Nebraska finally earns respect

The Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Q Nebraska lost the game and gained respect.

Haunted by a history of big-game flops, the undefeated Cornhuskers entered the 1994 Orange Bowl as 17-point underdogs to top-ranked Florida State. Nebraska outplayed the Seminoles, but lost 18-16 when a last-second field goal attempt sailed wide.

Largely as a result of that impressive performance, the Cornhuskers are one of the favorites to win the national championship this season. Ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll, they open Sunday against No. 24 West Virginia in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium.

RI think the Orange Bowl changed the public perception of Nebraska,S said offensive tackle Rob Zatechka. RIt didnUt change us, but it changed what people thought about us.S

REverybody was saying Florida State would kill us, that they were one of the greatest teams ever,S said defensive tackle Terry Connealy. RWell, I think we showed we could play with anybody in the country.S

Although Nebraska has been the most consistent winner in college football over the past three decades, its national reputation has been hurt in recent years by poor showings against top teams. The Cornhuskers have lost seven straight bowl games and have beaten only one top-10 team since 1989.

But the heartbreaking loss to Florida State seemed to gain Nebraska more respect than its 11 victories last season. The Cornhuskers, who have quarterback Tommie Frazier and 12 other starters back, received the most first-place votes (18) in the preseason Associated Press poll.

RI think theyUre as good as any team in the country,S said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen.

Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said his team probably Rgained a little confidenceS with its showing against Florida State, but he thinks itUs Ra little bizarreS that one game would change the image of his program.

RApparently, to some people, playing well in that game and losing it meant that we were a better team than they thought we were,S Osborne said. RWeUll take whatever we get, but weUve been a pretty good football team for a long time.S

Like Nebraska, West Virginia went 11-0 last season before losing on New YearUs night. Unlike the Cornhuskers, the MountaineersU reputation plummeted after they were routed by Florida 41-7 in the Sugar Bowl.

RI think what happened to West Virginia is whatUs happened to us a couple of times in bowl games,S Osborne said. RWhen you have a real good season and then lose by a big score in a bowl game, people have a tendency to write you off.S

Some people are writing off West Virginia in the Kickoff Classic. Nebraska is favored by 17 points over the Mountaineers, whose top two quarterbacks are inexperienced sophomores.

"Our kids know weUre the underdogs, but weUre going to show up for the game,S Nehlen said. RI wouldnUt coach if I didnUt think we could win. Just like you wouldnUt get in your car if you didnUt think it would start."

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