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Nebraska, Iowa try to keep lid on controversyNebraska, Iowa try to keep lid on controversy

By BLAIR KERKHOFF - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/01/99 21:00

The Nebraska-Iowa football game this weekend at Iowa City has become the Distraction Bowl.

When both head coaches should be fretting about the things coaches fret about the week of an opening game, they're hosing down brush fires. It's a position battle for the Cornhuskers, a bizarre revenge motive for the Hawkeyes.

At Nebraska, quarterback Eric Crouch apparently didn't take kindly to being selected the backup quarterback by coach Frank Solich, who made the announcement Monday.

That day, Solich paid a visit to Crouch's Omaha high school. Nobody will say, but the suggestion is thatCrouch went there after finding out he had lost the starting job to Bobby Newcombe in a decision that apparently shocked only Crouch.

Crouch didn't attend the Cornhuskers' weekly media conference Tuesday, and Solich felt compelled to issue an assurance that Crouch wasn't going to transfer. Solich added that he didn't have to talk Crouch into remaining with the program.

But even so, Solich said a public response from Crouch "would probably not help in any manner as far as him or the team."

It seems out of character for Crouch to react with bitterness to the decision, if that's what happened. Three weeks ago, he said he understood the possibility of backup and was willing to do what's best for the Cornhuskers.

Newcombe beat Crouch for the starting spot last year, tore a knee ligament in the opening game and played in only six games. Crouch played in eight games and started the final four.

Crouch, a redshirt freshman, started throughout spring practice, but Solich maintained the season-opening quarterback would be determined in fall workouts when Newcombe, a junior, returned healthy.

"It was probably the hardest decision I've made in 30 years, personnelwise," Solich said. "No matter which player we would have chosen, either one of them would have led this team in the manner that we wanted."

Solich added that both will play Saturday and that Crouch will get at least one series in each half. He likened the situation to 1994, when Tommie Frazier won the starting battle over Brook Berringer. Frazier suffered a blood clot in his leg, and Berringer maintained the Cornhuskers' perfect season.

At Iowa, the problem is off the field. Former linebacker Ryan Loftin was charged with extortion and theft. Loftin had quit the team two weeks ago and, under the rules of the program, lost his scholarship when it was revoked by first-year coach Kirk Ferentz.

An angry Loftin threatened to strike back by exposing NCAA rules violations in the Iowa program and providing team information to opponents if he didn't get his scholarship back.

Ferentz received a letter from Loftin detailing the threats. Iowa officials also said Loftin took notebooks belonging to the athletic department. Loftin faces five years in prison and $7,500 fine for extortion.

Loftin was a senior who started at defensive end last year under coach Hayden Fry. Loftin was demoted to second-team outside linebacker under Ferentz.

The game, which kicks off at 11 a.m., marks the first meeting between the border state programs since 1982.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, college sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4730 or send e-mail to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com

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