Miami Coach Says Nebraska Deserving Of Rose Bowl Berth

Dec 28, 2001

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Miami coach Larry Coker knows firsthand how it feels tobe snubbed for the BCS title game.

So he realizes one loss might be enough to eliminate a team from contention.

Or not.

And he’s not about to say Nebraska shouldn’t be playing in the Rose Bowl, orthat a team such as Oregon or Colorado should.

If others think the once-beaten Cornhuskers don’t deserve to be playing theunbeaten Hurricanes in Pasadena next Thursday, Coker said that’s “a little bitridiculous.”

“It’s the system,” he said Friday. “They’re very deserving to be here.

“Last year, we weren’t bitter about not playing Oklahoma for the nationalchampionship after beating Florida State on the field. The computer doesn’tknow the difference between an early loss and a late loss.”

Sometimes, one wonders what the computer knows.

Early season losses are believed to be less damaging than late-seasonsetbacks, but Miami found out that wasn’t the case last year – as did Nebraskathis year.

Oregon (10-1), ranked second at season’s end, lost to Stanford 49-42 in itsseventh game this year, while Nebraska (11-1), ranked fourth, lost to Colorado62-36 in its last game.

Miami’s only loss in the 2000 season, when Coker worked as an assistantunder Butch Davis, was a 34-29 setback at Washington in the second game.

Several weeks later, Miami beat Florida State 27-24, but it was theonce-beaten Seminoles, not the Hurricanes, who faced unbeaten Oklahoma in theBCS title game.

Meanwhile, Miami and Washington, with one loss each, kept quiet and rolledto victories in the Sugar and Rose Bowls, respectively.

“Coach Davis told us it was probably easier to win a Super Bowl than thenational championship,” Coker said with a smile.

A college assistant for 22 years, the 53-year-old Coker was elevated to hisfirst college head coaching job when Davis left to become coach of theCleveland Browns.

Coker knew right away the best way to reach the Bowl Championship Seriestitle game was to go unbeaten, and that’s what the top-ranked Hurricanes (11-0)accomplished.

When asked if Davis regretted leaving, Coker replied: “I talked to CoachDavis yesterday. He was in cold Cleveland, and I was going to Disneyland. Hemight regret that part of it. I thought he would stay with this team foranother year. There’s no good time to leave. I don’t think he regrets it, he’shappy for these players.”

Among Coker’s stops along the way were offensive coordinator jobs atOklahoma and Oklahoma State, foes of Nebraska in the Big 12.

So he’s familiar with the Cornhuskers and Frank Solich, who succeeded TomOsborne as coach in 1998.

“Somebody told me people don’t realize what a hard job you had to dohere,” Coker said. “Sometimes it’s harder to maintain than to get there.That’s what Frank’s done. I think what he’s done to keep their program at ahigh level is outstanding.

“I want to do that. This is my first year. We’re there now, let’s see wherewe are in five years or 10 years. I think Frank has done a good job of doingthat.”

The 57-year-old Solich, who spent 19 years as an assistant at Nebraska,admitted it’s been “a little tiring” being asked over and over again abouthis team’s selection to the Rose Bowl.

But again Friday, he was patient and understanding when the subject wasbroached.

“The system is designed to have the teams with the two best seasons beingin the game,” Solich said. “These teams with one loss certainly have a reasonwhy they should be in the game, it’s not all that clear.

“If you don’t have two teams go through the season unbeaten, you’re goingto have controversy. I think that’s OK in college football.”

Solich pointed out his team went through its first 11 games playing as wellas anyone in the country before the blowout at Boulder.

“We got in the ballgame because of how other people operated the last twoweeks rather than what we did,” Solich admitted. “(But) there’s no questionin my mind the system worked the way it was supposed to work.

“You can be a wild card (in the NFL) and you can certainly win. I thinkthat’s the way it should be in college football.”

And, Solich emphasized, a team with two losses, such as Colorado, wasn’tentitled to play in the championship game.

“Who’s the best team in the Big 12 Conference? I don’t think anybodyknows,” he said.

Miami is listed as the favorite, and Solich understands.

“The underdog role doesn’t happen very much to us, and when it does,there’s a reason,” Solich said. “I think everybody agrees they should be thefavorite. They didn’t lose a game.”