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No. 1 ranking, Heisman race still up in air

Most conference championships and bowl matchups are settled now after last weekend's array of traditional late-season games, but the two biggest questions remain unanswered. The battle for No. 1 is still very much up in the air pending the outcome of Saturday's momentous Notre Dame-Southern Cal clash - and even after that we'll have to await the bowl results for the final answer.

Meanwhile, last weekend's action did little to resolve the dilemma facing Heisman Trophy voters, as all three top candidates - quarterbacks Rodney Peete of USC and Troy Aikman of UCLA plus running back Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State - came through with strong performances.

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Peete and Aikman went head to head in the annual USC-UCLA showdown, but while the Trojans won the game, 31-22, the individual duel was somewhat inconclusive. Peete completed 16 of 28 passes for 189 yards including a touchdown, ran for another score, and came through with several big plays to keep his team on top. Aikman had even more impressive statistics (32-for-48 for 317 yards and two TDs), but of course he had to put the ball in the air more in an effort to get his team back in the game. Meanwhile, Sanders may have become the front-runner via the latest in a season-long string of big games - this one featuring 293 yards rushing and four touchdowns (including the 80-yarder that launched a come-from-behind fourth-quarter rally) in a 49-28 victory over Iowa State.

If all this leaves voters still undecided, though, there's not much they can do about it at this point except flip a coin. UCLA's regular season is over, and Oklahoma State doesn't play again until Dec. 4, which is after the deadline for receiving of the ballots. So the only game left that can influence anyone either way is the Notre Dame-USC clash, where a big game against the No. 1 team could push Peete into the driver's seat, while anything less will leave the picture as murky as ever.

These three aren't the only possibilities for designation as the nation's best college football player, of course. West Virginia's sophomore quarterback Major Harris, who led the Mountaineers to their first-ever perfect regular-season record (11-0) and the No. 4 spot in the polls, is the choice of some observers, including Boston College coach Jack Bicknell, whose team also played against Peete. But no sophomore has ever won this award, so realistically he is not a serious contender this year. And no one else is really a threat to the ``big three.''

As for No. 1, the Southern Cal-Notre Dame game victor will have the inside track, of course, but will still have to win again in its bowl appearance to clinch matters.

Notre Dame, which tuned up with a 21-3 victory over Penn State, is the consensus choice as the top team going in - but not by much. The Irish got 35 first-place votes in the latest Associated Press poll, and 1,167 points in the tabulation based on 10 points for a first-place vote, 9 for a second, etc. But the Trojans were close on their heels with 22 first-place votes and 1,158 points. Miami, with an 8-1 record marred only by a 31-30 loss to Notre Dame, stands third and got one first-place vote, while West Virginia moved up to fourth, with two first-place nods, after completing its season with a 31-9 romp over a strong Syracuse team.

So the stage is set for some decisive action at bowl time, with the winner of the Notre Dame-USC game holding its fate in its own hands, while the other contenders can only try to win their games and hope for the right combination of results elsewhere.

If the Irish win Saturday, their Fiesta Bowl matchup against West Virginia should be for all the marbles. A Southern Cal victory, on the other hand, would put the Trojans on top heading into their Rose Bowl game against 11th-ranked Michigan, where an upset or even an unimpressive USC win could cloud the picture again.

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Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, are Miami and Arkansas, who clash head-on in another big game Saturday that will move one of them into a dark-horse role. The Hurricanes must win this game, beat Brigham Young on Dec. 4, overcome No. 6 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl - and hope that meanwhile Notre Dame, USC, and West Virginia all stumble, or at least look unimpressive. An Arkansas victory, meanwhile, would complete an 11-0 season and send the Razorbacks into a Cotton Bowl matchup against UCLA, with similar outside chances. Ireland welcomes game

Boston College, which had struggled to a 2-7 record, found greener pastures - literally - in Dublin, Ireland last Saturday. Not only did the Eagles defeat Army, 38-24, they created a lot of new fans for their team and for the American game. A crowd of 42,525 turned out for the inaugural Emerald Isle Classic, and according to their comments, most of them liked what they saw.

For Eastern teams, it is almost as convenient to play in Europe as on the West Coast. Furthermore, it can be quite lucrative, and makes an enjoyable trip for players and fans. So given these factors plus the enthusiasm of the Dublin crowd, it's a good guess we'll see more such games at various overseas sites in future years.

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