COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Florida Leads After First Quarter

And now, a quarterly report on the national championship race:

FLORIDA

--Our preseason ranking: No. 5; Current Associated Press ranking: No. 1.

--The Good News: Despite Coach Steve Spurrier's ability to insult vast regions of the country with his comments about fellow coaches and programs, Florida has positioned itself nicely for a championship run. The Gators play five of their next six games at home.

--The Bad News: If they don't lose to Auburn on Oct. 15, they will lose Nov. 26 at Florida State. Both of those games will be more difficult than facing Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 3 at Atlanta.

NEBRASKA

--Then: No. 2; Now: No. 2.

--The Good News: Uh . . . Wyoming this weekend?

--The Bad News: Quarterback Tommie Frazier, who is suffering from a blood clot in his right calf, might be sidelined for the season. So might Nebraska.

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said Frazier was one of the few players in the country who could make a difference in a game. He wasn't kidding. Without Frazier, the Cornhuskers now turn to Brook Berringer, who is making his first start Saturday. How will Berringer run Nebraska's option offense?

"He's not Tommie Frazier in that respect," said Ron Brown, Nebraska assistant coach.

FLORIDA STATE

--Then: No. 6; Now: No. 3.

--The Good News: Foot Locker jokes are down to triple digits. Plus, the Seminoles have four games remaining against ranked opponents (Miami, Notre Dame, North Carolina State and Florida). Win those and nobody can say Florida State doesn't deserve a No. 1 ranking.

--The Bad News: Games against four ranked opponents, two on the road and one in Orlando against Notre Dame.

PENN STATE

--Then: No. 17; Now: No. 4.

--The Good News: Coach Joe Paterno said he wanted a Big Ten Conference title before he retired. He'll get it with time to spare.

--The Bad News: With the exception of an Oct. 15 trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., none that we can think of.

COLORADO

--Then: No. 13; Now: No. 5.

--The Good News: Coach Bill McCartney is a big believer in divine intervention. Did someone say "Hail Mary?"

--The Bad News: God can't do anything about the Oct. 29 trip to Lincoln, Neb.

ARIZONA

--Then: No. 3; Now: No. 6.

--The Good News: Ask Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom about the Wildcats. He can tell you everything you need to know, and he has the bruises to prove it.

--The Bad News: Arizona's better-than-expected offense still has to face such defensive bad boys as Colorado State and Washington State on successive weekends.

MICHIGAN

--Then: No. 14; Now: No. 7.

--The Good News: The Wolverines still can win the Big Ten title.

--The Bad News: It won't matter.

NOTRE DAME

--Then: No. 4; Now: No. 8.

--The Good News: A favorable schedule, lots of TV exposure and Game of the Century, Part II, the rematch against Florida State.

--The Bad News: Despite the best recruiting machine in the country, the Irish don't have a dependable kicker. A close game and they're doomed.

AUBURN

--Then: No. 1; Now: No. 9.

--The Good News: Only two legitimately tough games remaining: one against Florida, one against hated Alabama.

--The Bad News: Both are on the road. And even if the Tigers go undefeated, NCAA probation prohibits them from postseason play.

TEXAS A&M;

--Then: No. 25; Now: No. 10.

--The Good News: The Aggies play in the Southwest Conference.

--The Bad News: See Auburn probation.

IS THERE A HEISMAN CANDIDATE IN THE HOUSE?

Not to say the Heisman list is thinning, but at last look the leading contenders were Florida quarterback Terry Dean, Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman, Penn State halfback Ki-Jana Carter and two newcomers, Tennessee's Smokey the Blue Tick Hound and the Michigan fan who hurled a packet of batteries at Colorado players last Saturday (What an arm!).

Heisman hopefuls are dropping faster than Stanford in the polls. First Florida State's Derrick Brooks gets suspended for two games. Then Michigan's Tyrone Wheatley goes down with a separated shoulder. Then UCLA's J.J. Stokes hurts his leg. Then Notre Dame's Lee Becton stumbles, bumbles and fumbles before pulling a groin muscle. Then Nebraska's Frazier suffers perhaps a season-ending injury.

The turnover in candidates has given hope to lesser-known players such as Alcorn State's Steve McNair, Michigan's Todd Collins and now Colorado's Kordell Stewart. And according to Temple Coach Ron Dickerson, it also has helped elevate the status of Penn State's Carter from preseason nominee to third-of-a-season favorite.

"But I say that selfishly, because I recruited Ki-Jana," said Dickerson, a former Penn State assistant who helped persuade Carter to sign with the Nittany Lions. "I say that because I know him. I know him personally."

Here's all you really need to know about Carter: 540 yards, nine touchdowns, an 8.6 yards-per-carry average and he faces undermanned Temple on Saturday at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. If all goes as expected, Carter should be enjoying himself on the bench by halftime, the owner of another 100-plus-yard game and a touchdown or two.

