Early Saturday, Michigan and Nebraska were declared co-national champions.
SURVEY: Who's No. 1?
The final game of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning's career was a disaster.
Nebraska players said Coach Tom Osborne's 255th career victory should also bring with it a national title.
Michigan players watched the Orange Bowl on TV, and hoped Nebraska's win would not deprive them of a national title.
Heading into the Orange Bowl, many eyes were on Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
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Nebraska, Osborne Win Going AwayBy Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 3, 1998; Page F1
Osborne completed his 25th, and final, season as head coach with a 255-49-3 career record-best of any active Division I coachand two national titles. And his players did everything in their power to put him in position to win at least a share of a third. Quarterback Scott Frost threw for 125 yards and rushed for three touchdowns, and running back Ahman Green, the game's most valuable player, had an Orange Bowl-record 206 rushing yards as Nebraska made Peyton Manningconsidered by many the best quarterback in the countrya non-issue in his final college game.
Top-ranked Michigan's 21-16 victory over No. 8 Washington State in Thursday's Rose Bowl was supposed to make this game a non-issue, but the Cornhuskers (13-0) refused to go quietly into the night. They produced on the field, and now they are demanding a response from the voters, who have not produced a split championship since the 1991 season, when Miami and Washington each finished atop one of the polls.
"We definitely made our statement," said Nebraska defensive lineman Jason Peter, one of a host of Nebraska players who spent the postgame interview period ripping Michigan and exalting his own team's success. "If you ask me, I don't think it should be a split title. We're the best team in the country. Don't give it to Michigan because they haven't seen it in 45 years [actually 49]. Give it to us because we're the best team."
It's highly unlikely that Nebraska will be able to unseat the Wolverines, particularly in the Associated Press media poll. Acknowledging that, Frost made a bold plea to the coacheswho vote in the USA Today/ESPN pollto let Osborne finish his career with at least a share of another championship.
Michigan "won by five points against the seventh-ranked team in the country [in the coaches' poll] with a controversial play at the end of the game," Frost said, referring to the Rose Bowl game officials' ruling that time had run out when it appeared that Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf had spiked the ball at the Michigan 26-yard line with one second remaining. "We took apart the third-ranked team in the country. I can't see how any coach outside the Pac-10 and the Big Ten can vote for Michigan.
"The national title has been split before," he continued. "It's okay to split it. It should be split, and it's up to the coaches. Seeing Coach Osborne go out like this is the best thing that can happen."
The crowd was chanting "Osborne, Osborne," as the game clock wound down this evening, and the Cornhuskers started to celebrate while Manning, on the sideline, quietly watched his impressive career end with a disappointing loss. His right knee still swollen from an injury when he took the field this evening, Manning was 21 of 31 passing for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception in one of the more ineffective games of his career. Backup Tee Martin took over for Tennessee's final drive and orchestrated a second touchdown.
"I'm disappointed just for our whole team," said Manning, who refused to use his sore knee as an excuse. "It's always nice to win bowl game. As a senior, it's disappointing to go out on this note."
Turnovers characterized the first half for the Volunteers, who had two key fumbles that resulted in touchdowns for Nebraska. The first fumble came when running back Jamal Lewis was hit hard by cornerback Ralph Brown and lost the ball just when Tennessee was threatening to get inside Nebraska's 20-yard line for the first time in the game.
The Cornhuskers, who recovered the fumble, then drove 78 yards on eight playsgetting first downs on 25-, 22- and 12-yard passes by Frost in the processto score on Green's one-yard run. Nebraska scored its second touchdown after Terry Fair dropped a punt and Lance Brown recovered it on the Tennessee 15-yard line. Three plays later, Shevin Wiggins took a pitch from Frost and ran five yards into the end zone.
"If it weren't for the turnovers," said Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer, "it would have been real interesting in the first half."
The third quarter, though, was the crusher. Nebraska started the second half with an 80-yard touchdown drive, sacked Manning for a nine-yard loss on Tennessee's next possession, then took the ball back and drove 73 yards for another touchdown.
"I sensed it early in the third quarter," said Green, a junior who declined to discuss whether he will turn pro this spring. "We could see it in their eyes and in their faces. They were bending over and gasping for air. We knew if we kept doing it, we'd win the game."
Manning finally put together a touchdown drive to cut the score to 28-9 (the two-point conversion failed), but Nebraska added another rushing touchdown barely a minute later on a 22-yard run by Green. That gave Nebraska a 35-9 lead to carry into the fourth quarter and it had the Cornhuskers' fans waving solitary fingers in the air to express their opinion that Nebraska should be No. 1.
"I've been asked probably 16 times between the field and here who I was going to vote for," Fulmer said during his postgame news conference. "And I'll say it again here. I'll vote for Nebraska. I haven't seen every team in the country, but they're the best team I've seen."
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