A 'great' and 'terrible' year for Osborne Nebraska coach relieved 'taxing' season is history

January 04, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In other seasons, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne might have waited for the polls to close before proclaiming his Cornhuskers the No. 1 team in college football.

In other seasons, Osborne might have brushed off the significance of Nebraska's 62-24 victory over second-ranked Florida in Tuesday night's Fiesta Bowl.

But not this season.

This was the inaugural season of the Bowl Alliance, the season of no debate. But there was plenty of controversy, with most of it swirling around Osborne and the Cornhuskers.

"It was a terrible year, and it was a great year," Osborne said yesterday. "I take my spirituality very seriously, and I found myself relying on my faith more than ever. I'd not be honest if I said it wasn't taxing."

Nebraska's off-the-field problems involving several players, I-back Lawrence Phillips in particular, might have taxed Osborne. But it helped focus his players, giving them a rallying point and perhaps a bit of attitude.

The Cornhuskers overcame those potential distractions with sheer talent. Their demolition of the Gators, in which Nebraska scored 36 straight points after falling behind 10-6 in the first quarter, was merely an extension of a regular season filled with blowouts.

"We thought we would play well and, if things went well, we might win by a couple of touchdowns," said Osborne. "But I also thought they could win by a couple of touchdowns. . . . It's a lot like the Super Bowl. There's a lot of hype and a lot of buildup, but if one team gets momentum and gets rolling, things can get out of hand."

Despite becoming the first team in 39 years to win undisputed back-to-back national college championships, Nebraska is not about to be declared a dynasty. With the graduation of quarterback Tommie Frazier and the expected departure of Phillips, a three-peat is unlikely.

Asked if this season's team will be remembered more for its off-field problems -- specifically the assault of a former girlfriend by Phillips and Riley Washington's charge of second-degree attempted murder -- Osborne said: "A lot of that will be up [to the media]. I'll remember this team with a lot of fondness.

"This year's team had a fewer number of players in trouble than in other years. I'll predict that, when it's all said and done, it won't be as bad as it seems."

As for its on-field deeds, which included being part of a 25-game winning streak and a Division I-A-record 36 wins over three years, Osborne called this year's team, "probably the most complete football team I've ever coached. We didn't have a close call."

Osborne said that this season's squad was better defensively than the 1971 team that won the second of two straight national titles under his mentor, Bob Devaney. It was also better overall than last year's national-title team.

"Offense, defense, kicking game, this is the best team I've ever coached," Osborne said.

The attention surrounding Phillips likely will fade, especially if the junior leaves Lincoln for the NFL.

"I'm pretty sure he'll go pro, and I've told him to," Osborne said.

Phillips is expected to leave, especially after his 165 yards rushing and three touchdowns against the Gators.

There have been whispers the past month that Osborne would retire if Nebraska won again. But the coach, who will turn 59 next month, plans on building on his record as the game's winningest active coach, and now on his legacy.

"I'm glad the season's over," Osborne said late Tuesday night, his clothes and hair drenched in the Gatorade shower his players had delivered on the sideline at Sun Devil Stadium. "I hope all you guys are going to concentrate on basketball now. I'm ready for a vacation."

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