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A Channel-Surfer's Guide To a Tidal Wave Of Bowl Games

Starting Sunday, 18 college football bowl games will be played over nine days, enough for even the most devoted fan. The question ``Who's No. 1?'' is pretty simple this year, based on the outcome of two games: If No. 1-ranked Nebraska beats Miami in the Orange Bowl Jan. 1, it stays on top. If the Cornhuskers lose, No. 2 Penn State can win the title the next day in the Rose Bowl.

If both Nebraska and Penn State lose, however, Miami will almost surely get the nod in the polls for knocking off Nebraska. But if both Nebraska and Penn State win, cries will rise anew for a national championship playoff.

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And the rest of the teams? They're playing for reasons a little closer to the original intent of bowl games: to reward players and coaches for a great season and to entertain fans. Key to ratings: * Strictly for alums or fanatics who cruise the outer reaches of cable for a game. ** Might be entertaining: It will easily beat shoveling the walk or washing dishes. *** Likely to entertain: glamour, pageantry, rivalry, and pro stars-in-waiting! **** It's SHOWTIME! You'll be quizzed on this one at the office. All times are Eastern time.

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