The major bowl picture is coming into focus a little earlier than usual - which means it has that much more time to get knocked out of focus.

For the second time in three years, the Fiesta Bowl may be the site for a national championship game. In January of 1987, Miami and Penn State played for the title. January of 1989 could see Notre Dame and West Virginia doing the same.Jimmy Johnson of Miami is challenging Notre Dame to a national championship rematch in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Irish, at this point, anyway, aren't interested. Rematches tend to favor the team that lost the first time - Oklahoma's win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl several years ago comes to mind as does UCLA's win over Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl - the victors having lost earlier in the season to their bowl opponents.

Both the Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl reportedly want the loser of the UCLA-USC game. The Sugar Bowl will probably win out as it has a better chance to offer a more attractive matchup. And, the fact that the network for the Sugar Bowl, ABC, televises the regular season Pac-10 games, won't hurt the Sugar Bowl's chances. That leaves highly-ranked Florida State for the Cotton Bowl.

Miami, thus, is Orange Bowl-bound again to probably play Nebraska. The Hurricanes are probably eliminated from Cotton Bowl consideration since they play Arkansas, the team favored to represent the Southwest Conference in the Cotton Bowl, in a regular season game on Nov. 26.

Based on conversations with various bowl representatives and wire service reports, if made today, the New Year's bowl pairings would be as follows:

Orange - Nebraska-Oklahoma winner vs. Miami.

Rose - UCLA-USC winner vs. Michigan

Sugar - Auburn vs. UCLA-USC loser

Cotton - Arkansas vs. Florida State

Fiesta - Notre Dame vs. West Virginia

Citrus - N.C. State vs. Nebraska-Oklahoma loser

Hall of Fame - SEC runner-up vs. Oklahoma State or South Carolina

The above, however, is based on the favored teams winning the remainder of their games. In the Pac-10 it's supposed to come down to a dream matchup of unbeaten No. 1 UCLA against unbeaten No. 3 USC on Nov. 19 for the Rose Bowl berth and inside track to the national championship. Don't be surprised if one or even both lose before that date. UCLA has a tough game at nationally-ranked Oregon on Nov. 5. USC has to go to improving Oregon State (which stunned the then No. 1-ranked Trojans, 3-0, in 1967) and Arizona State.

And in the Big 8, this may be the year Oklahoma State defeats Oklahoma. They clash Nov. 5 at Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State.

West Virginia still has three tough teams to play - Penn State, giant-killer Rutgers and Syracuse. And Florida State still has to play South Carolina and rival Florida.

And then there's the game Nov. 26, a week after the bowl bids go out, between USC and Notre Dame. If both are unbeaten at that time it will be No. 1 vs. No. 2, the national championship game in effect taking place before the bowls.

-- Western Athletic Conference Commisioner Joe Kearney is hoping to get four teams in bowls. Last year the WAC had three teams - Wyoming (Holiday), BYU (All-American) and Air Force (Freedom) - in bowls for the first time. Wyoming appears Holiday Bowl-bound and BYU will undoubtedly go to a bowl for the 11th straight year. Surprising UTEP may be a top selection for the Independence Bowl if the Miners can finish at 9-2. If they beat Wyoming and go 10-1 they'll go some place.

The fourth team would be either Air Force or Hawaii. The popular Falcons, who lead the nation in rushing, are 5-3 but finish the season with four tough games - at Army, BYU, at UTEP and at Hawaii. "So much depends on what Air Force does against Army," Kearney said. The loss to BYU probably knocked Hawaii out of the bowl picture. The 5-2 Rainbows finish with three tough games, Wyoming, Air Force and Oregon, with all those games coming after the bowl bids are announced.

-- The Peach Bowl is expressing an interest in BYU. That bowl's executive director, Robert Dale Morgan, said this week that the Cougars "are a very exciting ballclub . . . BYU has a name." If the Cougars continue to win and don't go to the Holiday Bowl, they'll be a very attractive bowl team, he added. The Peach Bowl is played Dec. 31 at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. Last year's game matched two Top 20 teams, Tennessee and Indiana, with Tennessee winning, 27-22. The Peach Bowl is on the last year of its television contract with the Mizlou Network and expects to pay out $800,000 per team this year.

"Our philosophy is to match the top southeast team available to us against the best team we can get," Morgan said.