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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / The No. 1 Debate : This One Proves Quite Easy for Cornhuskers : Poll: Nebraska scores a convincing victory in Associated Press rankings.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Asked to split hairs between undefeated Nebraska and undefeated Penn State, Associated Press football poll voters didn’t have any difficulty deciding Tuesday which team got the comb, as well as the second half of a national championship.

In nothing less than a landslide, the Cornhuskers received 51 1/2 of the available 62 first-place votes and 1,539 points. Penn State could manage only 10 1/2 first-place ballots, thanks to one voter who split his No. 1 pick between Nebraska and the Nittany Lions.

For the Cornhuskers, it was the second such result in as many days. Late Monday night, coaches voting in the USA Today/CNN poll also chose Nebraska (13-0) over Penn State (12-0) by a 54-8 margin.

Not since 1971, when Nebraska’s Tom Osborne was an assistant on Bob Devaney’s staff, have the Cornhuskers claimed a national championship. And with the title comes an end to the annual question heard most by Osborne during his 22 ultra-successful seasons as Nebraska’s head coach.

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“Geez, I get tired of, ‘What would it mean to you to win a national championship?’ ” said Osborne, who has the best winning percentage of any active coach and has had at least three shots at a title. “I guess you (reporters) have to come up with a different angle.”

Different year, but familiar angle for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have now finished a season unbeaten and untied on five separate occasions, but failed in four of them to earn a piece of the final No. 1 ranking. It also happened in 1968, 1969 and 1973.

In the end, voters thought more of Nebraska’s Orange Bowl victory over Miami on the Hurricanes’ home field than they did of Penn State’s against 17-point underdog Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

Another deciding factor might have been the Cornhuskers’ regular-season victories over two excellent Big Eight Conference teams, Colorado and Kansas State, as well as Nebraska’s ability to overcome injuries to Heisman Trophy candidate Tommie Frazier and his backup at quarterback, Brook Berringer.

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Of course, Osborne said he would happily keep the trophies, but he again pushed for some type of playoff that would relieve college football of this annual voting mess.

“If Penn State is 11-0 and we’re 12-0 and the only two standing at the end, there ought to be a way to get it done,” he said before leaving Miami. “I know Joe (Paterno) would have rather been down here playing us.”

Instead, the Nittany Lions will have to settle for a No. 2 ranking

Rounding out the AP top 10 were Colorado (11-1), followed by last season’s national champion Florida State (10-1-1), Alabama (12-1), Miami (10-2), Florida (10-2-1), Texas A&M; (10-0-1), Auburn (9-1-1) and Utah (10-2).

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As for Pacific 10 Conference teams, Oregon finished 11th (moving up from 12th despite losing to Penn State), USC 13th, Arizona 20th and Washington State 21st.


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