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Who’s the best not a question for year’s end

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 2, 1998

Who’s Number One? For the first time, college football fans will have an almost definite answer to that question at the end of the season. The College FootballChampionship Series has united the top conferences and just about guarantees a championship game. That is unless three or more teamsfinish the season undefeated in which case there will still be the argument of who is the best in the land.

But the question of who is number one is not just a question for January.

It is a question that will be asked from now until the final play of the Fiesta Bowl, this year’s championship game.

Even now, there is no consensus on who is number one. Many favor OhioState, a team that seemingly is loaded with talent no matter how many players it loses to the NFL draft.

This year’s version has one of the top receiving corps in the country in David Boston (who led the Big 10 with 70 catches and 14 touchdowns) and Dee Miller. And of course, there is linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, who hasthe skills to become the second consecutive defensive player (after Michigan’s Charles Woodson) to win the Heisman Trophy and lead his team to the national championship. The only thing holding the Buckeyes back areconcerns on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Buckeyes’ chief contender for the national title could come from the team that beat them in the Sugar Bowl last season, Florida State. TheSeminoles, who have made finishing in the top five an annual event, should be there again this season. Chris Weinke, a 26-year-old first-timequarterback will have the likes of Baton Rouge-native Travis Minor to hand-off to and Peter Warrick to throw to. Look at Nov. 21 when theFlorida Gators come to town as a possible championship showdown.

Do not count out the Gators, at least as long as Steve Spurrier is around.

The quarterback situation is still unsettled, but with the Gators defense, perhaps the best in the country, around, do not look at the offense having to work much on its side of the field. But road trips to Tennessee (PeytonManning could not beat the Gators, let’s see if Tee Martin can) and Florida State could derail the Gators’ title hopes.

Another top showdown will come on Nov. 14 in a most unlikely place -Manhattan, Kansas. That is where Nebraska and Kansas State lock horns.Nebraska, under new coach Frank Solich, looked unstoppable again – until Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards of Louisiana Tech lit them up Saturday afternoon for over 400 yards passing.

And guess what Kansas State does well? You guess it, passing. TheWildcats have led the Big 12 in passing efficiency four straight years and quarterback Michael Bishop threw for over 300 yards in the Fiesta Bowl last year against Syracuse. A repeat performance against Nebraska mayput the Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl for the second straight year, this time with much more on the line.

Of course, there figures to be other contenders to the crown. Last year’schampions, Michigan, return nine starters on defense. Arizona State looksto play on its home turf come January 4. LSU in most years could have beena serious contender but have road games against Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Notre Dame to contend with.

And a team can come out of nowhere (Northwestern in 1995, Washington State last season) to make a bid. This year, look out for West Virginia,Virginia and Colorado State.

That is one thing that makes college football so much fun – the unpredictability. A lot will happen between now and the time that thequestion of who is the best will be answered on the turf of Sun Devil Stadium.

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