Nebraska Riding Lucky Wave Into Rose Bowl

Dec. 15, 2001

AP Sports Writer

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska’s first national football championship was asmuch a result of other teams losing as it was the Cornhuskers winning.

Sound familiar?

Thirty-one years after Nebraska used a pair of New Year’s Day upsets toleapfrog to No. 1, an even more unlikely wave of losses has the Huskersplaying for another title.

“God’s smiling on us,” said Jerry Tagge, the quarterback of Nebraska’s 1970national championship team. “All that you can do is play the hand thatyou’re dealt. We had a couple trump cards there. They’re in the same boat.”

The Huskers (10-1) will play top-ranked Miami (11-0) in the Rose Bowl onJan. 3 in a matchup nobody thought was remotely possible after the Huskers’embarrassing loss to Colorado on Nov. 23.

It took a lengthy succession of upsets and a favorable rating when the BowlChampionship Series computers were done crunching numbers to get Nebraskaback into the national title race.

“A lot of things had to go our way in order to get into this game,” coachFrank Solich said. “A lot of those things were somewhat unforeseen, but theyall fell into place.”

Just the way they did in 1970.

Long before bowl alliances and computers tried to decide who could callthemselves No. 1 at the end of the season, the national champion was basedon The Associated Press and United Press International polls.

Entering the Orange Bowl, Nebraska was 10-0-1 and ranked third behind No. 1Texas and No. 2 Ohio State. The Huskers woke up that morning knowing theyneeded help if they were to claim the No. 1 ranking.

They got it. Notre Dame beat the Longhorns 24-11 in the Cotton Bowl andStanford upset the Buckeyes 27-17, leaving Nebraska in control of thenational championship that night.

The Huskers beat the Tigers 17-12.

“We knew we were a good football team. We had a shot at being the best teamin the nation,” Tagge said. “We made the best of our opportunity.”

UPI’s final poll was released at the end of the regular season, so Texas wasguaranteed at least half a title. The AP poll was still to be decided andNotre Dame coach Ara Parseghian campaigned that the Fighting Irish deservedto be national champions because they beat the No. 1 team in Texas.

The AP voters disagreed.

“I was afraid Ara’s comments might influence the voters, but I guess thewriters are too smart to take some coach’s word,” former coach Bob Devaneysaid after the final poll was released.

Nebraska hasn’t won anything yet. The Huskers would need to upset theHurricanes for their sixth national championship. Stranger things havehappened in the last four weeks.

After losing to Colorado 62-36 the day after Thanksgiving, the humiliatedHuskers were in all likelihood looking at playing in the Cotton Bowl orHoliday Bowl with little hope of getting even a BCS at-large berth.

“After the Colorado game, I really thought everything is out the window,”I-back Dahrran Diedrick said. “The whole week after that game everybody wasjust trying to figure out what has to happen. What would have to happen forus to get there?”

It was going to take too much for anybody to give it serious thought, untilthe snowball started rolling.

The following day, Oklahoma could have clinched the Big 12 South by beatinglowly Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys shocked the Sooners with a last-minutetouchdown, and won 16-13.

That put Texas, which was 10-1 and a BCS at-large favorite, into the Big 12championship, and Nebraska was back in the BCS at-large running. The Huskersstill had the slimmest of hopes of getting into the Rose Bowl if the rightteams won.

The following week, Colorado helped the Huskers a little more by knockingTexas out of the BCS with a 39-37 win in the Big 12 championship. That samenight Tennessee upset Florida and became the front-runner to face Miami,needing only a win over Louisiana State in the Southeast Conference titlegame.

Husker fans broke out Mardi Gras beads and anything associated withLouisiana, hoping to drum up any extra mojo to help complete the improbablecomeback.

LSU fans in the Georgia Dome chipped in with signs that said “We’re here tomess things up” and “You’re welcome, Nebraska” and the Tigers upset the Vols31-20.

All that was left was the BCS, which gave Nebraska a five-hundredths of apoint lead over Colorado for the No. 2 spot in the Rose Bowl.

“It’s strange. So much had to happen,” offensive tackle Dave Volk said. “Thebest place to be the past couple of weeks was at home and not on the field,it seemed like, because everybody that had a shot kind of lost it.”

Nebraska’s berth in the Rose Bowl is being disputed in just about 49 otherstates, but Husker fans have few complaints about the BCS. Nobody in Lincolnis apologizing, either, for the Huskers’ position.

“You can’t please everybody,” cornerback Keyuo Craver said. “We’ve got a lotof character on this team. We don’t really care what critics say. We’rehere. We think we’re one of the best teams in the country and we’re ready toprove it.”

If Nebraska upsets the Hurricanes, there is a strong possibility of a splitnational title. Second-ranked Oregon and No. 3 Colorado are still ahead ofNebraska in the polls and voters could keep them in front of the Huskers inat least the AP poll.

The USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll No. 1 automatically goes to the Rose Bowlwinner.

The last time the national title was split was in 1997, when Nebraskaovertook Michigan in the final coaches poll to claim half the title.Michigan remained No. 1 in the AP poll.

And the Huskers needed a little luck that year, too. Without Matt Davison’sdiving touchdown catch that forced overtime at Missouri, the Huskerswouldn’t have gone undefeated and the Wolverines would have been a consensusNo. 1.

However Nebraska got there this year isn’t important, Solich said.

“It was just one thing after another that transpired the last couple ofweeks that made it a very interesting college football season,” Solich said.”This team is very deserving of a national championship game. I feel verygood about complimenting them on their season rather than trying to defendthem.”