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Jayhawks hope to do better this time than stay close to Huskers

(c) 1995 Copyright Nando.net
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Kan. (Nov 9, 1995 - 23:36 EST) -- Two years ago, when Kansas last played host to Nebraska in a football game, something very strange took place.

Kansas almost won.

Failing on a last-minute 2-point conversion attempt, the Jayhawks fell 21-20, the closest they'd come since 1968 to beating their tormentors from the north.

The Nebraska-Kansas series, resuming Saturday with the No. 1 Huskers big favorites over the 10th-ranked Jayhawks, has been one of college football's most predictably lopsided rivalries.

"There are a lot of people walking around who weren't even born the last time Kansas beat Nebraska," Kansas coach Glen Mason said.

Typical of Nebraska's domination was the four-year stretch from 1977 through 1980, when the Cornhuskers won by scores of 52-7, 63-21, 42-0 and 54-0. And there's the six-year run beginning in 1982, with score of 52-0, 67-13, 41-7, 56-6, 70-0 and 54-2.

The Jayhawks managed victories over every other team in the conference during that span, including over a couple of Oklahoma teams that beat Nebraska a couple of weeks later.

Adding to the humiliation, red-clad Nebraska fans actually outnumbered gloomy Kansas followers several times when the slaughter was staged at Lawrence.

"There were two or three times at Kansas when we probably had close to the number of fans that Kansas had," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne admitted. "A lot of people who couldn't get tickets (at always sold-out Nebraska) would try to buy tickets to those games."

The stadium was brimming over with Nebraskans when Osborne's Huskers welcomed Mason to the Big Eight with a 63-10 thrashing in Lawrence in 1988.

But after a miserable 1-10 campaign that first season, the Jayhawks began a steady improvement, winning four games in 1989, six in 1991 and eight in 1992, including their first bowl victory in 31 years.

This year's team, featuring quarterback Mark Williams' pinpoint passing, a balanced running attack and a youthful, opportunistic defense, has the best record (8-1 overall, 4-1 Big Eight) and highest ranking Kansas has ever brought into a Nebraska game.

Ironically, the best Kansas team in a long time may find itself on the same field with one of the greatest Nebraska teams ever. The Huskers (9-0, 5-0) are not only unbeaten, but have been virtually unchallenged while driving toward a Fiesta Bowl date and a shot at a second consecutive national championship.

"They're the best team in the country, bar none," agreed Kansas wide receiver Isaac Byrd. "It's going to be a real test for us, but I'm sure we'll rise to the occasion."

Led by quarterback Tommie Frazier, Mason's choice as the best player in the country, the Huskers lead the nation in rushing (426.4 yards per game), and scoring (55.3 points) and rank second in total offense (593).

"I don't think anybody in college football runs the option better than the Cornhuskers," Kansas linebacker Keith Rodgers said. "Tommie Frazier has always been a formidable opponent in that he runs the option very well."

Although favored by more than three touchdowns, the Huskers were not going to be lulled into a false sense of security if Osborne had anything to say about it.

"When he (Mason) first came there, they simply didn't have the athletes to give us a game, and we knew that," Osborne said. "The first few times we played them, we knew that, barring something unusual, we were going to win the game. The last 2-3 years we haven't known that at all."

At least this time, Kansas fans will outnumber the visiting Nebraskans in their own stadium.