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Published Monday, January 3, 2000

Huskers set stage for 2000


Last modified at 1:18 a.m. on Monday, January 3, 2000
 

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Terry Douglass
TEMPE, Ariz. -- While the Nebraska football team may not have been playing for the national championship in Sunday night's Tostitos Fiesta, the Cornhuskers sent a message to the rest of the country that they fully expect to be a front-runner in next season's title race.

Third-ranked Nebraska put the finishing touches on a successful 12-1 season as they physically manhandled No. 6 Tennessee 31-21 at Sun Devil Stadium. Not only was it a huge win for the Huskers, but they did it in traditional Nebraska style with an overpowering running game that wore down the Volunteers.

Despite a midseason loss at Texas -- which was avenged in the Big 12 Championship game -- and the close call against Colorado, the Huskers still felt like they were one of the country's best.

"As far as I'm concerned, these guys are the No. 1 team in the country," said Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, who announced his retirement after the game. "I don't care who you're talking about. Set them up on the field and we'll play them."

That was the feeling in the Nebraska locker room after the game. The Huskers weren't saying they deserved to be in the title game, but they do fully believe that they could play with anyone.

"We definitely feel like we showed that we're one of the best teams in the country," Nebraska I-back Dan Alexander said. "We've had our tough times this season, but we've fought through them and had a great season."

The key for Nebraska now is to roll the momentum they gained here in the Valley of the Sun over into next season.

On paper, the Huskers would appear to be loaded on offense next season with nine starters returning. On defense, Nebraska will have to contend with the huge losses of Mike Brown and Ralph Brown in the defensive backfield, but several young players are eager to show they can step up.

"This was the last game of the season and we wanted to finish as high as possible in the polls," Nebraska junior split end Matt Davison said. "I think our performance really let people know what Nebraska is all about. We played a great opponent in Tennessee, so to come out and have a good performance says a lot about our program."

Nebraska offensive tackle Adam Julch, who played his last game in a Husker uniform, said he expects huge things from the Huskers next year.

"I would bet anything that Nebraska will win the national championship next season," Julch said. "They've got a lot of talented players back, almost everybody is coming back on offense and Nebraska's defense is always good.

"I just wish I could be there to be a part of it, but that's college football for you. Four years of playing and you're done."

While Nebraska has said all along that it wanted a big win over a quality program like Tennessee to springboard itself into position for next season, the Huskers must guard against thinking this win automatically puts them in next year's title game.

There's little doubt NU will be ranked high in the preseason polls after a 12-1 season that included a Big 12 championship, but the Huskers need look only a year back in history to see that they can't become complacent.

The Arizona Wildcats, after completing a 1-loss season with a victory over a big-time program like Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl, were convinced that they were on their way. However, one sad performance in Happy Valley against Penn State turned sent the Wildcats spiraling downward to a very disappointing season.

On the other hand, Nebraska came away from a 9-4 season -- it's worst in three decades -- last year and rose back into the country's elite. The frustration of briefly falling off the map in college football last season served as a driving force for this year's success and Nebraska must realize that it is starting from scratch next season

Nebraska will more than likely finish No. 2 in this year's final polls. That will certainly draw the attention of national voters when they begin sizing up the 2000 season early this summer.

In one of his postgame interviews, a reporter tried to bait Nebraska head coach Frank Solich into predicting that his team would be a big-time contender. He may only have two years of head coaching experience in the books, but Solich has been around football way too long to fall for that one.

"We'll have to wait until next season and see," Solich smiled.

However, Sunday's performance left Husker fans wishing they didn't have to.


Contact Independent sports editor Terry Douglass via e-mail at sportsdesk@theindependent.com or by phone at (308) 381-9414.



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