Nebraska has proved to have sturdy resolve in the face of distractions, however large. Two years ago the Cornhuskers lost Frazier for eight games because of blood clots in his right leg and still went 13-0 and won the national title. Last year they plowed through the controversy and didn't win any game by less than 14 points. They've won 26 consecutive games yet continue to behave as if they're the hungry bunch that lost seven consecutive bowls from 1988 through '94.
A case in point is Benning, who since the end of the 1995 season has added 12 pounds to his formerly 204-pound frame, lowered his 40 time by nearly .1 of a second and given up soft drinks and red meat. "Not popular to give up red meat in Nebraska," he says. (It's not popular with junior center Aaron Taylor, that's for sure. Taylor's in-laws own McWhorter's Meat Market in Wichita Falls, Texas, and the 305-pound Taylor not only helps carve up cows but also consumes them voraciously. "Eating a steak is part of what I'm about," says Taylor. It works for him: He's in the middle of yet another experienced, overpowering Nebraska offensive line.)
There is also an emotional force. The Cornhuskers will play the season with a black number 18 on their helmets, in memory of former quarterback Brook Berringer, who was killed in a plane crash on April 18. Berringer's family, including a niece, Ellen Brook Nasseri, born just after his death, was at last Saturday's game.
Newly in control of this dynasty is junior quarterback Scott Frost, who succeeds Frazier, one of the most effective college football players of the last decade. Against Michigan State, Frost ran for 58 yards and a touchdown and completed 5 of 11 passes for 74 yards, including a 35-yard third-quarter score to senior wideout Brendan Holbein. It was a methodical performance, unspectacular but safe. In any case, the strength of the Nebraska defense and the power of sophomore running back Ahman Green (71 yards on 16 carries) will give Frost time to grow. "For my first game as Nebraska's quarterback, after everything," said Frost, "I'll take it."
Frost's first game with the Cornhuskers was a long time coming because he took a circuitous route in covering the 100 miles to Lincoln from his hometown of Wood River, Neb. (pop. 1,156), where his father, Larry, was his high school football coach, and his mother, Carol, a U.S. Olympian in the discus in 1968, guided him to a gold medal in the shot put at the 1993 state track meet. Scott was recruited by Nebraska in '93 but spurned the Cornhuskers for Stanford during the brief, disastrous return of Bill Walsh to college coaching. "Sometimes the grass is greener," says Carol. "At that point, the grass was definitely greener in Palo Alto than in Lincoln."
But instead of being tutored by Walsh to be the next Joe Montana, Frost was shifted to free safety. As a sophomore, in 1994, he was the Cardinal's starting free safety in five games and its No. 2 quarterback behind Steve Stenstrom for the entire season. It was a bizarre existence, in which his first interception was caught, not thrown, and in which he twice played offense and defense in a game, an absurd proposition for a quarterback at a major college. "It was two years spent not doing what I wanted," Frost says.
His transfer to Nebraska in January 1995, only days after the Cornhuskers had beaten Miami in the Orange Bowl to win their first national title in 23 years, was given prominent play in the local media, which made Frost uncomfortable. The next 12 months constituted a lonely sort of hazing. Frost says, "I just kept to myself."
He was befriended by Berringer, for which he was deeply thankful. And he earned the respect of the rest of the team by surviving a brutal pounding as the scout-team quarterback in the fall of 1995. "Everything [Florida quarterback] Danny Wuerffel saw [in the Fiesta Bowl], I saw for three weeks," Frost says. He never backed down from the contact, once fighting with 290-pound senior defensive tackle Christian Peter during a scrimmage.
Just three weeks ago, even as the No. 1 quarterback, Frost took a vicious hit during practice from senior free safety Eric Stokes while running upfield on an option. One of Frost's shoes was knocked off by the blow. "He just got stroked," said Wistrom. "Eric decleated him. knocked him straight into the air," Benning says. "Scott lays it on the line physically. That demands respect. He's earned it."
Last fall, on game days, Frost would sit in the stands with the other redshirts, most of whom were two years younger than he, and he left most games early, longing to compete again. He wanted to keep a low public profile, but that was shattered when his name was dragged into the McEwen-Phillips mess. Frost had dated McEwen, and she was in his apartment when Phillips entered and dragged her out. "It wasn't a good deal at all for me," says Frost, who tried to stop Phillips and, with help, eventually pulled the two apart. "I wound up in the middle of it, just doing my best to split them up."