Sadly, another key factor in No. 1ism is margin of victory. That is carefully calculated by voters, but it's highly unreliable. While some coaches run up the score, others—like Bryant, in most cases—try to remember what it's like to be stomped. 'Bama fans, an unusually silent bunch in comparison to, say, Nebraska or Florida State rooters, are also spoiled. After whomping Virginia Tech 31-7 in a game in which the margin of victory could have been far wider, the prevailing feeling among the Tide faithful was, "What's wrong?"
Comparisons with common opponents also are inexact. For example, Alabama's toughest game so far has been against Tennessee, which the Tide defeated 27-17 on Oct. 20. Tennessee got beat by Rutgers 13-7. Ergo, Rutgers is the equal of Alabama? Nebraska defensive coordinator Lance Van Zandt says, "I could probably show you by comparison that Rice is better than Southern Cal. But I don't think that's true."
There are four other NCAA Division I-A unbeatens, but they obviously don't have No. 1 potential except in the eyes of their alumni. Brigham Young has the statistics—a scoring average of 40.7 points per game and an offense that averages 525.1 yards every time it goes on the field—but the Cougars are members of the WAC and simply don't command the necessary voting power in the polls. Yale and McNeese State have spirit; Central Michigan has a tie.
How do each of the Top Six make a case for being No. 1?
For Alabama, it's easy. The Tide is.
Nebraska points to statistics nearly as good as 'Bama's against a tougher schedule. Missouri is a case in point. Before the season the Tigers were considered equal to challenging for the Big Eight title; that opinion was wrong. Still, Missouri always plays Nebraska tough. In fact the Tigers had won four of the last six meetings between the two teams. Last Saturday it looked like it might be five of seven. In an eight-second 14-point Missouri scoring spree in the third quarter, Quarterback Phil Bradley connected on a fourth-down four-yard scoring pass to Tight End Andy Gibler to bring the Tigers to within eight points of the Huskers. On the ensuing kickoff, Nebraska's returner, Anthony Steels, was blasted by Missouri's Ron Fellows, the ball popped in the air, and the Tigers' Orlando Pope grabbed it and went 17 yards for another TD. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game was tied at 20.
The Huskers knew they were in plenty of trouble. Their star, gifted I Back Jarvis Redwine, had slightly strained his right knee blocking on the point-after attempt following the second Husker touchdown and was of little use the rest of the day. More than any one player, Redwine is responsible for Nebraska aspiring to No. 1 in 1979. He's so good he has relegated I. M. Hipp, the school's all-time leading rusher, to the second team. But Hipp was also hurt, having a sprained toe. Still, Nebraska got right back to the Missouri three, thanks to the running of third-string I Back Craig Johnson—proof positive that the Huskers have the depth a No. 1 team requires. But three running plays from there netted only a yard, and kicker Dean Sukup came in to boot his third—and winning—field goal. Missouri's upset hopes were dashed when Nebraska Defensive End Derrie Nelson wrapped up Bradley before he could unloose a pass on the final play of the game. "We needed a game like this," said Redwine. "There's no stopping us now."
Southern Cal can only hope and wait. Even winning the Pac-10, going to the Rose Bowl and beating, say, Ohio State probably won't get the Trojans back on top if Alabama keeps on winning. Still, Washington State Coach Jim Walden says of USC, "There's no better team in the nation." His Cougars lost to the Trojans 50-21. Against Arizona last weekend USC was its old self, dismantling the Wildcats 34-7 behind a record-breaking performance by lefthanded Quarterback Paul McDonald, who passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns.
The polls may be crudest of all to Houston. For while the SEC and the Big Eight, among the major conferences, are clearly below par, the Southwest is its usual prepotent self. If the Cougars can win the conference title—and Texas will be a big test this Saturday—then Houston has proved it is one fine football team. But neither its reputation nor its image are gloss enough. Worse, if Houston wins the league, it will go to the Cotton Bowl, where it has only an outside chance of facing a team higher ranked than itself. "Houston," says a skeptic, "will be No. 1 when the ocean wears rubber pants to keep its bottom dry."
For Ohio State, there is only hope. "We're real good," says sophomore Quarterback Art Schlichter, who directed the Bucks to a 44-7 win over Illinois last Saturday. "What I hope is we'll be great." Says Coach Bruce, "I don't know if we have the talent to be 9-0, but the players believe they do." Washington State's Walden, whose team also was whipped by Ohio State, gives Bruce and his staff high marks for making the players "think they are better than they really are."