Huskers should be lauded in defeat
NOVEMBER 15, 1998
With one full week left in the 1998 college regular season, some trends seem self-evident.
The debate over the Bowl Championship Series rankings is likely to get more heated with each week, especially if we wind up with three unbeaten teams and only two spots in a BCS championship game in the Fiesta Bowl.
Kansas State has proven it is a quality team and finally has a quality win.
Michigan might be close to last year's national championship form. The Wolverines are just a load right now, setting up a typical and classic Michigan-Ohio State match up this Saturday in Columbus. With the Rose Bowl as a possible prize.
And last, but certainly, not least, Nebraska has finally dropped to the the ranks of mortals after a remarkable run at the top.
Oh, you can argue that the Huskers had already been exposed a couple of weeks ago when an average Texas team came to Lincoln and ended the Huskers' home winning streak.
Coupled with Nebraska's loss to Texas A&M a couple of weeks earlier, it was easy to cast Frank Solich's team to the discard pile in the national championship race, especially when starting quarterback Bobby Newcombe and tailback D'Angelo Evans went down with injuries.
But a champion can not be dethroned officially until a new one is in place, and that finally took place last week.
For the first time since 1968, Kansas State found a way to beat Nebraska, coming up with a pulsating 40-30 win that was not really decided until the final minute of play.
Suddenly, the Huskers were 8-3, with one game left. Now on the surface, that doesn't seem too bad. Eight wins means it's a nice season and a decent bowl game.
But we're not talking about any team here. We're talking about Nebraska, which used to go three years and lose a total of three games.
Now the Huskers have lost three games in one regular season, and they still have a home game remaining against Colorado the day after Thanksgiving.
Think about this for a minute. The last time the Huskers lost three regular season games was in 1977. Going into this season, the record compiled by the Nebraska senior class was a dazzling 36-2, with two and a half national titles, two conference titles and three bowl games.
The Husker seniors will get another bowl bid -- probably in the Holiday or Insight.com bowl. But a conference title and another national title are no longer possible.
"I feel fortunate I've been able to be around players who reacted like they reacted," said Solich, who has found that following a legend like Tom Osborne can be, at the very least, sleep disruptive.
Solich has had a bumpy first season. Stepping in after Osborne was almost an impossible situation, made a little harder by the loss of Newcombe and Evans.
To tell you the truth, we're going to miss the Huskers. You either loved them or hated them, but you had to respect them as well.
With all due apologies to Florida State and its remarkable stretch of Top 5 finishes in every year in this decade -- with another Top 5 finish probably in the works this season -- the Huskers were the team of the decade.
They won back to back national championships in 1994 and 1995 -- the 1995 team might have been one of the greatest in the history of the game. They came within a field goal of winning another title in 1993 and arguably were a couple of plays away from contending for one in 1996. They won a half a national championship in 1997.
Arugably, with just the barest of luck, it would not be a stretch to say that the Huskers had a legitimate chance to win five consecutive national championships.
In an era when the best of teams sometimes has difficulty winning five straight games, Nebraska's run was a sight to behold.
Last week, it finally ended. Kansas State, which was unquestionably a better team, had to go all out to beat a Huskers team that was missing its starting quarterback and starting tailback.
It took Kansas State 30 years and nearly 60 minutes to finally put down the Huskers.
That is the sign of a true champion.