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Orange crush: Nebraska rips Vols, takes top spot in coaches' poll

January 3, 1998

Free Press Sports Writer

MIAMI -- Michigan's 21-16 Rose Bowl victory over Washington State was enough to convince the voters in the Associated Press poll that the Wolverines deserved to be No. 1, but Nebraska's 42-17 thumping of Tennessee in the Orange Bowl swayed the coaches' poll.

So, Michigan is No. 1.

And Nebraska is No. 1.

Michigan earned 51 1/2 first place votes from the sportswriters in the Associated Press poll, finishing 33 points ahead of the Cornhuskers.

In the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. Nebraska drew 32 first-place votes to Michigan's 30, giving Nebraska coach Tom Osborne what many saw as a sentimental retirement gift by a thin four-point margin, 1,520-1,516.

Peyton Manning didn't have much of a fond farewell.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up completed 17 of his first 25 passes, but that produced only 130 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass was 18 yards. The Huskers' defensive quickness rarely allowed Manning time to set up in the pocket. Most of his early passes were quick drops.

But it was Nebraska's power that began to take control after halftime.

Tailback Ahman Green gained 100 yards for the 12th straight game.

Quarterback Scott Frost scored two third-quarter touchdowns on runs of one and 11 yards.

The Huskers' massive offensive line opened big holes and, more important, kept Manning on the bench.

Nebraska could have led by more if not for Frost's fumble on the Vols' 17 with 34 seconds left in the half.

That was the only break Tennessee got, and it didn't have any time to capitalize.

But Nebraska converted two of the Vols' three first-half turnovers into touchdowns.

Freshman tailback Jamal Lewis fumbled deep in Nebraska territory when cornerback Ralph Brown submarined his legs. The Huskers, relying on Frost's arm this time, scored first on Green's one-yard plunge.

Michigan led the Huskers, 53 1/2-8 1/2, in the coaches poll. Nebraska needed to sway 23 coaches to its side to claim the coaches championship.

"I just hope that everyone will wait until this game before deciding in their minds," Osborne said before the game. "But we understand that it's out of our control."

It was appropriate that Osborne dropped the curtain on his 25-year coaching career in the game that defined the triumphs and travails of his splendid career.

Osborne's first four trips to the Orange Bowl in a national championship setting ended in defeat. Remember 1984? In perhaps the greatest championship game, Osborne opted against going for the tie against fourth-ranked Miami. But the Huskers missed the two-point conversion and the Hurricanes won the title.

Osborne finally exorcised those Orange Bowl demons three years ago when the Huskers beat the Hurricanes, and the coach finally had his first national championship.

Michigan pretty much guaranteed Osborne's last Miami visit wouldn't include his third and final title.

The Cornhuskers spent much of the day in denial, looking for arguments to convince themselves and the non-poll voting public of their championship credentials.

The Big Ten had the second-worst bowl finish (2-5) of the six major conferences. The Big East was 0-4.

Six of Michigan's regular-season opponents earned bowl berths, but all six lost -- by a combined score of 180-65. Four of Nebraska's regular-season opponents went to bowls. Two (Washington and Kansas State) recorded impressive victories.

The Huskers believed a victory over the Southeastern Conference champion might be the most impressive victory of the entire postseason, because the SEC was widely considered the strongest conference in the country. The SEC was 5-1 in the postseason.

"Michigan deserves to win the national championship," said former Notre Dame coach and current CBS studio analyst Lou Holtz.

"They were No. 1 and you don't vote out the top-ranked team for winning its bowl game -- no matter how close. But the Big Ten's apparent overall weakness may call into question the true difficulty of Michigan's schedule."

"If you use conference bowl records as a factor," said AP voter Mike Lopresti of Gannett News Service, "then that makes Michigan's victory that much more impressive because they beat the best of the Pac-10."

Until the Rose Bowl, the Pac-10 was 5-0 in bowls, including two romps over Big Ten opponents.

To leave a message for Drew Sharp, call 1-313-223-4055.



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