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WHO'S NO. 1? OPINION DIVIDED ON WHETHER A PLAYOFF SYSTEM IS FEASIBLE

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OK, so who's really No. 1?

In at least two separate cities - Boulder, Colo. and Atlanta - the football fraternity was claiming that distinction this week, thanks to a difference of opinion between the final Associated Press and United Press International polls.``Two?' mused Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger. ``Usually it's more than that.'

In fact, it could be.

If you don't subscribe to the AP's poll of sportswriters and broadcasters designating Colorado as national champion or UPI's survey of coaches crowning Georgia Tech, there's another alternative. The New York Times computer decided Miami was the best college team.

Each team won its bowl game. Each had at least a small blemish on its record - two losses for Miami, a loss and a tie for Colorado and a tie for Georgia Tech. Each owns otherwise impressive credentials.

The players are hardly impartial.

``Colorado is not the best team in the country,' Georgia Tech safety Ken Swilling said. ``I would go so far as to say we would beat them and beat them convincingly.'

So how do you resolve this tug-of-war?

The logical, simple solution, Schnellenberger said, is a playoff.

``It is mandatory as soon as possible,' he said.

Louisville finished No. 14 in the final AP poll after routing Alabama 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. It was the most successful season for the Cardinals since Schnellenberger took over the program six years ago. That was the year after he was surrounded by his own constituency of wild-eyed Miami fans and alumni, running around with their index fingers thrust high in the air, declaring that they were No. 1.

``When I won the mythical national championship at Miami, it was dandy that it was picked by experts and inexperts,' he said.

Pat Dye at Auburn remembers it well. He didn't think it was so dandy at all.

``We were 11-1 and No. 3,' he said. ``There was no place for us to go with Miami playing Nebraska, No. 1 against No. 2. We were No. 3 going in and No. 3 coming out.'

So, like Schnellenberger, Dye wants a playoff.

``Sure you should have one,' he said. ``It's a simple scenario. You let four bowl winners playoff. It's two more weeks, 14 games instead of 12. Basketball plays 35.

``I've been saying this for 10 years. Every year, you'll have four quality teams. Every year, you'll have this controversy.'

For Schnellenberger, the issue is competing with other sports that have playoffs. ``After coming to Louisville and seeing the growth in the basketball tournament and the surgence - not resurgence - of it, it's obvious that unless we go in that direction, we will allow lesser entities to pass us,' he said.

Schnellenberger watched Louisville's basketball team win the NCAA tournament in 1986 and was suitably impressed. He sees football perfectly capable of duplicating the kind of excitement that tournament generates and said successful football playoffs in Divisions II and III prove that.

Timing would be no problem, he said. ``Our timing is better than it is in basketball or hockey. We're in mid-semester break. We have a month of holidays.'

And where would a playoff leave the bowl games? Would they retain their traditional seat of power within the college football community?

``I think the bowls would come out even stronger and better,' Schnellenberger said. ``Anybody who has seen Final Four games and the NFL playoffs with the wild cards knows how much interest is generated.'

A year ago, Dick Schultz, executive director of the NCAA, said a study found 72 percent of Division 1-A coaches opposed to a playoff. ``The Division I presidents are strongly opposed,' Schultz said. ``I think the only purpose would be to produce more money. When you cut away the fat, there aren't really that many coaches who want a playoff.'

The initial Blockbuster Bowl, won by Florida State 24-17 over Penn State a week ago in Miami, pitted two coaches with opposing views on a playoff against each other.

Penn State's Joe Paterno has long been a proponent of a playoff. Bobby Bowden of Florida State is just as strongly opposed.

``I am not in favor of playoffs,' Bowden said. ``I can't find a suitable way in which a playoff could be conducted. The only way I think it could work as far as colleges are concerned is if the bowls would cooperate.

``And if I were running a bowl, I wouldn't cooperate.'

Schnellenberger was asked how he would arrange a playoff, how many teams he'd want in it and whether the bowls might be used on a rotating basis for the championship game.

``I am not a technician,' he said. ``I am a theorist.'

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