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We're No. 2?

Nebraska seeks Fiesta solace against Vols

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Posted: Saturday December 18, 1999 09:26 PM

  Nebraska coach Frank Solich is trying to motivate his troops for the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Tennessee. Elsa Hasch /Allsport

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Maybe "We're No. 2" wouldn't sound so bad.

No. 3 Nebraska, out of the hunt for its fourth national title of the 1990s, is aiming for second in the final polls. To get there, the Cornhuskers (11-1) will need a win over No. 6 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.

It wouldn't be like going out on top as the Huskers did in 1994, '95 and '97, but after finishing last season with Nebraska's worst record in 30 years, it doesn't sound like such a bad place to be, senior linebacker Julius Jackson said.

"It feels good, and it's good for Coach (Frank) Solich to go from a 9-4 record to 11-1 right now. That's a big accomplishment for him," Jackson said. "It was such a letdown with our season for the players the fans and the coaches. That's something we didn't want to go out and do again."

Nebraska, which was No. 19 in the final AP Top 25 a year ago, is hoping a win over the defending national champion Volunteers can establish the Cornhuskers as contenders for next season.

"Everybody wants to end it on a high note," Solich said. "Everybody looks at it in the same way, but that's not looking down the road. We've only got one game left, and certainly we're focused in on that."

The Huskers clinched a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, one of four Bowl Championship Series games, by beating Texas 22-6 in the Big 12 Championship Game two weeks ago. That avenged Nebraska's only loss of the season, but was not enough to lift the Huskers past No. 2 Virginia Tech for a berth in the Sugar Bowl. The Hokies will play top-ranked Florida State for the national title on Jan. 4 in New Orleans.

"We don't feel like we were cheated. That's the way it came down. We lost a game and that's what happens," Jackson said. "Florida State and Virginia Tech are both undefeated and we feel that's the way it should be."

Solich, in his second year since taking over Nebraska after Tom Osborne's retirement, is 0-1 in bowl games after losing to Arizona 23-20 in the Holiday Bowl. That capped a memorable rookie season for Solich, who was an assistant under Osborne for 19 seasons. He said the bowl game was the final of many lessons learned.

"When you think you've covered the bases and are all prepared, then you probably aren't. You'd better go back and rethink things as you head into the (bowl) game," Solich said. "It's only going to take one or two mistakes to turn it the other way."

The Huskers are 1-0 all-time against Tennessee, winning the only meeting 42-17 in the Orange Bowl two years ago to clinch a share of the national championship. The Volunteers (9-2) responded by going unbeaten last season and winning their first national title since 1951.

Tennessee lost its shot at repeating this season by losing to Florida 23-21 in September and getting upset by Arkansas in November 28-24.

"Very few points separated them from an undefeated season and two losses. That's kind of the way it is when you look around at the top teams of the country," Solich said. "You can lose one game and be a great team."

The Huskers have backed off their practice schedule to allow players to get healthy and handle finals. They planned to practice Saturday through Tuesday, take Wednesday and Thursday off then leave for Tempe, Ariz., on Friday. They'll have some contact drills on Christmas, watch films the next day, then start their game-week routine on Dec. 27.

Tennessee has not played since beating Vanderbilt 38-10 on Nov. 27. The Vols' loss to Florida kept them from defending their consecutive SEC titles in the league championship game, so coach Phillip Fulmer has had plenty of time to get his team healthy and prepared for the post-season. Solich said he isn't worrying about any gimmick plays Tennessee has come up with in the down time.

"To be very honest with you, right now we're concerned with stopping their base offense," Solich said. "They're a good enough team without worrying about what they're going to do to trick you. We'll just try to slow them down at what they've shown that they've been doing."

Related information
Stories's 1999 bowl schedule's 1999 bowl previews's 1999 bowl picks
SI's Ivan Maisel: Young players need bowls
Your Turn: Design a playoff system's 1999 bowl section
Closer Look: Huskers end Texas hex
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