Frustration of the fans and media about the system is being taken out on Nebraska.
By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 31, 2001
PASADENA, Calif. -- The question was asked the moment they arrived on Southern California soil and will continue through Thursday night's Rose Bowl. No answer seems to satisfy, but with each one comes a bit more resolve, and a fair share of annoyance.
Do you deserve to be here?
The Nebraska Cornhuskers, winners of 11 games, at one time this season the No. 1-ranked team in the country, keep having to defend themselves.
They were embarrassed in their last regular-season game, losing 62-36 to Colorado. That knocked them from the top spot in the Big 12 North, kept them from playing for the conference title, and seemingly relegated them to a smaller bowl.
Then an almost hilarious series of events occurred, putting the Cornhuskers in the national championship game against No. 1-ranked Miami. The Bowl Championship Series standings spit the Cornhuskers out as the No. 2 team, and here they were Sunday at media day, having to justify why they should be part of the festivities.
How bad is it? Nebraska players were booed when introduced at a Lakers game Friday night at the Staples Center.
"We know that we lost our game. People are still talking about it," running back Dahrran Diedrick said. "Other teams lost games, they just didn't lose their last game. They had a chance to wash that taste out of their mouths. We're going to wash that taste out of our mouths. That's motivation for us. I can't remember the last time Nebraska lost two games in a row."
"We don't really care what people say," cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "We're here. We think we're one of the best teams in the country, and we have a chance to prove it."
Don't forget, this was a team that cruised to 11 victories in a row, that seemingly had a spot in the title game locked up before the loss to Colorado. The constant discussion about Nebraska's worthiness only figures to inspire the Cornhuskers.
"I think we realize that Nebraska has a lot of motivation going into this game," UM defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "A lot of people are saying they don't deserve to be here. They are going to come out and try to prove that they do. We realize that we have to be just as emotionally high as they are."
A victory against the Hurricanes (11-0) would go a long way toward silencing the Husker doubters. But it won't quiet the critics. Certainly not critics of the system.
Nebraska is ranked fourth in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls. Oregon is second and Colorado is third. Those teams play Tuesday in the Fiesta Bowl, and the winner is poised to claim the AP national title should Nebraska defeat Miami on Thursday.
The ESPN poll automatically will anoint the winner of the Miami-Nebraska game as the national champion. Should the Cornhuskers win, they will become the first team (other than independents) since Minnesota in 1936 to win a national championship without winning a conference crown.
After losing to Colorado on Nov. 23, Nebraska needed help -- and lots of it -- to get to the Rose Bowl. First Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State. Then Florida lost to Tennessee. Then Tennessee lost to LSU. Without playing a game, the Cornhuskers moved back into the title picture.
Ever since, the BCS has been under attack, with the college football playoff debate raging.
"I would like to believe it's an outcry against the system," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "People who want a playoff and don't want the BCS to determine who the national champion is, you'll hear an outcry from those people. That outcry would be regardless of who's playing in this football game."
The Hurricanes look at the situation with knowing amusement. Last season they finished third in the final BCS standings behind Oklahoma and Florida State, despite defeating the Seminoles during the regular season. In the polls, UM was ranked second, ahead of FSU. Had the Seminoles defeated Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes would have staked a claim to the national championship with their victory against Florida in the Sugar Bowl. But the Sooners won, ending UM's hopes.
It did, however, become a source of determination this season: Don't put the situation in the hands of others.
"It's pretty simple for us, and that's nice for a change," UM linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't give the computers a chance to keep us out of the championship again. We knew we had to win them all. That's the only way to guarantee your spot in the big game."
So Miami took care of business to get to the Rose Bowl. Nebraska didn't, but got to the game anyway.
"Despite what's being said about what's fair and what's not, it's reality that we are playing in this football game," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "I think we put all of that behind us. It's a great opportunity for us to go out there and prove that we are a better team than we were the last time we stepped on the field. I think there is definitely a reputation to uphold. I think everybody wanted the Miami-Nebraska matchup at the beginning of the year, everybody's getting that."