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Other Colleges College Football Notebook: Big Red alert; Nebraska in trouble

Monday, September 30, 2002

By Pete Aldrich, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Has anyone seen Nebraska? It’s a tradition-rich program that many call Big Red. Won three national championships in the past eight years. Played power ball long before the lottery came around.

Oh, that Nebraska.

Sorry, but the Cornhuskers have done their best Elvis impersonation and left the building.

If there was any doubt that Nebraska was heading for the exit, just check today’s Associated Press Top 25. You won’t find the Cornhuskers in it -- for the first time since 1981, ending a run of 348 consecutive appearances.

What’s next? The end of Nebraska’s 250-game home sellout streak? Actually, that could happen this week, when Division I-AA McNeese State goes to Lincoln. Then again, Cornhuskers fans might not want to miss what should be a rare victory for their team.

Nebraska’s demise has been stunning. And it has been swift.

 
 
GLORY DAYS

Nebraska is not ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 5, 1981, a streak of 348 consecutive polls. Here are some of the Cornhuskers' achievements during the streak:

Compiled a 222-38-1 record against 60 different teams.

49-31-1 against ranked opponents.

173-7 against unranked teams.

Ranked No. 1 for 52 weeks.

Ranked in the top 10 for 297 weeks.

Had a streak of 86 consecutive weeks in the Top 10.

Has 32-6 record as the No. 1 team.

Compiled 21 nine-win seasons, including 15 of 10 or more.

Won two AP national championships.

Won 10 Big 8 championships.

Won two Big 12 championships.

   
 

Last October, all seemed well when the third-ranked Cornhuskers ended No. 2 Oklahoma’s 20-game winning streak and put themselves on track for a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Then came the first sign of trouble -- the regular-season finale against Colorado. The Buffaloes rumbled for 380 yards on the ground in a 62-36 laugher that left many questioning Nebraska’s toughness.

But thanks to the quirky Bowl Championship Series, the Cornhuskers somehow got a chance to play for the national title in the Rose Bowl against No. 1 Miami. The result wasn’t much different than what took place in Boulder -- a 37-14 victory for the Hurricanes, who showed plenty of mercy after building a 34-0 halftime lead.

After starting 3-0 this season against soft opponents, Nebraska has looked overmatched again in its past two games -- a 40-7 loss two weeks ago at Penn State and a 36-14 defeat Saturday at Iowa State.

If you’re keeping score, the Cornhuskers have been outscored, 175-71, in their past four losses.

How did Nebraska become so average? There are several factors:

As they say, it starts in the trenches. The days of Nebraska lining up and shoving opposing defenses 80 yards in the other direction have ended. In fact, the aforementioned blowout losses have all been the result of the Cornhuskers being physically dominated on both sides of the ball.

Frank Solich is no Tom Osborne. Neither coach has a dynamic personality, but that never deterred Osborne’s recruiting efforts because he had a phenomenal track record. Not only does Solich lack charisma, he is building a reputation of getting his clock cleaned in big games.

The game has passed Nebraska by -- literally. While other teams are airing it out, the Cornhuskers continue to be run-oriented, a philosophy they could get away with when their offensive line moved the earth.

The skill-position players aren’t as good as they have been. There was a time when the I-back, the marquee position in Nebraska’s offense, had a chance to write his own ticket to the NFL. But only Ahman Green, who left in 1997, can be seen making an impact in the pros.

The fear factor is gone. Teams know they can beat Nebraska. Although Iowa State fans were justified in tearing down the goal posts Saturday, the reality is this: Their team was much better.

It’s a trend Nebraska has seen a lot of lately.

Game balls go to ...

Auburn running back Carnell Williams. They call him Cadillac, and he turns the corner like one. His 8-yard touchdown run in the third overtime capped a 202-yard performance and gave the Tigers a 37-34 victory against Syracuse.

Louisville. With an assist from Tropical Storm Isidore, the Cardinals stunned Florida State, 26-20, in overtime Thursday. No word on how far downstream the goal posts went.

West Virginia running back Avon Cobourne. He ran for a career-high 260 yards in a 37-17 victory against East Carolina. In the process, Cobourne became the Mountaineers’ all-time leading rusher with 4,093 yards.

Stat of the week

Iowa and Iowa State are both in the Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 26, 1981.

