Rose matchup lays it all on the line

Champion, credibility of BCS at stake tonight

College Football

January 03, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PASADENA, Calif. - The potential for controversy will be plentiful tonight when top-ranked Miami meets No. 4 Nebraska here at the venerable Rose Bowl. The folks in charge of the Bowl Championship Series will be crossing their fingers and rooting for the Hurricanes to quiet any debate about a split national champion.

This game is as much about the credibility - and possibly the future - of the much-debated and much-maligned BCS as it is about the dominance of the undefeated Hurricanes or the resilience of the undaunted Cornhuskers. Given No. 2 Oregon's 38-16 victory over No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, much is still at stake.

A victory for Miami (11-0) would give the Hurricanes the fifth national championship in school history, their first since they shared the title with Washington in 1991. But first-year coach Larry Coker doesn't think his team needs to win convincingly to be a consensus choice of the two national polls.

"Do we need to win decisively? No, not at all. We're the No. 1 team in the country. We've pretty much held our own for 11 weeks now," Coker said yesterday. "Our goal is to win by one point. If we win by one point, we're the undisputed national champion."

A victory for Nebraska (11-1) would give the Cornhuskers a sixth national championship, their first since sharing the title with Michigan in 1997, the last season under the old Bowl Coalition. Nebraska coach Frank Solich believes his team would be deserving of its share of the championship if the 8-point underdog Cornhuskers beat the Hurricanes.

"The final game has yet to be played, and how we play in that game probably means a great deal," said Solich, whose team is looking to erase the painful memory of its 26-point defeat to Colorado in its last game. "Without question our team has done basically what we have asked them do except for one game.

"Everybody in the country has had that one game except Miami. If we beat Miami, we would have beaten a team that is recognized as the No. 1 team in the country by everyone ... I can certainly understand those guys that didn't get in the national championship [game] that had one loss. It goes beyond Oregon and Colorado. It goes back to Maryland and anybody else that had one loss."

Solich, though, doesn't think a victory by his Cornhuskers should be considered an upset.

"I think by some, probably by many, it would be considered an upset," said Solich. "Personally, I would not consider it an upset. As great as Miami is, we also have an excellent football team. On any given day, anything can happen. In my mind, in our players' minds, I don't think we consider ourselves an underdog."

On paper, at least, this seems to have the makings of another blowout defeat for the Cornhuskers. The Miami offense has averaged a school-record 43.2 points a game, and its defense has allowed only 9.6 points a game, the fewest by any team in the country.

When Nebraska middle linebacker Jamie Burrow was asked earlier this week what he saw in watching tapes of the Hurricanes, he laughed. "About nine first-round NFL draft picks," he said.

Or as tight end Tracey Wistrom said, "They're a team with no weaknesses."

But the Cornhuskers are well aware of what happened in last year's national championship game at the Orange Bowl, when Big 12 rival Oklahoma came in as an even bigger underdog and shocked Florida State.

"Lately the Big 12 has shown what kind of football we play," said offensive tackle Dave Volk. "A lot of people didn't give Oklahoma much of a chance last year. But I think we have a great chance if we play the kind of football we're capable of playing."

That means controlling the game offensively behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, and putting enough pressure on Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey to throw the Hurricanes out of sync.

Miami is not taking Nebraska lightly, as might have been the case with the Seminoles and Sooners last year. Coker has looked for signs of overconfidence, but he has not seen them during the team's practices here.

"When you have it figured out, that's when you get a little concerned," said Coker. "How uptight you need to be, how loose you need to be, it is a fine line. I want us to have fun. The main thing I wanted to see was out on the practice field from the standpoint of making sure we get out work done."

The atmosphere inside the 80-year-old stadium should be interesting, with the crowd of around 100,000 made up of 50,000 or more Nebraska fans. Included in Miami's 21-game winning streak are 10 consecutive road victories.

"That's kind of been Miami forever, that's what we try to get back to, it really doesn't matter what venue we play in," said Coker. "We went to Tallahassee. We went to Penn State with 109,000, and 100,000 of them were against us. We expect it. That's why we're at the University of Miami. To play games like this and to play through the crowd."

While a majority of the fans here will be rooting for the Cornhuskers, Solich and his players know that many others will be pulling for the Hurricanes. Aside from the 20,000 or so fans that have come here from South Florida, and those who support Oregon, there's also the folks from the BCS who would like to see any further controversy quashed.

"We've basically had to butt heads with the world in regards to preparation for this game, as far as how it's been viewed by some people," said Solich. "But the thing we have also done is looked at it as a football team and a coaching staff as to why we're in the game. Those things have meant an awful lot more to us than anybody who seems to have an opinion from the outside."

Rose Bowl

No. 1 Miami (11-0) vs. No. 4 Nebraska (11-1)

Site: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

When: Tonight, 8

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Miami by 8

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