Fortune in check, title in balance

January 01, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Top-ranked Florida State will be looking to extend its steak of eight straight bowl victories on New Year's Day as well as change its luck in what has become the most elusive search for college football's biggest prize.

Second-ranked Nebraska will be looking to end its six-year losing streak in bowl games, as well as hoping to shake its long-standing national image of a team unable to win a big game outside the Big Eight.

But the Seminoles (11-1) and the Cornhuskers (11-0) have a much more significant goal as well going into tonight's Orange Bowl game: winning a piece of, or all of, this year's national championship.

"It's more meaningful than any other bowl game we've played here, but that's because it's the national championship," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said yesterday."There's a little bit more at stake."

Said Nebraska coach Tom Osborne: "People say it's a defining moment, that's the latest catchword. I hope it's not. I hope it [his career] doesn't come down to one game."

Asked if he likes the fact that Nebraska is a 16 1/2 -point underdog, Osborne said, "I don't know if anyone covets the underdog role. It's nice to be the underdog when you don't think you should, but it [the big point spread] is a little uncomfortable for me."

While tonight's game hasn't been hyped like Florida State's regular-season matchup against Notre Dame -- a game that produced the only defeat for the Seminoles this season -- there are reasons why Florida State is so heavily favored.

Start with Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. When you consider that Nebraska was torched for 565 yards and four touchdowns by Kansas State's Chad May, what do you think the best quarterback in Division I-A will do to an injury-depleted Cornhuskers defense?

"Charlie is the guy that sets us apart from everyone," Bowden said yesterday. "We're as good as a lot of teams. Put Charlie on a lot of teams -- Notre Dame or so-and-so -- and he makes a lot of teams title contenders."

While Ward has been fighting a head cold, Nebraska's problems at containing him and the Seminoles might have taken a severe hit this week at practice. Osborne said yesterday that two second-string defensive backs, Eric Stokes and Mike Minter, likely would not play because of injuries.

Considering that Florida State regularly rotates no fewer than four wideouts, and sometimes uses as many as five, the Cornhuskers might get worn out by halftime. And Osborne admitted that All-American linebacker Trev Alberts, who will use a brace to protect the elbow he dislocated in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma, likely would not be at full strength.

"We're banged up back there [in the defensive backfield]; I think we have enough defensive backs to play," said Osborne. "The thing that concerns me is Minter is such a key for our special teams. That kind of weakens us there."

Barring a surprise monsoon that could slow down Florida State's explosive offense -- or an injury to Ward -- the only chance the Cornhuskers seem to have is if the Seminoles make a couple of early mistakes and Nebraska turns them into points, as Notre Dame did.

In Nebraska's most recent New Year's Day defeat, just the opposite happened. In last year's 27-14 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State, a botched fourth-down try, an interception and a missed field goal helped the Seminoles march out to a 20-0 lead. The Cornhuskers never got closer than 13.

"If that happened again, I think we could come back," said Alberts. "We've been down a lot of times this year and been able to come back. I know Florida State is a very good team, but we've come back against some good teams."

But they haven't played a team in the class of the Seminoles. And they haven't played a team that has been on the brink of winning a national championship several times, but has never gotten this close.

Osborne, as usual, doesn't seem all that concerned about what happened before and what looms ahead. He doesn't seem to care that the Orange Bowl has become Nebraska's nightmare since the Cornhuskers lost here to Miami a decade ago.

"We've lost six straight [bowl games]; we'll try not to make it seven," he said.

Try as they might, it appears the Cornhuskers don't have as much going for them as Notre Dame did back in November. Or as much as Florida State has going into the Orange Bowl tonight. One thing the Cornhuskers certainly don't have is a fellow named Charlie Ward.

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