Hometown hero

Syracuse quarterback Troy Nunes, a senior from Butler, came off the bench to direct a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that forced overtime against Auburn. Nunes was 7 of 9 for 62 yards on the drive, capped by his 2-yard touchdown pass to David Tyree with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Thumbs up

Traditionalists might not like it, but college football’s overtime format provides great theater. Three Top 25 teams -- Auburn, Florida State and Penn State -- got a taste of free football over the weekend.

Alabama and Kentucky have not lost enthusiasm despite NCAA sanctions that will keep both out of the postseason. The Crimson Tide is 4-1 (the only defeat being a last-minute loss at Oklahoma) after an easier-than-expected 30-12 victory at Arkansas. The Wildcats also are 4-1 after a wild, 41-34, loss at Florida, which had won the previous five meetings by an average score of 57-18.

Iowa nearly got a “thumbs down” for its fourth-quarter turnovers and hideous clock management against Penn State. But let’s not be too hard on the Hawkeyes, whose 42-35 overtime victory shouldn’t have been nearly that close.

Thumbs down

Florida’s special teams were especially atrocious in the victory against Kentucky. The Gators allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, had a punt blocked, fumbled a snap on a punt (Hey, they can’t block it if you don’t kick it) and had two extra-points blocked. Other than that, the Gators’ special teams had a good day.

Army quarterback Matt Silva set the wrong kind of school record with six interceptions in a 27-6 loss to Southern Mississippi. Army is 0-4 for just the fourth time in school history but the second time in the past three years.

Illinois Coach Ron Turner said it’s time for instant replay on the college level. Perhaps he should watch more replays of his 2001 team, which won the Big Ten title. The Illini are 1-4 this season after a 45-28 loss to Michigan.

Quotable

Navy Coach Paul Johnson, after a 43-17 loss to Duke -- the Midshipmen’s 23rd defeat in 25 games: “I know they want to win. Do they know how? No. Our guys are trying hard, but they just can’t do some things.”

Two-minute drill

An overlooked play is a defensive score -- worth two points -- on an extra-point or two-point conversion attempt. It cost Penn State against Iowa, which returned a blocked PAT attempt for a score that gave the Hawkeyes a 28-13 lead instead of 26-14. Likewise for Kentucky, which had a two-point pass returned for a score by Florida that made it a 41-34 game instead of 39-36.

Rutgers stunned Tennessee by returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, then recovering an onside kick. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, the game wasn’t called after two plays, and the Volunteers went on to win, 35-14.

Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser didn’t let a dislocated rib keep him from passing for 431 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-38 come-from-behind victory at California.

New Mexico’s 49-0 loss to Texas Tech ended the Lobos’ streak of having scored in 111 consecutive games. The record for consecutive games without being shut out belongs to Brigham Young, which has an active streak of 341.

Virginia Tech blocked another kick in its 30-0 rout of Western Michigan. That’s 94 blocks in the Frank Beamer era.

Speaking of the Hokies, don’t be surprised if they’re ranked No. 2 -- behind Miami -- when the first Bowl Championship Series rankings are released Oct. 21.

Looking ahead

Clemson at No. 11 Florida State (Thursday): For one night, Bobby Bowden won’t show any love for son Tommy.

No. 7 Georgia at No. 22 Alabama: There is growing sentiment that the Dawgs are ready to unseat Florida and Tennessee in the SEC East.

No. 20 Penn State at No. 19 Wisconsin: The Nittany Lions have dug themselves an early hole in the Big Ten race.


You make the call

This week’s question: What is the best tradition in college football? Send e-mail answers (include full name and address) to paldrich@post-gazette.com.


Last week’s question: If you could attend a game at any college venue, where would it be? Here are some responses:

“The atmosphere at a big SEC game is unlike anything else on earth. I pick Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville.”

Jamie B. Hough, London

“Virtually any Ivy League game. The drunks are more civilized.”

Jack Harmon, Upper St. Clair

“Notre Dame ... several years ago, two of my Protestant friends went to South Bend with me for the first time. After that weekend, they both became Catholics!”

Jim Carroll, Houston, Pa.

“It’s a toss-up between Florida-Georgia at the ‘World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party’ and an Army-Navy game.”

John Wos, Trafford

“Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The fans in Wisconsin should be considered the 12th, 13th and 14th men.”

Mike Miller, Alexandria, Va.

“Put me in Tuscaloosa, with Auburn in town.”

Mark Sprague, Stamford, Conn.

“Notre Dame at Southern Cal. The Coliseum, the tradition, the bands, the weather ... and let’s not forget the Trojanettes in their white sweaters.”

Tom Pascarella, Moon


Pete Aldrich can be reached at paldrich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3796.

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