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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / The No. 1 Debate : WHY NEBRASKA SHOULD BE NO. 1 : Hey, Coaches Must Know <i> Some</i> thing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An unsympathetic 300-pounder by the name of Rob Zatechka is not exactly boo-hoo-hooing for poor Penn State. A guard for Nebraska’s undisputed/(disputed?) national champions, Zatechka got up onstage at a pep rally in Lincoln, Neb., to let everyone know: “I kind of felt bad there for Penn State--for about five seconds.”

I felt pretty bad myself for our proud young Lion Kings, until I heard this Kerry Collins kid start shooting off his mouth. Listen to this latest Nittany nuttiness from the quarterback for No. 2 Penn State: “What right do sportswriters and coaches (writer’s italics) have to say who’s No. 1? My Mom could declare someone No. 1 and it would be the same thing.”

Hmmm. Voters in the 62-person USA Today/CNN national poll include Bobby Bowden, Rich Brooks, Terry Donahue, Dennis Erickson, Hayden Fry, Lou Holtz, Johnny Majors, Bill McCartney, Gary Moeller, Tom Osborne, Joe Paterno (yes), John Robinson, Larry Smith, Steve Spurrier, Gene Stallings and Bill Walsh. They do not include Mom Collins.

According to this Penn State player, even a professional collegiate coach is unqualified to vote Nebraska as No. 1 and Penn State as No. 2. This makes me feel so much better. Back when Collins was merely disparaging we Gump- brained sportswriters (“all the people sitting around in their Lazy-Boys”), I had begun to feel guilty.

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Look, I’m sorry for everybody back in central Pennsylvania, or anyplace else, who feels that what happened to their Nittany Lions is a lowdown dirty shame. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t vote. I don’t even own a Lazy-Boy. I sit in a hard-back chair, just like you!

The hard, plain truth is, Nebraska was No. 1 in the polls before the bowl games and Penn State was No. 2, and both teams won, and Nebraska played a higher-ranked team, and no amount of moaning or groaning or voter-bashing is going to change a thing. Read my lips: There . . . is . . . no . . . playoff.

No lion-tamer took a whip into the cage in State College, Pa., and forced the Nittany pride to join the Big Ten Conference. When the distinguished Mr. Paterno and his superiors signed on that Big Ten dotted line, they knew full well that this meant reserving New Year’s Day to play the representative from the Pacific 10 Conference for four quarters of football. Nobody said anything about national championships.

For all Penn Staters knew, their opponent was going to be Arizona (Sports Illustrated’s choice to be No. 1 in the nation), or a USC team that supposedly would have a Heisman Trophy-worthy quarterback. Had it been Oregon that had gone undefeated and been ranked No. 1 to Penn State’s No. 2, it would have been Nebraska that got shafted by being denied access to the Rose Bowl.

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This stuff happens, year after year after year. Poll-taking is an inexact science. We have had everyone from the late sportswriter wanna-be Richard M. Nixon to the lazy boys and lazy girls of the journalism biz crusading about what’s wrong with these stupid polls.

I once got into a heated argument with Wimp Sanderson, then a basketball coach at the University of Alabama, over all this poll bull. Somebody had asked the Wimpster why his No. 11-ranked team had been so successful against a higher-ranked opponent. His reply was, “This just shows you how little you people know about basketball.”

Raising my hand, I said, “ ‘Scuse me, Mr. Wimp, sir, but if Alabama is ranked No. 11 in the weekly writers’ poll but also No. 11 in the weekly coaches’ poll, how’s come we’s so dumb?”

Wimp snapped, “You mean to sit there and tell me you know as much as a coach?”

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(At least I wasn’t sitting in a Lazy Boy.)

“No, sir,” I said. “But how come if we both ranked you the same, we’re stupid and you’re smart?”

Well, I guess Kerry Collins has seen the light. Not only the writers are underqualified, but the coaches are, too--including his own.

His teammate, Ki-Jana Carter, looked directly into a TV lens Monday and said, “Least thing you could do is split it up.”

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Which is like telling a hung jury, “Least you could do is come in six-six.”

“For somebody who has nothing to do with the game, no part in it . . . to be able to come out and say who is No. 1, who’s No. 2 and who’s No. 3, that does kind of offend me because they don’t know what it’s like,” Penn State center Bucky Greeley said.

Uh huh. Yeah, how would Bowden, Erickson, Osborne and Paterno know what this was like, Bucky?

As for their coach, Paterno, his sensible-as-usual take on all this falderal Tuesday morning in Pasadena was, “The system is what it is, and we can live with it. But nobody’s going to take away the fact that I have a national championship football team.”

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Joe, I hate saying this:

No, you don’t.


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