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Kevin B. Blackistone's column

'Huskers have Big 12 crown to hang hats on

12/05/99

By Kevin B. Blackistone / The Dallas Morning News

SAN ANTONIO - They came to the Alamodome on Saturday all the way from Lincoln, Neb. They whooped and hollered and danced a jig as they departed the place, pointing index fingers overhead.

But all the Cornhuskers got to show for their time in San Antonio were dark-brimmed beige baseball caps emblazoned with the 1999 Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship logo, and, of course, the accompanying conference trophy.

Whoopee.

That would be a bountiful enough booty to satisfy most college football programs. The Texas Longhorns, whom the Cornhuskers absolutely dominated, 22-6, in the title game Saturday, come to mind.

Longhorns coach Mack Brown even reiterated afterward that he was proud his charges just earned an invitation to this title game. He noted it was only their second year under his tutelage. They were still quite young. Their Heisman Trophy winner from a season ago was playing in the pros.

"When you go back to where this program started," Brown said, "I'm really proud of this football team."

He only hoped his Longhorns would advance this far.

The Cornhuskers, however, expected to get to the Alamodome this week and walk out of it with more than the title of Big 12 Conference champions.

Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich said when it was over that he and his team were pleased just to have the Big 12 title, but it wasn't a convincing spiel. They don't play for conference titles in Lincoln. They play for national titles. Anything less must be disappointing.

The Cornhuskers expected to be headed to New Orleans after this weekend for the national championship game, but they aren't. Neither their impressive performance nor Brown's endorsement of their quality will be enough to get them there.

Their play against the Texans was national-championship caliber, though. The six points the Longhorns managed came off a fumble recovery. The Blackshirts, as the Nebraska defense is nicknamed, shut out the Texas offense.

They didn't surrender a first down until the second quarter. They threatened to turn Major Applewhite into chunky applesauce with all-out blitzes. They intercepted him three times.

And with their own quarterback, Eric Crouch, banged up and his tight end unavailable because of an injury, the Cornhuskers just buttoned their chin straps a little tighter and ran over the Longhorns. Apparently, they didn't receive the Texas sports information department's postcards proclaiming the Longhorns' defensive line one of the nation's most stout.

"They played as well as I have ever seen them play," Brown said of the Cornhuskers. "Any BCS people watching tonight [Saturday] would have to be concerned for their ratings."

The Texas coach was referring to the newfangled computerized Bowl Championship Series poll that will determine which teams meet Jan. 4 in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. The two teams that sat atop the poll coming into this weekend were undefeated Florida State and unbeaten Virginia Tech.

The third-place team was Nebraska. Their record was smudged. On Oct. 23 in Austin, the Cornhuskers dropped a 24-20 decision to Texas and, as it turned out, fell out of the national title game.

It probably would've taken a score of something like 100-0 on Saturday for the Nebraskans to have a chance of eclipsing the BCS poll's second-place Hokies of Virginia Tech, and they knew it.

Solich didn't campaign for the playoff system major college football ought to have. He didn't cry that Saturday showed that what happened on Oct. 23 was some sort of fluke. He just accepted the consequences. There was nothing else he and his team could do.

"I know our football team is a tremendous football team . . . but we will go with the system," Solich said. "We understand how it works."

The Cornhuskers tried to take some satisfaction Saturday in breaking their losing streak against the Longhorns, which could have run to four in a row. But they didn't sound any more convincing pointing that out than they did in celebrating their second Big 12 conference title.

"It was not an easy season," Solich allowed. "I'm very proud of this football team and the way they responded. They had a great year. We're just pleased to finish it up with the Big 12 championship."

Hey, they got hats.





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