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ROSE BOWL: MIAMI (11-0) VS. NEBRASKA (11-1) / BCS TITLE
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Blooming BCS

Hurricanes and Cornhuskers Have Proved Worthy Rivals in Previous Bowl Meetings

January 03, 2002|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you were pitching tonight's Rose Bowl game between Miami and Nebraska in Hollywood, you'd cut straight to the movie-trailer hook: Slick versus Hick, Fast Planes versus Flat Plains, Back Talk versus Back Hoe, Urban versus Cowboy.

Truth is, these schools are different: culturally, offensively, geographically and philosophically.

You know how, in time, some people start looking like their dogs?

Well, the same might be said about Nebraska and Miami.

Nebraska is conservative, corn-fed, religious and rural--and so is its football.

Miami is diverse, spicy, sun-soaked and cosmopolitan--and so is its football.

Nebraska's style reflects a pioneer people who settled the territory yards at a time; Miami's attack looks more like Saturday night in South Beach.

Joe Price, professor of theology at Whittier College and author of the book "From Season to Season: Sports as American Religion," has long been fascinated by the cultural dynamic of the Miami-Nebraska series.

"There is something about football itself that appeals to the frontier myth, especially in a landscape like Nebraska, in ways not as significant as, say, Miami," Price said. "In Nebraska, the game takes on more mythic significance."

Nebraska (11-1) and Miami (11-0), which will play for first place in the bowl championship series, have won or shared seven national titles since 1983.

This pairing has been college football's longest running morality play--White Hat versus Black, or so they made us think in serials narrated by Keith Jackson.

Tonight's game, of course, has a completely modern and independent relevance and will be contested by players conceived at roughly the time this rivalry was born.

Miami, led by first-year Coach Larry Coker, is out to stamp out the raging BCS controversy with victory and claim an undisputed national title.

It would cap a remarkable rookie season for the 53-year-old Coker, a lifetime assistant who inherited the Hurricanes this season when Butch Davis left to coach the Cleveland Browns.

For Coker, who grew up in Oklahoma, "literally at the end of a dirt road," victory becomes validation for perseverance.

"I still remember watching the Rose Bowl growing up," Coker said this week. "At halftime, I would go out. My mother actually planted rose bushes, not quite as attractive as some of the roses you have around Pasadena this week, but I had my football and would go out and play. Then I'd come back in and watch the Rose Bowl. To dream I would ever be here in any capacity was out of the question."

Nebraska is out to prove it even belongs in the game, a less convincing argument since Oregon's 38-16 thrashing of Colorado in Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl.

"People will look at that as a measuring stick, and they should," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "But it's not the only measuring stick."

Nebraska, although ranking only fourth in both the writers' and coaches' polls, finished second behind Miami in the BCS standings, a system devised in 1998 ostensibly to resolve poll disputes.

At the final finding, however, Nebraska nipped Colorado and Oregon in the BCS to win a golden ticket to Pasadena.

This continues to be interesting, given that Colorado defeated Nebraska, 62-36, and more so now that Oregon has put the wallop on Colorado.

A Nebraska victory over Miami all but assures that Oregon, No. 2 in both subjective polls, will earn a split of the national title by winning the Associated Press crown.

It would seem to most a just result, given that Oregon beat by 22 points the team, Colorado, that defeated Nebraska by 26.

By contract and by contrast, however, the voting coaches must award the Sears Trophy to the Miami-Nebraska winner. If that is Nebraska, it will mean the coaches must jump their No. 4 team over their No. 2, Oregon.

Nebraska, understandably, is tired of being the punching bag in this debate.

"As far as I know, the BCS was designed to have one national champion," Nebraska safety Dion Booker argued. "If we win, we deserve to be the champion. There should be no split, it should be Miami or Nebraska as the all-out champion."

It is thoroughly fitting that Miami and Nebraska should be hammering out a season's final details on center stage.

You cannot speak of tonight's game without paying homage to its historical context, blithely ignoring the diversely different roads each school took to national prominence, or how each used the other to reach its political objectives.

Miami and Nebraska met three times between 1984 and 1992, all at the Orange Bowl.

Black Bart (Miami) got the girl each time.

The business of myth-making, however, is never, in reality, as cut and dried as good versus evil. Miami was not as Snidely Whiplash-diabolical as its image portrayed, and Nebraska has known its share of bail bondsmen.

Yet, delineating the differences for the purposes of art made masterpiece football theater.

The legends of both modern-day dynasties were forged after the 1983 season--in that majestic 1984 Orange Bowl.

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