FOR years the University of Nebraska has plowed under football opponents. Its victory harvest of late, however, has never been greater nor its tractor prints deeper on the national gridiron landscape. The evidence: two perfect seasons in a row (13-0 and 12-0), consecutive national championships, and a 36-1 record since 1993. The only thing between Nebraska and what would have been three straight titles is a two-point loss to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl.
The Huskers will have to replace option quarterback Tommie Frazier next season, and probably running back Lawrence Phillips, who is almost a cinch to exit early to the pros. Before departing, however, they helped put together a game fit for a time capsule, a 62-24 Fiesta Bowl tour de force Jan. 2 that left the University of Florida dazed in Tempe, Ariz.
During its own version of Desert Storm, Nebraska kicked off 10 times and punted just once. Frazier ran for 199 yards, a record for a quarterback in bowl play. The Big Red defense produced seven sacks, three interceptions, and a safety while limiting the Gator offense to negative rushing yardage. (Florida did manage to retain its No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, however.)
Notes on other bowls
*Extended-arm TD: The most resourceful, if risky, goal-line play was produced by Florida's Danny Wuerffel, who leaped up and held the ball over the goal line on a quarterback sneak in the Fiesta Bowl. Wuerffel quickly retracted the ball after breaking the plane of the goal line, giving the Gators a short-lived lead.
*Winning effort by a losing team: Northwestern University, the sentimental favorite in the Rose Bowl, played valiantly enough to salve some of its disappointment in losing to Southern California. For a Cinderella team to fall behind 24-7 was potentially disastrous, but Northwestern patiently came back, moving into a 32-31 lead before falling, 41-32.
*Key player: Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was clearly Southern Cal's go-to guy. Each of his 12 Rose Bowl receptions (a record) either produced a first down or a touchdown.
*Drip, drip, drip: The weather was perhaps never worse for the New Year's bowls. It was cold and wet at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, and rainy across Florida, where the Citrus (Orlando), Outback (Tampa), Gator (Jacksonville), and Orange (Miami) were played in conditions that ranged from slippery to downright sloppy.
*Sugar sans sellout: The Sugar Bowl, played New Year's Eve in New Orleans's Superdome, had no weather problems, but attendance was off. For the first time since moving to the Superdome 20 years ago the game was not sold out. High school bands that performed at halftime were moved into empty high-priced seats to give the stands a fuller appearance for the TV cameras. The absence of a regional draw (neither Texas nor victor Virginia Tech filled the bill), playing on New Year's Eve in a party town, and getting a game of lesser consequence sapped interest. Next year, however, the Sugar will get the new bowl alliance's top two teams. "We'll be sold out by March," predicts Troy Mathieu, the Sugar Bowl's executive director.