosea Taylor and Leonard Mitchell, anchor the defense.

6. Oklahoma -- Billy Sims is gone, but the attack should remain supercharged with QB J. C. Watts directing a flock of experienced mates. Holes elsewhere will be filled with usual array of blue-chippers.

7. Southern Cal -- The Trojans must play on pride this year, because a Pac-10 crackdown on academic irregularities has made them ineligible for the Rose Bowl and conference championship. Winning has become such a habit, though, that even without Charles White, USC could continue its dominance on the coast.

8. Purdue -- No matter what Ohio State does, Purdue winds up in the Rose Bowl if they win all their Big Ten games, a definite possibility since the Boilermakers and Buckeyes do not meet. Mark Herrmann, a Heisman candidate with a great passing touch, is the key. He has four years of combat under his belt and experienced receivers to throw to.

9. Auburn -- With a strong offensive line sweeping people out of the way, James Brooks will once again find plenty of daylight. A year ago, his average of 7.4 yards per carry was second best among major college runners.

10. California -- A golden arm should keep the Golden Bears just that -- golden. The young man at the controls is Rich Campbell, a bull's-eye passer who should be extra dangerous firing from a reinforced pocket. With Southern Cal out of the picture, the Bears also have a golden opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl.

11. Arkansas -- More than a few people have picked the Razorbacks to win the Southwest Conference. That's a tall order for a team breaking in a new quarterback, but whoever fills the vacancy will have a raft of classy halfbacks to take his handoffs.

12. Missouri -- Good old Mizzou, the team that traditionally knocks off the giants one week but is upset the next, should be much more dependable with Phil Bradley, the school's total offense king, at quarterback.

13. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels play Oklahoma this year in a game that gives them a chance to show they belong with the biggies. Actually, the Heels may have proved that by beating Michigan in last year's Gator Bowl.

14. Standford -- Any team with the Cardinals' firepower should turn heads. John Elway, perhaps the school's next great passer, will be throwing to versatile back Darrin Nelson (injured last year) and All-America receiver Ken Margerum.

15. Penn State -- Joe Paterno's club had all sorts of troubles of year ago, but 10 defensive starters and a solid corps of runners return.

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