LINCOLN, Neb. — Who's No. 1? Well, Nebraska can tell you who's not.
It definitely isn't Colorado, which left Memorial Stadium in a daze after the Cornhuskers' 24-7 victory Saturday put a sweat sock in the mouths of everyone who considered Nebraska a national championship afterthought.
"They did at will whatever they wanted to," Colorado defensive tackle Darius Holland said.
So thorough was the defeat that you could have given the Buffaloes a fifth . . . sixth . . . even seventh down, as well as a rosary full of Hail Marys, and it wouldn't have mattered. About the only miracle for Colorado was that nobody got hurt as jubilant Nebraska fans stormed the field and tore down the uprights and took an ABC mini-cam with them.
This was the third consecutive Cornhusker victory over the Buffaloes, and while it didn't quite match the so-called "Lincoln Assassination" in 1992, when Nebraska won, 52-7, it was close. In an afternoon's time, third-ranked Nebraska (9-0) ended second-ranked Colorado's undefeated season and the Heisman Trophy hopes of quarterback Kordell Stewart.
More important, the Cornhuskers positioned themselves for another Big Eight Conference title, another trip to the Orange Bowl and another shot at a national championship.
"This was the Orange Bowl game," said Stewart, who completed only 13 of 30 passes for 159 yards and no touchdowns. "We're not going and they are."
Nebraska still has to beat Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma, but nobody seemed too concerned about the prospects of a Cornhusker collapse--not after the way Nebraska handled Colorado (7-1), which began the game with 11 consecutive victories, five against ranked opponents. Instead, there was postgame talk of the Cornhuskers challenging Penn State for the No. 1 ranking.
"Oh, I don't much care about the polls," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said.
John Junker does. The executive director of the Fiesta Bowl came to Lincoln to protect his interests, though he couldn't come out and say so. With Colorado supposedly on its way to an unbeaten season and Nebraska supposedly hampered by the loss of star quarterback Tommie Frazier to a blood clot, Junker figured the Cornhuskers would be in Tempe, Ariz., come bowl day.
Then came Saturday's rout. Afterward, Junker stopped Osborne as the Cornhusker coach made his way out of the press box. You couldn't tell if Junker congratulated him or simply said goodby. Whatever it was, you can probably wave farewell to that Notre Dame-Nebraska matchup.
If the Cornhuskers do make it to Miami, they can thank all sorts of people for the trip, beginning with Frazier's replacement, Brook Berringer. Berringer, making only his fourth start, wasn't flashy, but he was much more effective than the highly touted Stewart.
Protected by one of the best offensive lines in the country, Berringer completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. And while nobody will confuse him with Frazier, he ran Nebraska's option play well enough to cause Colorado problems.
"Any time you're behind that offensive line," Berringer said, "you feel like you can drop back and pick the defense apart."
That's what he did. Using an assortment of new plays inserted for Saturday's game, Berringer found tight ends Eric Alford and Mark Gilman a combined nine times for 124 yards and the touchdown. When he wasn't doing that, he was handing off to fullback Cory Schlesinger (65 yards, one touchdown) or I-back Lawrence Phillips, who rushed for 86 yards but saw his string of eight 100-yard games end.
"We weren't prepared for the run when they started throwing like that," Colorado linebacker Matt Russell said.
Actually, Colorado wasn't prepared for much of anything. The Buffaloes were 0 for 11 on third-down plays, 0 for 4 on fourth-down tries. And Stewart, for the second consecutive year, was awful against the Cornhuskers.
About the only bright spot was running back Rashaan Salaam, who gained 134 yards in 22 carries for one touchdown. That and the won coin toss were about it for Colorado highlights.
"We just weren't Colorado today," Stewart said. "We went out there and just ran around."
Nebraska led, 7-0, by the end of the first quarter, but it seemed like more. That's because Colorado's three possessions lasted 56 seconds, 53 seconds and 95 seconds and started at its three-, 25- and 16-yard lines. It didn't get any better in the second quarter, as Nebraska added 10 more points and shut out Colorado in the first half for the first time in 28 games.
The Cornhuskers took a 24-0 lead early in the third quarter on a 30-yard pass play from Berringer to Alford and then waited for the clock to run out. Berringer made one silly mistake--an interception that resulted in Salaam's touchdown run--but that was it for Cornhusker errors.
While Osborne and the Cornhusker players might have been hesitant to pitch their case as the new No. 1, Colorado Coach Bill McCartney wasn't. To him, the vote is a no-brainer.