ORLANDO, Fla. — Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross was presenting his arguments to be the No. 1 team in the country. He saw it as nothing more than simple mathematics.
"How many points did Colorado beat Nebraska by?" he asked.
The answer was 15, Colorado having beaten the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., 27-12, on Nov. 9.
"How many points did we beat Nebraska by?"
Ross knew the answer but asked anyway as if he wanted to hear the ending to a script he thought unbelievable. The answer came back: 24.
"Well, there you go."
For Georgia Tech, Tuesday's 45-21 victory over Nebraska in the Florida Citrus Bowl was viewed as the end of a season of disrespect. For Ross, it was the end of a week of personal highs and lows.
At game's end, Ross said he wasn't concerned about the outcome of the Orange Bowl and the fate of Colorado, interesting as those factors were.
He said he wasn't going to watch the game, in which Colorado beat Notre Dame, 10-9. While his team went back to the hotel and watched the Orange Bowl, Ross flew to Williamsburg, Va., to be with his mother.
"She's in very critical health," Ross said, reflecting the first somber mood in the postgame celebration. Martha Ross, 80, suffered a stroke a week ago and has since contracted pneumonia in both lungs. She's also in a coma.
"A couple times during the game," Ross said, "I looked up and said, 'Just hold on, Mom. I'll get there as soon as I can.' "
Georgia Tech, 2-9 four years ago in Ross' first season as coach, finished this season 11-0-1 and ranked No. 2, at least until the new poll is released today.
His team did plenty to try to persuade anyone who was undecided on their national championship vote.
Shawn Jones, the game's most valuable player, completed 16 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for one touchdown.
The sophomore quarterback set the mood for Georgia Tech on the fourth play of the game when he scrambled 46 yards to set up the first touchdown.
"The line protected very well and Nebraska overran the pass," Jones said. "I cut back and nobody was there. . . . I think that set the tone for the way we performed offensively."
Five plays later, Stefen Scotton scored on a two-yard run that gave Georgia Tech a lead it would not relinquish, 7-0.
"Shawn Jones is one of the major reasons we're undefeated," said Thomas Balkcom, the Georgia Tech strong safety who was voted defensive player of the game. "Shawn is improving every game, right along with the offense. I feel that he should be at least a candidate for the Heisman next year. That's how good he is."
Jones continued to prove Balkcom's point by throwing two touchdown passes to give Georgia Tech a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Both followed mistakes by Nebraska.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne opened the second quarter by substituting Tom Haase for Mike Grant at quarterback. On Haase's first play, Scott Baldwin fumbled, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball at the Nebraska 22.
After a five-yard completion, Jones threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Emmett Merchant in the corner of the end zone.
Nebraska couldn't move the ball and punted. But when Jason McGill called for a fair catch, Scott Baldwin clobbered the punt returner, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. Georgia Tech started its drive on the Nebraska 37 and scored six plays later on a two-yard pass to William Bell.
Nebraska, which finished the season 9-3, was able to inject a bit of life into what was becoming a one-sided game. On their next possession, the Cornhuskers decided to throw the ball.
After a 32-yard pass play from Haase to Johnny Mitchell and a 12-yard run by Nate Turner, Haase found Mitchell open in the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Anthony Rice fumbled on the Yellow Jackets' next series, and on the second play Nebraska's Derek Brown found a scarcity of people on the left sideline and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Brown is a freshman who played high school football at Anaheim Servite.
At last there was some life on the Nebraska sideline, especially when Georgia Tech was forced to punt.
The punt, however, was the difference. Turner, clustered with two other Nebraska players, fumbled the ball with Jay Martin of Georgia Tech recovering. It led to a 37-yard field goal by Scott Sisson and a 24-14 halftime lead.
"I thought the fumbled punt was the key to the game," Ross said. "That changed the momentum of the game. . . . Here we were with what we thought was a comfortable lead, and they came back within a matter of a minute, ready to establish momentum. Even though we only got three points out of it, that was one of the big plays we capitalized on."
Another key for Georgia Tech was its ability to stop the Nebraska running game, which was averaging 330 yards. Tuesday, the Cornhuskers were held to 126 yards.