MIAMI -- Since The Home Shopping Network won't be able to host a real-live, no-questions-asked college football championship game next month between top-ranked Miami and No. 2 Washington, the Hurricanes and Huskies will have to let the points and the pollsters decide another mythical one.
Football won't be the only sport played tonight at the Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl. Shadow-boxing and scoreboard watching are expected to take place as well. Miami (11-0) and Washington (11-0) play No. 11 Nebraska (9-1-1) and No. 4 Michigan (10-1) respectively, but in many ways, they are really playing each other.
"You read that, but it's pretty obvious that's not the case," sai Miami coach Dennis Erickson. "Our kids have been in enough big games like this. We need to focus on Nebraska, not Washington, or we could be in for a long night."
"If Miami were 12-0 and we were 12-0, neither team should get shut out," said Huskies coach Don James. "It would be a real tragedy."
Though it was played more than three months ago -- traditionally, early-season games have little effect on the final rankings -- Washington's 36-21 victory over the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on Sept. 21 has become the barometer by which Miami's performance in the Orange Bowl will be judged.
Since the Home Shopping Network's offer to match the Hurricanes and Huskies Jan. 18 at Tampa Stadium was rejected by the NCAA, these two unbeaten teams will have battle it out on paper, or on microchip. For now, the verbal jousting continues unabated on both coasts.
"It's ridiculous for us to have to campaign for being No. 1; if you have to do that, you're not that good," said Kelvin Harris, Miami's senior center. "What else can we do? We beat Florida State in the toughest place to play in the country. We beat Penn State. Who has Washington beat?"
"They're a decent team, but I think we're better," said Washington quarterback Billy Joe Hobert. "The two best teams are playing in the Rose Bowl, there's no doubt in my mind."
The Hurricanes, who are favored by 9 1/2 points, say the pollster are waiting for them to stumble just a little in order not to vote them No. 1 in The Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters. Miami is tied with Washington in the USA Today-CNN coaches poll.
Miami's logic has some merit, considering how the gap in the AP voting closed between the time it upset then top-ranked Florida State Nov. 16 in Tallahassee and after the Hurricanes struggled to beat Boston College. Miami ended the regular season with a 39-12 victory over San Diego State.
"People try to penalize us for things that were done in the past," junior receiver Lamar Thomas said this week. "We're trying to become the Notre Dame of the South. We've done everything that everybody has asked of us, but it's still not enough."
"We won by 27 [against San Diego State] and we lost some votes," said junior quarterback Gino Torretta. "Do we have to win by 55 or 60?"
The Miami coaches have reminded their players not to take Nebraska lightly, and not to think about the Huskies.
While the Hurricanes have won 44 straight games at the Orange Bowl, this place has staged some of the greatest upsets in modern football history. It was where the Jets beat the Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl. It is where an unbeaten, heavily favored Nebraska team lost to Miami on Jan. 1, 1984. Less than a year later, it was where the "Hail Flutie" pass stunned the Hurricanes.
The Cornhuskers, who claim to be an improved model of a team that lost four straight bowl games, are hoping that Washington can put an impressive score up at the Rose Bowl before the Orange Bowl kickoff at a little after 8 p.m.
"That could be their downfall: If Miami is trying to beat us by a certain number of points, it could backfire on them," said tight end Johnny Mitchell. "And when the bomb hits, it could be something ugly."
Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne says the Washington game will help Nebraska get ready for tonight. He also says that the recent bowl defeats can serve as motivation for players embarrassed by a reputation for being unable to win the big game.
"A lot of people think it will be a big upset if we win, but I don't think that's the case," said Osborne. "I think we have a very good football team that has been in a lot of big games before. If we haven't played in this situation, I might be concerned. But we have and I'm not."
Mitchell, a big-time prospect and talker, put it a little more bluntly.
"We ain't trying to ruin anybody's party, we ain't trying to spoil anybody's national championship," he said. "We're just trying to keep our program above water. We have a great team and we're going to come out and play some football. Just show up and watch."
The case for Miami
* Streaks: The Hurricanes have won 17 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. They have won 44 in a row in the Orange Bowl.