The Seminoles' inconsistency represents the Cornhuskers' brightest ray of hope. But Nebraska's 21-7 win over Oklahoma last Friday ought not to strike fear in the hearts of the Seminoles. Sophomore quarterback Tommie Frazier hardly evoked thoughts of Dan Marino as he completed only five of his 17 passes and Nebraska cobbled together a puny 179 yards of total offense.
Despite the coalition rankings, some Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Cornhuskers two-touchdown underdogs to the Seminoles. And bookies are not the only Husker bashers. Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post recently wrote that Nebraska is "the second biggest fraud in college football every single solitary season." (Wilbon's No. 1 fraud: Michigan.)
Can't blame the bashers. In losing its last six bowl games, Nebraska has become the Harold Stassen of the postseason.
Can't agree with the bashers, either. These are not the one-dimensional Cornhuskers at whom you have been snickering on New Year's Day. They are, they admit, less talented than many of their predecessors. But this team has lived up to the legend on the T-shirts Nebraska ordered last summer: WE REFUSE TO LOSE. Six times this season Nebraska went into the fourth quarter flirting with defeat. Six times it found a way to win.
Against Oklahoma the Husker offense came out as flat as a day-old glass of cold duck. The defense promptly lost its star player, outside linebacker Trev Alberts. So a legion of unknowns stepped up and made enough plays to save the season.
Gradually—almost reluctantly—coach Tom Osborne has brought Nebraska's offense into the latter half of the 20th century. In the Cornhuskers' last six bowl losses, their opponents usually stopped them on the ground and defied them to throw. Nebraska seldom could. Now Osborne's offense features three-wide-receiver sets, a one-back and a shotgun. Frazier runs the option and throws well enough to keep defenses honest. One of his five completions on Friday was an 11-yard laser to Abdul Muhammad for the game-winning touchdown.
Last spring Nebraska traded in its hoary 5-2 defense for a 4-3 scheme, in essence swapping a cumbersome lineman for a fleet roverback. The new, improved D freed up Alberts to do what he does best: put heat on quarterbacks. Alberts came into the Oklahoma game with 15 sacks, 94 tackles and a certain future in the NFL. On the Sooners' first possession, however, he dislocated his right elbow. He gives himself a 50-50 chance of playing in the Orange Bowl.
The absence of their 6'4", 240-pound sackmeister would further erode Nebraska's chances of upsetting the Seminoles. Remember, though, that Florida State is vulnerable to a well-conceived running attack—Notre Dame demonstrated that. And, as it happens, Nebraska is third in the nation in rushing.
The Cornhuskers last got a crack at the national title in the '84 Orange Bowl. It was at the end of that game, a 31-30 loss to Miami, that Osborne—Mr. Conservative—went for a two-point conversion and the win. A tie would have guaranteed him the title that eludes him to this day.
That galls Alberts more than it does Osborne. The senior captain was hanging around outside the locker room after the Oklahoma game, his right arm in a sling. Would he be able to play in Miami? "I hope so," he said. "I want to win a title for the man who brought me here."