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The Hurricanes blow past the Cornhuskers for their fifth national title and first since 1991.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 4, 2002


The Hurricanes blow past the Cornhuskers for their fifth national title and first since 1991.

PASADENA, Calif. -- The system will remain under suspicion, perhaps even more a source of frustration for those unable to participate in the ultimate game. Then again, the way the Hurricanes played Thursday night, it is hard to believe anyone else had a chance.

In a dominating performance that will evoke comparisons with the best of Miami's title teams, the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes won their fifth national championship with a 37-14 victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

This team, however, wasn't worried about comparing legacies, simply securing a title that was the sole goal of the season.

"I was here in '97 when we were 5-6," said fifth-year senior offensive tackle Joaquin Gonzalez. "To be 12-0 and have a national championship ring, you can't script it any better."

And it will be written in stone. Miami will be crowned national champion by the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today, the only undefeated Division I-A team this season.

The victory was the Hurricanes' 22nd straight dating to September 2000 and made Larry Coker the first rookie coach since Michigan's Bennie Oosterbaan in 1948 to win a national championship.

"It's an exciting moment for us," said Coker, a career assistant who took over the program last winter after Butch Davis left for the NFL. "This team came back to be national champions. There was a focus. I'm so proud of the things they've done."

After a postseason of controversy, the 'Canes are undisputed champions, but the debate will continue to rage about who got to play the Hurricanes in what was billed as the Bowl Championship Series title game. Fourth-ranked Nebraska (11-2) could not dodge the questions about its worthiness, and they only will be shouted louder now.

"We didn't play well enough to make it competitive," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "From that end of it, certainly it was not the matchup everybody dreamed of. Whether or not another matchup would have worked any different. ... I don't know if there is anybody as balanced as Miami. I think everybody would have struggled with them when they're on top of their game like they were."

UM safety Edward Reed concurred. "If we had played anybody else, they'd have gotten the same treatment," he said.

The 'Canes sent a horde of Nebraska fans home unhappy. An overwhelming majority of the 93,781 at the Rose Bowl made you think this was Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with all the red in the stands.

That sea of red was left seeing red.

For the first time since 1990, Nebraska lost consecutive games.

And the first defeat was the cause of so much consternation. Nebraska was universally panned because of its 62-36 loss to Colorado on Nov. 23, seemingly knocked from contention.

But when a remarkable series of events occurred, Nebraska came up roses in the BCS standings. Despite the lopsided loss, a spot in the title game awaited. And criticism reigned.

"We don't have anything to lose because nobody thinks we should be here," Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom said before the game. "We've sort of been given a second chance."

Undeserved, as it turned out.

Not even Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, who had 114 yards on 22 carries, could save Nebraska on this night. The idea was to wear down the UM defense, pound the ball up the middle and with the option. But the Hurricanes, who led the nation in scoring defense, were up to the task, not allowing a Nebraska score until 2:39 remained in the third quarter. By then, UM led 34-7.

"It's probably the best defense I've come across as a college athlete," said Crouch, who completed 5 of 15 passes for 62 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown. "They just have a lot of talent, a lot of great players."

By halftime, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey had 258 passing yards and three touchdowns and went on to set a school bowl record for passing with 362 yards. Receiver Andre Johnson had seven catches for 199 yards and two scores, setting a Rose Bowl record in the process. Dorsey and Johnson were named co-MVPs.

"Today I came out, I felt like I had something to prove," Johnson said. "I brought my A game, all my teammates brought their A games, they are all MVPs."

A wide-open Johnson caught a 49-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead, and Clinton Portis followed with a juking, tackle-breaking 39-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 advantage. Portis finished with 104 yards on 20 carries. Then it got ugly.

UM safety James Lewis picked off a pass tipped by Wistrom and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. UM scored again on its next possession, with Dorsey hitting tight end Jeremy Shockey for a 21-yard score and a 27-0 lead. And when Dorsey found Johnson again for an 8-yard touchdown, UM had a 34-0 lead -- at halftime.

The 'Canes were seemingly trying to win two national titles in one. Believing they should have played for it all last January, the 'Canes were on a mission ever since.

Snubbed by the BCS last year, it was their stated goal to win every game, take all the computers and computations out of the system. Go undefeated, they said, and we'll play for the national championship.

That is the lesson to be learned by Oregon, the team that today feels the most jilted. Ranked No. 2 in the country, the Ducks didn't get a shot at No. 1 because of the BCS. Then they stomped No. 3 Colorado 38-16 on Tuesday in the Fiesta Bowl -- the same Colorado team that romped Nebraska, leading to all the controversy.

The Hurricanes were shedding no tears for the Ducks.

"We used all last year as motivation," Reed said. "Now they have a motivator."

It worked pretty well for the Hurricanes.

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