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January 02, 2000
Tom Shatel: Huskers, Vols Will Mix It Up for Fun of It
BY TOM SHATEL
WORLD-HERALD COLUMNIST

Tempe, Ariz. - This just in: The Y2K bug has infiltrated the Bowl Championship Series computer. All quartile points were erased. The computer was restarted. New rankings were just released.

pz:R, right, 0
Tom Shatel

Nebraska is No. 1. Tennessee is No. 2. In other news, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker announced his plans to run for mayor of New York. . . .

Sorry. False start. The national championship won't be at stake when Nebraska and Tennessee get together tonight for the Fiesta Bowl. The Huskers are No. 3, the Vols fifth and sixth. The winner tonight gets a really cool trophy and a life's supply of Tostitos chips and salsa (cheese or hot sauce, mix at your own risk.). Otherwise, the boys from Nebraska and Tennessee will just be mixing it up for. . . .

Fun?

Do they still play bowl games for fun?

This is a true Fiesta bowl for the Huskers and Vols. There's no tension in the desert air. No huge stakes on the field. But plenty of chips. Lots and lots of tortilla chips.

In fact, the Fiesta Bowl folks have not spared any expense, corn or flour. Sun Devil Stadium looks like a New Year's Eve ballroom. They've whisked both Huskers and Vols around the Valley on a whirlwind tour of press conferences, parties and activities. They've treated this week as if it really were the national championship game.

But it's been more like the Siesta Bowl in Tempe. Not one red or orange sweatshirt was spotted until Friday. Tempe has been like an old western ghost town this week. Blame it on Y2K. Blame it on the BCS. Have another chip.

Maybe this is where college football is heading. Kansas State only bought 5,000 tickets to the Holiday Bowl, and Florida fans refuse to travel across the street to see the Citrus Bowl. In today's college football, one bowl counts and the rest have been relegated to warm-up acts. Two years ago, this Fiesta Bowl would have demanded top billing. The Nebraska-Tennessee winner could hope that a commanding victory, along with a Virginia Tech win over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, could snatch at least a share of a national title. But the Fiesta Bowl had its No. 1 party last year. This one's for fun.

For the Huskers, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This program could use the breather. What a decade. This is the first bowl game since the 1980s that the Big Red hasn't had some cause, rallying cry or a major incentive on the line. If the Huskers weren't trying to break a bowl losing streak, or beat Miami, or win national championships, they were trying to regain pride after losing to Texas or Kansas State. Whew.

"It is a little different," said senior defensive tackle Steve Warren. "We've either been playing for national titles or for our pride. We have our pride back. What we're trying to do is leave something for next year's team so they can go after a national title."

That's a noble cause, but it's there, no matter which way the ball bounces tonight. Nebraska already slayed its biggest demon in beating Texas. The Huskers are back in the mix. A win over Tennessee puts this young Nebraska team as high as No. 1 or No. 2 preseason in 2000. But a loss doesn't hurt. NU still will be on the August short list, win or lose.

The Vols, meanwhile, have slightly more incentive tonight. They've been yakking all week about avenging the 1998 Orange Bowl loss, how they're a new team, yada, yada, yada. Closure? Sure, that's how Nebraska feels about Florida State. But it's a tad hollow. This isn't the same Nebraska team as 1998, just as NU can never beat that 1993 FSU team again.

Maybe Jerry Springer could get these two to throw chairs at each other.

"Both teams feel like they should have been playing in the Sugar Bowl, if not for a couple inches or one play, so there's incentive to show we belong there," said NU senior Ralph Brown. "There's also the motivation to play for Coach (Charlie) McBride. This could be his last game. If it is, we want to play our butts off for him. We want a shutout. To dominate."

The thing is, nobody, maybe not even Charlie, will know if it's his finale until after the game. So relax. Open another bag of chips. This one's for fun.


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