January in October

The Associated Press

It's college football's nightmare scenario: Five teams go undefeated in the regular season and none meet in a bowl game.

Sound far-fetched? Well, it could happen.

How about Penn State in the Rose Bowl, the Nebraska-Colorado winner in the Orange, the Colorado State-Utah winner in the Holiday, Alabama in the Sugar and Texas A&M on the sidelines?

Or, if Auburn beats Alabama, scratch The Tide and add the Tigers to the list of unbeatens.

Like Texas A&M, Auburn is on probation and can't play in a bowl. Both teams are eligible for the national championship in The Associated Press media poll, although probation teams are barred from the USA Today-CNN coaches' poll.

Five unbeaten teams and no head-to-head competition to compare them because of conference commitments or bowl bans. The debates would be endless.

"It would be wild," said ESPN commentator Beano Cook. "There'd be arguments in every bar in America."

The last time five Division I-A teams had perfect regular seasons was 1979, when Alabama, Brigham Young, Ohio State, Florida State and McNeese State did it. They all played in different bowls and they all lost except for national champion Alabama, which beat Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl.

The situation could be more confusing this year because of the NCAA sanctions against No. 4 Auburn (7-0) and No. 6 Texas A&M (6-0). What happens if the probation teams are the only ones left without a loss after the bowls?

Cook said he might vote for Auburn because the Tigers would have completed their second straight 11-0 season. They finished fourth in the AP poll last season behind a trio of once-beaten teams, including national champion Florida State.

"If they're allowed to play, their games should count," Cook said. "You can't ignore a team that goes two years without a loss."

Cook's ESPN colleague, Lee Corso, disagrees.

"Probation teams should not win the national championship because they can't take the last step, which is winning a bowl game," Corso said.

So who's got the inside track to the title?

Is it top-ranked Penn State (6-0), which leads the nation in scoring and just beat Michigan at Ann Arbor?

Is it No. 2 Colorado (6-0), which has already beaten four teams that were ranked at the time they played?

Is it No. 3 Nebraska (7-0), which continues to win despite the loss of star quarterback Tommie Frazier?

How about No. 8 Alabama (7-0), which keeps winning close games with clutch plays?

Nebraska-Colorado on Oct. 29 and Auburn-Alabama on Nov. 19 will serve as elimination games. And we'll know more about Penn State's chances following the Lions' upcoming stretch against Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois.

In his preseason predictions, Cook picked Penn State to the win the national championship. But he thinks the Nebraska-Colorado winner will take over the No. 1 ranking.

"The winner of that game controls his own destiny," Cook said.

Corso said Penn State, Colorado and Alabama would all have strong arguments if they go undefeated.

"Colorado because of its tough schedule, Penn State because it beat Michigan more impressively than Colorado did, and Alabama because of its extra game (for the SEC championship)," he said. "You may have to flip a coin."

And what about the winner of Saturday's Western Athletic Conference showdown between No. 12 Colorado (7-0) State and No. 18 Utah (6-0)?

"They don't have a shot because they haven't played enough stiff competition," Corso said.

There's one other undefeated team out there. But few expect Duke to win at Florida State on Oct. 29.

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