Who will be football's No. 1 team?
Before the season started, hardly anyone thought Georgia stood much chance of becoming a national champion repeater, even with Herschel Walker back. But the Bulldogs have moved up to No. 2 in both wire service polls and now are in excellent position to become that rarest of breeds, a consensus No. 1 team in back-to-back years.
The key to Georgia's title defense, of course, lies in the bowl results. Georgia must beat Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl, while top-ranked Clemson loses to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Even then, third-ranked Alabama could leapfrog to the top, depending on what it does in the Cotton Bowl.
Alabama has drawn a more formidable New Year's Day opponent in Texas, an interesting twist, considering Georgia once looked to be the winner in the bowl bid sweepstakes. The chance to play Pittsburgh was a real plum when the Sugar Bowl committee chose Georgia over Alabama. But that was before the formerly undefeated and top-ranked Panthers lost to Penn State and took a big plunge in the polls. Now Georgia may have to win big to earn many points with the pollsters.
In the 30 years that two polls have existed, only one school has swept the No. 1 ranking in successive seasons, Oklahoma in 1956 and '57. Unofficially, you might say the Sooners were the consensus national champions in 1974 and '75, too, except that the UPI outlawed them from its ratings altogether as the result of being on NCAA probation.
Schools which have come close to having consensus No. 1 teams in back-to-back years, falling short in just one poll, are Alabama (twice in 1964-65 and 1978-79 ) and Nebraska (1970-71). Stanford's Mr. Run-Mr. Catch
As the only major college player ever to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 60 passes in the same season, Stanford's Darrin Nelson is at least All-Universe, right? Think again, because the Cardinals' 5 ft. 9 in. senior halfback didn't even make first string on a prestigious All-America team announced this week.
Nelson had two strikes against him. He played on a disappointing 4-7 club and he never piled up gaudy statistics in any one category. His multi talents, which made him the only player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in three seasons, did him in.
As a runner he averaged 5.2 yards a carry this season for 1,014 total yards, while as a receiver he caught 67 passes. Stanford's really going to miss him, but he'll leave 11 school records in his name. Off year for the Big Eight
This has been a very quiet year for the Big Eight Conference, normally one of the country's strongest circuits. That No. 4 Nebraska is the Big Eight's lone Top 20 representative is startling enough. That Oklahoma hasn't made the grade while teams from San Jose State, Southern Mississippi, and Washington State have , seems even more amazing.
Only a decade ago the mighty Big Eight enjoyed a never-equaled monopoly, with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado finishing 1-2-3 in the final AP rankings. Little by little, however, NCAA scholarship limitations have changed things, so that now the caliber of play is fairly equal from conference to conference.
Coupled with the Big Eight's declining stature was this year's ho-hum championship race, which saw Nebraska lock things up before meeting Oklahoma in the their traditional showdown. Never before in league history (even when it was the Big Six and later Big Seven) had a team clinched the title outright before the season's final week.
The Cornhuskers, 7-0 in conference play and 9-2 overall, easily outdistanced the second-place Sooners, whose 6-4-1 record was the worst ever under Coach Barry Switzer.
Big Eight teams apparently still make attractive bowl participants, however, judging from the four league teams, other than Nebraska, preparing for postseason action. Oklahoma is headed for the Sun Bowl, Missouri for the Tangerine, Kansas for the Hall of Fame, and Oklahoma State for the Independence.
At one point, Switzer said Oklahoma didn't want to go to a bowl if it lost to Nebraska. Bowls pay big appearance money, though, and that fact certainly helped change some minds. Take a bow, Don James
When Coach of the Year ballots are counted, Clemson's Danny Ford, Iowa's Hayden Fry, and Alabama's Bear Bryant will surely be among the top vote getters. Deserving of serious consideration, but not likely to get it, is Washington's Don James, the 1977 recipient.
Under James, the Huskies have become a consistent Pacific-10 power, actually nudging Southern Cal from its preeminent position. Washington will soon make its third Rose Bowl appearance in five years. Each trip was earned with an outright conference title. A touchy bowl issue
The people who run the Rose Bowl can't be too happy about this season's Bluebonnet Bowl matchup in Houston. Michigan and UCLA are Texas-bound, scheduled to play in the first postseason game outside Pasadena to pit Big Ten and Pac-10 teams.
The Rose Bowl has long had a tie-in with these conferences, extending an automatic berth to each league champion. Only in recent years have the conferences' nonchampions been allowed to accept bowl invitations, yet never have they shared the same dance card. Allowing teams to meet elsewhere could undermine the Rose Bowl's uniqueness and possibly even overshadow it as a national attraction.
The Big Ten office admits that the Bluebonnet decision falls into a ''sensitive, grayish area.'' How it will affect the good relations that the two conferences have enjoyed with the Rose Bowl remains to be seen.