The battle for the national championship may turn into a three-bowl circus on New Year's Day.

The Orange, Cotton or Citrus could produce the No. 1 team on Jan. 1, a fitting ending to one of the most confusing seasons in college football history.The Orange Bowl's dream of a clear-cut title game between top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Colorado was shattered Saturday when the Irish were upset by No. 18 Penn State 24-21. Colorado, which ended its regular season with a 64-3 rout of Kansas State, is expected to take over the top spot when the new Associated Press poll is released on Monday.

If Colorado (10-1-1) beats Notre Dame (8-2), the Buffaloes should win the national championship. But if Notre Dame spoils Colorado's title hopes in the Orange Bowl for the second straight year, the Cotton or Citrus could have the No. 1 team.

Miami (7-2), which probably will move from third to second this week, will play the Southwest Conference champion - possibly a once-beaten Texas team - in the Cotton. A Miami victory and a Colorado defeat could give the Hurricanes their third title in four seasons and make them the first school with two losses to be voted national champion. That's assuming, of course, that they win their final two regular-season games against Syracuse and San Diego State.

If seventh-ranked Texas (8-1) gets past Baylor and Texas A&M and beats Miami in the Cotton, the Longhorns may have a shot at No. 1 if Colorado loses and Nebraska (9-1) beats Georgia Tech (9-0-1) in the Citrus.

Tech, the only unbeaten team in Division I-A, can stay in title contention by beating Georgia on Dec. 1 and Nebraska on Jan. 1. But the fourth-ranked Yellow Jackets will probably still need losses by Colorado and Miami to make it to the top.

If you're thinking No. 1, forget about the rest of the New Year's bowls. However, there is a slim chance that a non-Jan. 1 bowl could produce the national champion.

After all, what if fifth-ranked Brigham Young (9-1) beats Utah State and Hawaii before going to the Dec. 29 Holiday Bowl? Then suppose BYU beats its opponent (probably Texas A&M) in the Holiday and Colorado, Miami and Georgia Tech lose their bowl games? The Cougars, who beat Miami early in the season, could make a strong case for No. 1 if that happens.

One of the reasons the championship scenario is so muddled is that the major bowl matchups were set two weeks before the official Nov. 24 bid date.

If they had waited a little longer, we may have gotten a 1-2 Orange Bowl between Colorado and Miami, Notre Dame vs. the SWC champion in the Cotton and Georgia Tech (if they could get out of their Citrus commitment) vs. the Southeastern Conference champion (probably Tennessee) in the Sugar.

Instead, the Sugar is stuck with an 8-2 Virginia team whose star quarterback, Shawn Moore, just underwent surgery for a dislocated thumb and may not be able to play in the bowl.