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WHO'LL BE NO. 1? WHY NOT THE FIGHTING IRISH?

Who will win the national championship?

It's hard to predict this early in the season.Defending co-champion Miami will if it wins all of its games, since it's ranked No. 1 now. However, the Hurricanes have a real problem - their schedule. They have their annual tought battle against rival Florida State, Oct. 3 That's at home. The huge road test will be the following week, Oct. 10 at Penn State. If the Hurricanes win those two they still have another tough road test, Nov. 21 at Syracuse. They conclude their season with another road game that could be a bother, Nov. 28 against Marshall Faulk University at Jack Murphy Stadium.

The other defending co-champion, Washington, has an easier path. The Huskies don't play any Top 25 team on the road. The two they play at home are 11th-ranked Nebraska on Sept. 19 and 21st ranked Stanford on Oct. 31.

The easiest path of all the title contenders it that of Texas A&M. The 7th-ranked Aggies have already played the only top 25 team on their schedule, Stanford, defeating the Cardinal, 10-7 in the Pigskin Classic. The Tulsa, Missouri and Louisville are their remaing non-conference foes and the SWC (Suprisingly Weak Conference?), except for the AGgies themselves, is down this year. No other SWC team is ranked in the Top 25 and the other seven teams all lost last week.

So, who will win it?

This column's prediction is Notre Dame.

The Irish have a much tougher schedule than teams like Texas A&M and Alabama (the two most likely to finish undefeated according to CNN prognosticator Danny Sheridan), but, like Washington, they don't play a Top 25 team on the road. They play sixth-ranked Michigan today at home. Notre Dame plays No. 25 BYU (which will drop in the polls after Thursday night's loss, but could get back in them with an win over UCLa Sept. 19) on Oct. 24 and No. 10 Penn State Nov. 14. And, despite a shaky early-season defense, coach Lou Holtz has a way of bringing his teams along to play big in the big games - like last year's Sugar Bowl win over highly-touted Florida.

Should Notre Dame lose a game, it still may have a chance to win the title in a bowl. If either Alabama or Texas A&M go undefeated the Sugar or Cotton bowls would be happy to pair their conference champion against a 10-1 fourth-ranked Notre Dame.

If the Wolverines top the Irish, they have a solid shot at the top as they play only one Top 25 team after that - Ohio State at Columbus on Nov. 21 - before a projected Rose Bowl showdown with a high-ranked team.

******

Another vote for south bend victor - Writes Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, about the showdown in South Bend, Ind.

The winner of today's Notre Dame-Michigan game is looking at the real prospect of an undefeated season. And that could translate to a national championship.

With both teams looking at favorable schedules, a season could be on the line even before the leaves turn. Besides Michigan, Notre Dame's toughest games are against Brigham Young, Stanford and Penn State. All those contests are at home and thereby winnable.

Michigan, meanwhile, has home non-conference games against Oklahoma State and Houston and then faces Iowa and Michigan State also at home in Big Ten play. The Wolverines do have to go to Ohio State in the season finale, but given the Buckeyes' weak showing against Louisville, that game could be a given for Michigan.