College football will offer a 3-for-1 special on New Year's Day - three bowls with a chance to produce the No. 1 team.
The national champion could emerge from the Orange (Colorado-Notre Dame), Cotton (Miami-Texas) or Citrus (Georgia Tech-Nebraska). In fact, all of those teams except Nebraska have a shot to win it all.Top-ranked Colorado (10-1-1) has the clearest path. Despite the lingering controversy over their fifth-down victory against Missouri, the Buffaloes can lock up their first national title by beating No. 5 Notre Dame.
However, a Colorado loss would open the door for No. 2 Georgia Tech (10-0-1), No. 3 Texas (10-1), No. 4 Miami (9-2) or Notre Dame (9-2).
Tech could grab the top spot if it beats Nebraska and Colorado loses. But even then, the lightly regarded Yellow Jackets might lose out to Texas if the Longhorns come up with an impressive win over Miami.
If Colorado and Tech lose, a Texas victory would probably vault the Longhorns to No. 1. But what if Colorado, Tech and Texas lose? That would set up an intriguing battle between Miami and Notre Dame, one strikingly similar to the photo finish for last year's title.
Last year, Miami and Notre Dame finished with one loss. But the Hurricanes edged the Irish in the final poll, mainly because they won their head-to-head meeting.
If they both win on Jan. 1, Miami and Notre Dame again will finish with the same number of losses. This time, however, the Irish would have the edge because they beat the Hurricanes during the season.
For the second straight year, Notre Dame plays top-ranked Colorado in the Orange Bowl. For the second straight year, the Irish hope to spoil the Buffaloe bid for a national championship and claim it themselves. Last year, Notre Dame beat Colorado 21-6. This year, the Buffaloes will get revenge.
It boils down to this: Notre Dame isn't as good as last year, and Colorado is better.
The Buffaloes played one of the toughest schedules in the nation and still came within two points of a perfect season. The only blemishes on their record are a 31-31 tie with Tennessee and a 23-22 loss to Illinois - two of five Colorado opponents playing in New Year's bowls.
Notre Dame has a leaky defense, which gave up nearly 400 yards and 23 points per game this season. Colorado has experience. Last year, the Buffaloes were the new kids on the block and didn't know what to expect in their first bowl. Call it a tossup . . . COLORADO 28-20.
Finally, a Cotton Bowl that matters. After a decade of decline, the Cotton has a chance to produce its first national champion in 13 years.
Miami made a habit of winning national titles in the 1980s. The Hurricanes are going for their second straight championship, third in four years and fourth since 1983. They also have a chance to become the first school to finish No. 1 or No. 2 for five consecutive years.
Texas rebounded from successive losing seasons to win its first Southwest Conference championship in seven years.
But the Longhorns won't be able to hook the Hurricanes.
Miami has one of the nation's most potent offenses (483 yards and 36.5 points per game) and a stellar rushing defense led by Outland Trophy winner Russell Maryland. Texas may score through the air, but not enough to beat the explosive Hurricanes.
Miami is favored by six points . . . MIAMI 24-14.
Is Georgia Tech for real? Unfortunately, this game won't provide the answer. Although they're unbeaten, the Yellow Jackets are still searching for respect because of a mediocre schedule that included only one foe currently in the Top 25.
What they need is a big-time win over a big-time team. Nebraska, which lost its only two games against ranked opponents, doesn't fit the description.
Still, Tech can cap a remarkable season with a victory over the 19th-ranked Cornhuskers (9-2). The Yellow Jackets won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title, gained their highest ranking since 1956 and were the only major unbeaten team in the country.
Nebraska is appearing in a bowl game for the 22nd straight season, but this is not a vintage Cornhusker team. After going 8-0 against creampuff competition, the Cornhuskers lost two of their last three, including a 45-10 debacle against Oklahoma.
Despite that, Nebraska is favored by 1 1/2 points . . . GEORGIA TECH 24-23.
Other New Year's games
Gator - Michigan (minus 11) vs. Mississippi . . . MICHIGAN 42-21.
Hall of Fame - Clemson (minus 1 1/2) vs. Illinois . . . CLEMSON 17-14.
Fiesta - Alabama (minus 9) vs. Louisville . . . ALABAMA 24-14.
Rose - Washington (minus 9) vs. Iowa . . . WASHINGTON 34-17.
Sugar - Tennessee (minus 5 1/2) vs. Virginia . . . TENNESSEE 42-38.
Twenty Years of National Champions
The 20 most recent annual winners of the Associated Press college football poll's top ranking:
1989 Miami, Fla.
1988 Notre Dame
1987 Miami, Fla.
1986 Penn St.
1984 BRIGHAM YOUNG
1983 Miami, Fla.
1982 Penn St.
1977 Notre Dame
1973 Notre Dame
1972 Southern Cal