The disparity that often arises between the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters and the USA Today-CNN poll of Division I-A football coaches came into full view yesterday, when each group selected a different No. 1 team.
In a move that will raise questions about the selection process but might not significantly alter this season's New Year's Day bowl lineup, the AP voters chose Florida State (10-1) by a slim margin over Nebraska (10-0), which received the overwhelming support of the coaches.
The idle Cornhuskers jumped from third to first in the Bowl Coalition rankings that take into account both polls. The final coalition poll will be used to determine the picking order for the Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls.
"It's hard for me to get excited because of Florida," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said yesterday, referring to Saturday's game against the No. 7 Gators in Gainesville. "If we didn't have that game, I'd be jumping up and down. But we've got that one, and we've got to beat Florida."
Among the top four teams Saturday, Florida State was the only one to win, 62-3 over North Carolina State. Previously No. 1 Notre Dame's shocking 41-39 loss to Boston College and West Virginia's 17-14 win over then-No. 4 Miami caused a dramatic shift at the top of the poll and opened up a number of scenarios for New Year's Day.
While the Irish (10-1) slipped from first to fourth in both polls -- and to fifth in the coalition rankings -- the Mountaineers moved from ninth in AP to fifth and from sixth in the coaches' poll to third. West Virginia, which plays at Boston College Friday, is third overall.
"I've never been one to really get into the polls, but I do believe Nebraska or West Virginia should be No. 1," said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen. "And if they're No. 1, we should be No. 2. Florida State, regardless of what you think, they have a loss on their record, and the team they lost to has already lost."
"Frankly, I'm a little tired of talking about polls," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne told the AP. "All it means is that we have a pretty good chance to finish well nationally. We're certainly pleased with that opportunity, but it's a chance and that's all it is."
Because of a quirk in the process, Auburn is fourth overall. The Tigers, who became the first unbeaten team to finish its season with Saturday's 22-14 win over Alabama, are on probation and ineligible for New Year's Day consideration. Because the coaches don't recognize teams on probation, the AP votes Auburn received were doubled for the coalition poll.
There are also several possibilities for national championship games on New Year's Day, depending on what happens this week. Among them:
* If Nebraska and Florida State win their regular-seasons finales -- the Cornhuskers are at home Friday against No. 16 Oklahoma, and the Seminoles play at Florida Saturday -- it will set up a rematch of last year's Orange Bowl, won by Florida State.
* If Florida State loses, but Nebraska and West Virginia win to finish the regular season as the nation's only two unbeaten Division I-A teams eligible for a bowl, the Cornhuskers and
Mountaineers would meet in the Orange Bowl.
* If the Cornhuskers lose and Florida State and West Virginia win, the Seminoles and Mountaineers would meet in the Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia was undefeated when it lost there to unbeaten Notre Dame in the 1988 national title game.
* If Nebraska and Florida State lose and West Virginia wins, the Mountaineers could move up to No. 1 in the coalition poll and set up a possible Sugar Bowl matchup with Florida (if it wins the SEC championship game) or a Fiesta Bowl rematch with Notre Dame.
"You hear a lot of criticism of the Bowl Coalition," Orange Bowl president Bob Epling said in Morgantown Saturday night. "But if there were no coalition this year, everything would be a mess. The bowl deals would have already been struck, most likely, and teams like West Virginia probably would have been hurt."
All things considered, Bowden seemed happy with the way things fell together for the Seminoles yesterday.
"If today was the last day on earth, I'd be very happy with the way the polls are," said Bowden. "If today was the last day on earth, I'd grab me half a ring and take off."
Rankings of the top 10 college football teams according to the Associated Press, USA Today-CNN and Bowl Coalition polls:
BAP .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. USA Today-CNN .. .. .. Bowl Coalition
1. Fla. State (10-1) .. .. 1. Nebraska . .. .. .. 1. Nebraska
2. Nebraska (10-0) . .. .. 2. Fla. State .. .. .. 2. Fla. State
3. Auburn (11-0) ... .. .. 3. West Virginia .. .. 3. West Virginia
4. Notre Dame (10-1) .. .. 4. Notre Dame .. .. .. 4. Auburn
5. West Virginia (10-0) .. 5. Tennessee ... .. .. 5. Notre Dame
6. Tennessee (8-1-1) .. .. 6. Florida .. .. .. .. 6. Tennessee
7. Florida (9-1) ... .. .. 6. Texas A&M; ... .. .. 7. Florida
8. Texas A&M; (9-1) . .. .. 8. Wisconsin ... .. .. 8. Texas A&M;
9. Miami (8-2) .. .. .. .. 9. Miami . .. .. .. .. 9. Miami
10. Wisconsin (8-1-1) . . 10. Ohio State (9-1-1) 10. Wisconsin
THE SURVEY SAYS
There were 61 voters in this week's AP Top 25 football poll (one voter, Loren Tate of the Champaign [Ill.] News-Gazette, resigned), and each probably has his own rationale, some of them no doubt influenced by geography.
* Four of the voters took the view that the unbeaten teams -- Nebraska, West Virginia and Auburn -- should be ranked 1-2-3, but only one of those picked West Virginia on top -- Dave Poe of the Parkersburg (W.Va.) News.
* One voter kept Notre Dame No. 1, and he isn't from South Bend, or even from Indiana -- John Adams of the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel.
* The sole voter to put Boston College ahead of Notre Dame was from, of all places, Boston -- Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe. He rated BC No. 6 and the Irish at No. 7.