MIAMI -- Eight years ago tonight, a top-ranked, unbeaten Nebraska team came into the Orange Bowl to face an unheralded bunch of Hurricanes from Miami.
When the steam cleared, when the final points were put on the scoreboard, one of the best teams ever assembled was beaten, 31-30, by a burgeoning college football power.
The same two teams come into tonight's Federal Express Orange Bowl in a complete reversal of fortune. Miami (11-0) is ranked No. 1 and looking toward its third national title in the past five years. Nebraska (9-1-1) is merely trying to regain some respect.
"If the outcome had been different, we would have had a national championship and we wouldn't have had to deal with this as much," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne reflected earlier this week. "But Miami won and they benefited from this in a great many ways."
Miami's championship that night was its first, but not its last. The Hurricanes claimed championships in 1987 and 1989 and became the most dominant power in the country. Nebraska has won only two insignificant bowl games since, and is looking for its first post-season victory since 1985.
Tonight's game will be a battle, not so much of top-flight quarterbacks as of supporting casts. Even if Miami's Gino Torretta doesn't have his best game, the Hurricanes can win. But Nebraska needs Keithen McCant to play the game of his life to win.
"We're going to need a big game from a lot of people," said assistant head coach Frank Solich. "But Keithen is the key. He has the ability to turn a bad play into something good. He also doesn't hang his head when something goes wrong. It's going to be a big challenge for him and for us."
The Cornhuskers will have to get their offense moving in several directions. While Miami doesn't seem too concerned with McCant's arm, the Hurricanes have not played too often against option teams.
But Nebraska hasn't seen a team with Miami's overall speed. The Hurricanes might be among the fastest teams in history, and not just among their wide receivers. Miami's defense, led by linebackers Michael Barrow and Darrin Smith, and end Rusty Medearis, made Florida State look a step slow.
"You can't simulate that in practice," said Solich.
Osborne doesn't believe that his Cornhuskers are the Clydesdales they are made out to be. "We are supposed to be lumbering compared to Miami, but I don't think overall that's true," he said. "I think we're a lot quicker than people think."
What might be difficult to overcome is the home crowd, which has been known to intimidate a few Miami opponents over the years. It is one reason why the Hurricanes have won 44 straight games at the Orange Bowl.
Part of Miami's pre-game ritual for regular-season home games is to run through a shroud of smoke as the players leave the tunnel that leads to the field. It has become something of a tradition.
"There's something in that smoke," said receiver Lamar Thomas. "I can be feel down, and when I run through the smoke, it gets me pumped up."
When the smoke clears tonight, Miami hopes that the course of recent college football hasn't been altered. Certainly not like it was eight years ago.