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8. Nebraska

Behind run-pass threat Eric Crouch, the Huskers eye the title run they blew last year

By Kelley King

Enemy Lines
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Cornhuskers

"They're going to struggle defensively. The safeties can't cover, and last year the secondary had trouble matching up with Number 2 receivers. If you leave your corners out on an island, you better be pretty good up front. Nebraska doesn't get inside pressure from the line. ... Cornerback Keyuo Craver is a good player but not a burner. ... Among the new I-backs, I don't see the equivalent of a Correll Buckhalter or a Dan Alexander [the top two I-backs last season]."

Sports Illustrated They had lost to Oklahoma and to Kansas State, so with their season about to culminate in San Antonio three days before New Year's, the Cornhuskers, who had been a preseason favorite to win the national title, were ready to unleash a little frustration. Nebraska pounded Northwestern 66-17 in the Alamo Bowl, but afterward there was little celebration in the locker room. "We all knew that we should have been playing in a different game," senior quarterback Eric Crouch says now. "Immediately talk turned to next year."

Eight months later the Huskers are ready to forget the Alamo and that underachieving 10-2 season. Having rallied one another through what the seniors describe as an especially intense winter of indoor running drills and a summer vacation filled with 7 a.m. weight-room sessions, the Nebraska players are prepared for a schedule that summons Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Kansas State to Lincoln. "This team lost some exceptional athletes, but the young players that are starting have the ability to be tremendous," says coach Frank Solich. "Of course, we expect Eric to have a great senior season."

Though Crouch talks about wanting to double last year's 1,101 passing yards, what he really wants to do is lead the nation in rushing. The Cornhuskers did that as a team last year (349.9 yards per game, including 88.3 yards per outing by Crouch), but with the departure of center Dominic Raiola and guard Russ Hochstein, both All-Americas, duplicating that effort could be daunting.

Whenever Solich decides to let his nimble-footed quarterback air it out, Crouch will have a reliable target in tight end Tracey Wistrom, who led the team with five touchdown catches last year. In preparation for his senior season Wistrom has been consulting by phone with older brother Grant, a St. Louis Rams defensive end who helped Nebraska win three national titles in the mid-'90s. "This season reminds Grant of 1995, when the team went into the fall with lots of questions and no answers," says Tracey. "One by one guys stepped up, and by the end of the year they were national champs."

Issue date: August 13, 2001

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