When the hectic week had ended, Alabama was the majority choice for No. 1. The Tide had started the year No. 4 in the polls, trailing USC, the defending champion, Nebraska and Ohio State. In late September, when USC was tied by Oklahoma, the Trojans fell back and Ohio State vaulted over Nebraska (which almost lost to a weak Wisconsin) into first. Alabama went to third. At mid-season Nebraska was upset by Missouri, yielding the second spot to the Tide, and so it remained until last week. Alabama scored impressive victories but so did Ohio State and the unwritten law of the polls says that whatever team holds the top spot continues to hold it until it loses, ties or, perhaps, wins shakily.
It is this law that now gives No. 1 to Alabama instead of to Notre Dame or Penn State, both of whom are equally unbeaten and untied. Worry not for the Irish, however. Last week's tie (an ironic 10-10) at Ann Arbor was like an early Christmas present for Ara Parseghian, for both Big Ten teams were ranked ahead of Notre Dame. Now, if the Irish should beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve, there is an excellent chance they would be voted the national championship—and why not? If you are unbeaten, untied and you whip the No. 1 team, you deserve it.
Penn State? Joe Paterno needs a miracle, namely an Alabama loss this week, followed by an Alabama victory over Notre Dame in New Orleans. Or the other way around. If both teams are unbeaten going into the Sugar Bowl, as is likely, Penn State must hope for a tie—and even that might not convince the voters.
The most curious case is Oklahoma. It started the big week No. 3 and won more impressively than any other team, but it is bowl-boundless. To be No. 1, it needs all the aforementioned miracles, plus a prayer that the voters will not be prejudiced by its probation.
One thing is certain. Ara can hope, Joe can hope, Barry can hope. Maybe even Woody can hope. But as of now, only the Bear has it.