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Gas station pickin' Huskers by 35 points

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 McClatchy News Service

LINCOLN, Neb. (Sep 29, 1995 - 00:12 EDT) -- The Washington State Cougars are picked as 29-point underdogs heading into their game against the No. 2-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday.

That's pretty generous, considering the point spread laid out by Bruce Melichar and his employees at Melichar's Phillips 66 service station in downtown Lincoln.

For 28 years, it's been a Melichar family tradition to post a prediction of Nebraska games on a large sign above the gas pumps. On Wednesday, after a meeting of the minds, this week's prediction was posted for all traveling along one of the city's busiest streets to see.

The score: "Huskers 45, Wash. St. 10."

"How's that for a score?" attendant Dave Haumont said with a big smile.

Melichar, who grew up in nearby Malcolm, said guessing Cornhuskers' scores has taken place ever since his father, Gene, opened the gas station in 1968. "I remember picking scores with my dad," said Melichar, who's carried on the tradition since buying his father out in 1978.

How successful has the gas-station crew been? Very. On picking the winner, that is.

In fact, since 1968, they're picked the winner in 267 out of 327 games, an incredible .816 winning percentage.

Well, that's because they've picked Nebraska to win every time. Probably a wise decision, considering the station is just two blocks away from Memorial Stadium.

"I don't want my windows broken out," Melichar said with a laugh.

Occasionally, the score will be right on. For instance, Melichar says they picked the exact score in Nebraska's 64-21 season-opening victory over Oklahoma State.

This week's prediction was a symbol of respect for Washington State's program, they say. The Cornhuskers are beating opponents by nearly 43 points per game this season. Folks around Lincoln are a little worried about WSU's rush defense (ranked fourth in the nation) and passing attack. Many recall the Cougars' 19-10 shocker over Nebraska in 1977.

"You guys surprised us against UCLA," Haumont said of WSU's 24-15 victory over the then 16th-ranked Bruins last Saturday. "That opened some eyes. I think you guys will give us a good game."

At least, no worse than 35 points.