Nor does it hurt Carter's chances that Penn State has become the team to beat in the Big Ten, that it is on TV more than Ken Burns' "Baseball"--and isn't half as boring--that it plays in the vote-rich East, that it has Paterno to put in a good word, or that the Nittany Lions have as good a chance as anyone of winning the national championship.

"We told (our players) last night in the meeting, this is probably the best team in the country," Dickerson said. "I don't think our kids are going to be scared of them, intimidated of them."

Then again, it's only Thursday.

SEEING THE WORLD THROUGH ROSE BOWL GLASSES

Here's the difference between Michigan Coach Gary Moeller and Colorado's McCartney or Penn State's Paterno:

After the loss to the Buffaloes, Moeller insisted that the most important part of the Wolverines' schedule was still to come. Translation: the Big Ten title is bigger than the national title.

Even the players repeat the silly Moeller mantra.

"It's our goal to win the Big Ten championship," said Michigan linebacker Steve Morrison.

Big whoop. Several seasons ago, when Penn State joined the Big Ten, Paterno said he found the conference's provincialism a bit puzzling. After all, what's better, a trip to Pasadena or a trip to the White House and a congratulatory handshake and photo op with Bubba?

Even McCartney, who spent considerable time in the Big Ten as a Michigan assistant under Bo Schembechler, has seen the light of looking past conference boundaries. McCartney has one championship and he wants another.

"We want to play the great teams in the country," said McCartney, whose long-term contract allows him to take chances with his scheduling. That explains the nonconference games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Texas--all ranked opponents.

Meanwhile, Michigan scheduled Boston College, Notre Dame and Colorado. To Moeller, the games never existed.

MONEY TALKS, KANSAS SQUAWKS

Kansas Coach Glen Mason remembers his first season at Lawrence, when the Jayhawks finished 1-10 and routinely lost by scores such as 56-7, 52-21, 63-10, 63-14, 63-24 and 55-17. So overwhelmed was his team that Mason occasionally took his coaching staff to dinner after the routs--to thank them for a job well done.

"Some of the best coaching we did was that year," Mason said.

In other words, it could have been worse.

No wonder then that Mason had a soft spot for Alabama Birmingham, which traveled to Kansas last Saturday and was promptly thumped, 72-0. The Blazers, a Division I-AA team making its first appearance against a Division I-A program, never had a chance.

"But I thought that UAB was an extremely well-coached football team," Mason said. "I know because I've been in that position many, many times."

Alabama Birmingham has Division I-A aspirations, but that still doesn't explain how such an awful team found its way onto Kansas' schedule.

The short version, which also includes a business lesson:

When the rule was passed several seasons ago requiring teams to win at least six Division I-A games for bowl eligibility, programs began bidding against each other for nonconference opponents with Division I-A status. Schools such as Pacific, New Mexico State and the late, not-so-great Cal State Fullerton were in constant demand because they were weak opponents and available for the right price.

No dummies, the lower-tier Division I-A teams began demanding bigger guarantees. Football supply and demand kicked in.

"They've driven the price tag up," Mason said.

According to Mason, that's why Kansas was stuck with the likes of Alabama Birmingham, a team that should have never seen the light of Memorial Stadium. Worse yet, Kansas fans had to buy tickets for this mess.

"Would I have liked to have played a Division I-A opponent rather than a Division I-AA? Yes," he said. "But we're not going to pay someone $460,000 to come in here and play."

That's how much Tulsa wanted, but Kansas couldn't afford it. So, the Jayhawks ended up with the Blazers and a meaningless rout.

THE REST

Maybe Colorado's Stewart is taking this warm and fuzzy feeling a little too far. Said Stewart of the Miracle at Michigan: "I wanted to marry (receiver) Michael Westbrook." Fine, said Colorado's McCartney. "We might have to tie the knot here this afternoon, come to think of it," he said. . . . It was so hot and humid at the Orange Bowl last Saturday that at least three dehydrated Washington players required treatment on the trip home to Seattle. Still, during the fourth quarter of Washington's 38-20 upset victory over Miami, it was the Hurricane players who were seen kneeling uncharacteristically on the turf, gasping for air. Washington's players stood nearby, watching in amazement. Soon thereafter, the Hurricanes' NCAA-record 58-game home winning streak came to an end. Said Miami receiver Chris T. Jones: "I'm ashamed. I'll have to look the former 'Canes and coaches in the eye and know that my class is known as the class that lost the streak. I'll have to live with that."

Top 10

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Record 1. Nebraska 4-0 2. Florida 3-0 3. Penn State 4-0 4. Colorado 3-0 5. Florida State 4-0 6. Arizona 3-0 7. Michigan 2-1 8. Notre Dame 3-1 9. Auburn 4-0 10. Washington 2-1

Waiting list: Virginia Tech (4-0), Texas A&M; (3-0), Miami (2-1), Washington State (3-0), Colorado State (4-0)

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