- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

LOS ANGELES Never has a team staggered into a national title game amid so much controversy and so many snickers.

The last time the college football world saw Nebraska, the Cornhuskers were giving Colorado a tackle-free tour of their end zone. That was back on Nov. 23, when Nebraska rolled into Boulder undefeated and crawled back to Lincoln after a stunning 62-36 loss in which it set all sorts of records that can't be found in the Cornhuskers' bowl guide. In allowing the Buffaloes to set an ignominious scoring record, the vaunted Blackshirt defense gave up a program-worst 380 rushing yards and a record eight rushing touchdowns.

Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was as shocked by the poor performance as everyone else in the country, provided the most vivid description of the game after his team's Rose Bowl workout yesterday:

"They gave up. They lifted up their skirts and gave up that game. They didn't want any part of Colorado when they got behind."

Incredibly, that seemingly damning defeat didn't erase the 'Huskers' title hopes. Instead, the blowout in Boulder was the first of a series of outrageous upsets, as other potential Rose Bowl suitors Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Tennessee all stumbled on their path's to Pasadena. Throw in a little computer magic courtesy of the much-maligned BCS formula, and, amazingly, the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers (11-1) have been exhumed for a title-game matchup with top-ranked Miami (11-0) in Thursday's Rose Bowl.

"There's no doubt that we got lucky with the BCS formula," said Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch after his Cornhuskers edged Colorado for the second slot in the final BCS standings by five-hundredths of a point. "Do I feel like we deserve to be here? The team that showed up against Colorado doesn't deserve to be here. But I think you have to look at that game as an aberration. We beat everybody else on our schedule by at least 10 points. Colorado lost twice, and Oregon lost just as many games as we did and didn't play a top-5 team.

"You can go round and round arguing who deserves to be here, but it's really a moot point now. The system's not perfect, but if we play like the team that beat No2 Oklahoma [20-10], we definitely deserve to be here. I can assure you that every player on this team is determined to come out on Thursday and show the country that we belong on that field with Miami."

The Hurricanes probably don't believe that, though they have been very careful not to voice that opinion. The pundits, who all give Miami a talent edge at every position with the exception of quarterback, don't believe that. And the oddsmakers, who have installed Miami as a 9-point favorite, obviously don't believe it.

But pride is a powerful motivator. And no program has a deeper store of pride than Nebraska, where 'Husker football is sandwiched just between the family farm and the Almighty on the priority ladder.

Since Nebraska football first rose to national prominence beginning with the Bob Devaney era in 1962, the Cornhuskers have lost consecutive games by a touchdown or more only once, when the 1990 Nebraska squad lost season-ending games to Oklahoma (45-10) and Georgia Tech (45-21). That team didn't have a Heisman winner behind center or a defense ranked among the top-10 in the nation. And if there's a major intangible at work entering the game, it's Nebraska's roster-wide determination to repair it's damaged reputation and regain its rugged personae.

"That was the most humiliating experience of my life," said junior defensive end and Nebraska native Chris Kelsay of the Colorado loss. "I didn't want to come out of the locker room, because I was so shamed. I didn't feel worthy to wear the uniform. We didn't just embarrass ourselves in that game, we embarrassed our families, the state of Nebraska and the tradition of Nebraska football.

"We're very fortunate to get a second chance to redeem ourselves, because we didn't earn it. Other teams gave it to us, and the system gave it to us. But now we have the chance to make it right against Miami. And I think I speak for the whole team when I guarantee you that the Nebraska team that shows up on Thursday won't look anything like the team that lost to Colorado. We're going to make Nebraska proud of the 'Huskers again."


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