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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Civility Enters the No. 1 Fight

BALTIMORE, Maryland -- The bad news came across the wire Tuesday: Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne are taking the high road on this No. 1 thing.


"I haven't heard Joe lobbying and I don't think you'll hear anything like that out of me, either,'' Osborne said.


Civility. What a shame.


The argument about the nation's best college football team is always better when pitched into the sporting gutter and marked by the whining, insipid politicking and broad-based insults that are among the hallmarks of college football.


Last year, for instance, fans of the West Virginia Mountaineers were convinced that their team couldn't finish No. 1 because voters thought they wore overalls in the shower and called a swimming pool a "ce-ment pond.'' Whether or not that was true, the real reason the Mountaineers couldn't finish No. 1 was because Florida beat them by 106 points in the Sugar Bowl.


Then there was the year that Michael Irvin of the outlaw Miami Hurricanes campaigned for the national title with this catchy slogan: "Miami, No. 1 UPI, No. 1 FBI.''


Ah, those were the days.


Several times in recent years, Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz has played down his team's ability throughout the season ("We couldn't block my mother'') and then complained bitterly about unfair treatment after finishing second or third in the final polls. To which the only appropriate response was: But you said you weren't any good, Lou.


(Holtz and the Irish are out of it this year, although there are Notre Dame fans who will insist that the three-loss Irish deserve the national title if they win the rest of their games and beat Utah in the Kitty Litter Bowl. You watch.)


Anyway, it appears that this year's debate between Paterno's Penn State and Osborne's Nebraska is going to be a sporting, gentlemanly affair, which is all well and good but certainly no fun and totally against the whole point of having the polls and bowls decide the No. 1 team in the first place.


The system is arbitrary, unscientific, sloppy and inherently unfair, and is designed to spawn chaos, anarchy, vitriol and silly hats with 'gator snouts on top. In other words, it is the last bastion of old-fashioned goofy fun in a sports world gone cold, corporate and unsmilingly avaricious.


Of course, it is easy to see why the Nebraska and Penn State folks are having trouble ripping each other. They're too alike. They certainly can't make fun of anyone for living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. And they can't complain that the other is playing a cream-puff schedule, because they both are: Of the 16 wins between the teams, only three have come against opponents ranked in this week's Top 25. And neither Penn State nor Nebraska has another ranked opponent on its schedule.


Nor will a head-to-head matchup New Year's Day test today's polite tongues.


Assuming both teams remain unbeaten, Nebraska, as a member of the Bowl Coalition, probably would play once-beaten Miami in the Orange Bowl, while Penn State would play in the Rose Bowl against the champion of the PAC-10.