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A Simple Twist of Fate
Ivan Maisel
December 15, 1997
Nebraska's turn to go unbeaten and unlaureled?, How the WAC was won, Patience pays for Peyton's Vols
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December 15, 1997

A Simple Twist Of Fate

Nebraska's turn to go unbeaten and unlaureled?, How the WAC was won, Patience pays for Peyton's Vols

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WINNERS & LOSERS

1. THE COTTON BOWL
For the second straight year the once-mighty Dallas game gets a top five team. The 1998 Heisman campaign for UCLA quarterback Cade McNown starts here, as the No. 5 Bruins face Texas A&M.

1. GARY BARNETT
His Northwestern Wildcats suffer their first losing season in three years, and now Texas passes over him. Could it be that two years after going to Pasadena, the bloom is off Barnett's rose?

2. NEBRASKA
First a wipeout of the Aggies. Then the Orange Bowl delivers Tennessee instead of Florida State on Jan. 2. All that's left for the Huskers is to learn Washington State's fight song.

2. NORTH CAROLINA
The Tar Heels lose their coach and then hear that the Sugar Bowl doesn't want a 10-1 team without a coach. Let's get excited about the Gator Bowl—again.

3. JIM DONNAN
Though the Georgia coach turned down the North Carolina job, the Tar Heels' interest means he will no longer be one of the SEC's lowest-paid coaches.

3. THE INDEPENDENCE BOWL
Notre Dame and Louisiana State will meet for the second time in six weeks. And you thought Speed 2 was the worst sequel of the year.

—I.M.

The question posed to Nebraska's seniors elicited rueful grins: Three years ago did you have any sympathy for Penn State, which finished 12-0 yet didn't win even a share of the national championship? The 1994 title had gone to the 13-0 Corn-huskers alone.

"I didn't really feel bad for them," defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "I suppose that's why I can't ask for sympathy votes now."

"I remember a lot of guys laughing that Penn State got screwed," tight end Tim Carpenter added.

"At the time you think you're the deserving team," tackle Eric Anderson said. "Looking back, you feel for what Penn State went through because we're going through the exact same scenario."

By embarrassing Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 championship game last Saturday, the Cornhuskers positioned themselves to again finish 13-0. Nebraska led 23-0 before the Aggies picked up a first down. "If they're the Number 2 team in the nation," said Texas A&M quarterback Branndon Stewart afterward, "I'd hate to play the Number 1 team."

Instead of top billing, Nebraska is in the role of Blanche DuBois: The Huskers must depend on the kindness of strangers, specifically the Washington State Cougars, who play No. 1-ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl. "People are talking only about Michigan," defensive tackle Jason Peter says. "We're just the other team that's undefeated. There's nothing we can do." As Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne says, adroitly combining two clichés, "The shoe is on the other foot, and if it fits, we'll wear it."

Quarterback Scott Frost is the most outspoken Nebraska senior on the subject of the national title. He was at Stanford during the 1994 season, so unlike his classmates he has only one championship ring, which he won after transferring to Nebraska and playing quarterback on the '95 scout team. "It's just as big a crime to deny these kids as it was to deny Penn State," Frost said before last Saturday's game.

Against the Aggies, Frost ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns and completed 12 of 18 passes for 201 yards. He felt the Huskers made a sufficient statement. "I don't see how the coaches who saw that game wouldn't vote for us," he said afterward, referring to the panel of coaches who vote for the USA Today/ESPN Top 25. "If we beat Tennessee, they have to give us a share of the title."

Well, actually, they don't. To the voters who recall Nebraska's miraculous 45-38 victory over Missouri on Nov. 8, the Huskers are 12-0 only on paper. After narrowly escaping defeat, Nebraska fell from No. 1 to No. 3. "This team put itself in a bad situation when we didn't play as well as we're capable of against Missouri," says senior linebacker Octavious McFarlin. "The results weren't what people expected, and that cost us." The Cornhuskers didn't help themselves with the voters, either in the media or among the coaches, by only narrowly beating Colorado three weeks later.

Nebraska is already indebted to Michigan. In 1995 the Wolverines upset undefeated, second-ranked Ohio State 31-23 in the last game of the regular season. The top-ranked Huskers then routed second-ranked Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish as the lone unbeaten.

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