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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Through three games, the first inclination is to dismiss Nebraska as a national championship contender.
TCU's defense tackled the Huskers 13 times behind the line. Either Troy State failed to get Nebraska's attention or the Trojans are better than their fledgling Division I-A status would suggest. Maybe both. Still, the 42-14 victory was unimpressive by Big Red standards.
Saturday night's pseudo-epic with Notre Dame stirred only the big red corpuscles in Nebraskans' blood. Looked at objectively, it was more of the same.
The Huskers, No. 8 in this week's Power Poll, slept walked through the second half of a 27-10 victory. It looked like they could have named their score after going up 27-3 at halftime.
"With the lead we had, we came out and we were running the ball trying to eat up some clock at the beginning of the second," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "It just seemed to make sense not to try to get too fancy or too exotic."
Against a Notre Dame team that inexplicably didn't come to play, the tactics made sense. But viewed another way, the second half looked more like Notre Dame waking up than Nebraska playing 30 minutes of prevent defense. Bob Davie's schizophrenic offense -- does it want to pass, run, be balanced? -- was more of a factor than Nebraska's defense.
That's why we still have many, many questions about the Huskers. Questions, that we still might be asking on Jan. 3 in Pasadena.
Never has a Nebraska team been set up better for a championship run. The Huskers ended up with eight home games. Eight. Now that Notre Dame has fallen, Nebraska won't be challenged again until Oklahoma comes to town on Oct. 27.
When that game rolls around, don't be surprised if Nebraska is ranked No. 1 or 2. In this age of parity, the No. 5 Huskers will benefit from the usual upsets.
The Huskers have a serviceable running game. The offensive line had been inconsistent until Saturday night. I-back Dahrran Diedrick runs hard but straight. There is nothing, though, to rival the power running game of the past. Eric Crouch is just dangerous enough (6-of-9 passing, 31 yards rushing) to keep his Heisman candidacy alive.
Nebraska gained only 270 yards, its second lowest total since at least 1999.
The defense is nothing special considering it hasn't faced a quarterback yet who can audible his way out of a McDonald's drive-thru. That will change. Nate Hybl, while not Josh Heupel, has a monstrous defense to back him up. Kansas State looks like it is at least the equal of the Huskers after an impressive road victory at Southern California.
Colorado is already looking forward to Nebraska's visit on Nov. 23. The Buffs are smarting from two near-upsets the past two meetings.
But the only other road trips are to Missouri, Baylor and Kansas. Whoever made this schedule -- Solich, athletic director Bill Byrne -- ought to be handed the BCS medal of honor because the road is clear for at least a BCS at-large berth.
Just remember this is not a vintage Nebraska team. Not yet. With this schedule, it can afford to learn on the fly and believe the hype inscribed on its schedule poster.
Run for the Roses.
Bulldogs in the Valley?
Now that Fresno State has officially established itself as a BCS bowl threat, the question needs to be asked: What BCS bowl is going to take on the feel-good story of the season?
The answer is not easy. If Fresno, 3-0 after a victory at Wisconsin, finishes in the top six of the BCS poll, it will earn at least a BCS at-large berth. Most likely the Bulldogs will have to finish 13-0, winning their final 10 games.
But the hardest part of the schedule is over -- forcing the big four bowl directors (Fiesta, Rose, Orange, Sugar) to at least discuss what to do with Fresno. And you'd better believe it has been discussed.
The most likely spot for the Bulldogs is the Fiesta Bowl. It is close to the West Coast, and Fresno State travels well. We're talking Kansas State-like numbers. Twenty thousand or so would make the trip to Tempe.
The problem is the Fiesta is more or less anchored to the Pac-10 and Big 12 champions this season. Virtually the only way a spot opens up close to home for the Bulldogs is if one or both of those champions finish high enough to play in the Rose Bowl. Considering the starts by Oregon and Oklahoma, that's a possibility.
But short of that, Fresno most probably will have to play thousands of miles away in New Orleans or South Florida. We're seeing why the BCS commissioners wanted to make it so hard for non-BCS interlopers to qualify for one of their bowls.
In the above scenario, Fresno State would be like the fly in the punch bowl more than an underdog in a BCS bowl. The WAC champion playing in the bosom of SEC football? An already financially strapped Orange Bowl trying to sell Fresno State?
The bowls might have to deal with it. Fresno is on the fast track because, unlike Marshall and Tulane of years past, voters want to rank it high. Those undefeated Thundering Herd and Green Wave teams played unimpressive schedules.
The Bulldogs will reach the top six because they have gone out and sought to play Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin. By the time the first BCS poll debuts in mid-October, the Bulldogs are likely to be in the top 10. It won't matter that the remaining WAC schedule includes games against Tulsa, Boise State, Rice and Hawaii.
"We've still got 10 games; it's a long season," Fresno coach Pat Hill said. "But if we keep winning, maybe we could get ourselves in a position where we get to play in a big game.
"That would be a great story."
In other words, the feel-good story of the season will still feel good in November.
Sunshine of their love
Once again, there's no reason to leave the state of Florida on Saturday to get a handle on the college football scene. Can you say showdowns?
Georgia Tech at Florida State: The Yellow Jackets tuned up for the trip to Tallahassee by sneaking by Navy by 63. Florida State's Chris Rix provided the highlight of the young season with his somersault into the end zone for a touchdown against Alabama-Birmingham.
Scoping the nation