While the other New Year's Day bowls have been pushing potential national champions and undefeated teams, the Cotton Bowl has spent the last week trying to stifle yawns and so-whats?

Nebraska versus Houston Tuesday at 2 p.m. might turn into a fine football game -- both teams have excellent talent -- but the outcome will have absolutely no effect on the crowning of the unofficial college football champion this season.

Cotton Bowl folks have had to live with similar situations far too many times in the last eight years. Only once in that span, when Texas and Notre Dame collided in 1978, has this annual affair captured the nation's attention.

Otherwise, those interested enough to turn on their TVs for the traditional 2 p.m. starting time have been treated to some closely-contested games that served as warmups to later bowl matchups.

This season's matchup might be the worst yet for the Cotton Bowl. Nebraska is still reeling from its season-ending loss to Oklahoma, despite Coach Tom Osborne's attempts to cut off such talk. And Houston never has had the credibility of fellow Southwest Conference members Texas and Arkansas.

This is the Cougars' third trip here in the four years they've been a member of the SWC. Not once in that period have they been close to winning the national title, which makes it hard for the Cotton to attract a high-ranked foe.

"I can't worry about our credibility," said Houston Coach Bill Yeoman, the architect of the veer offense. "We are trying to construct a quality program and people in football know what we are doing.

"We've taken on a lot of good teams the last few years and won our share. There isn't much else we can do but keep winning."

Of course, Yeoman, who is 35-11 over the past four seasons, can't shake thoughts of his personal nightmare, that 35-34 loss to Notre Dame in the bowl last year. The Irish scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds after trailing by 23 points earlier in the quarter.

"We should have won that game, but we forgot to play 60 minutes," said All-America tackle Melvin Jones. "We've been wanting to make up for it since we came back in August. It's been tough to live with."

Houston never expected to be here a month ago. It already had accepted a Sun Bowl bid before Texas A&M upset Texas the final weekend of the regular schedule. The Cougars quicklychanged their holiday plans. There are no on-the-record quotes from Cotton Bowl officials about the last-minute switch.

Maybe Yeoman should wish he had made that Sun Bowl trek. Nebraska, if it can regroup from the Sooner loss, has the kind of defense to overpower the quickness-oriented veer unless the Cougars suddenly find a back like Oklahoma's Billy Sims.

Sims ripped the Huskers with his outside speed, but otherwise Nebraska has surrendered a mere 93 rushing yards a game, second in the nation. Houston is averaging 296 yards on the ground, mainly behind the running of Terlad Clark (1,083 yards for the season).

Clark and his his fellow backs are small and they depend greatly on what Yeoman feels is his best-ever offensive line, an impressive group that averages 245 pounds.

Quarterback Delrick Brown is adept at the veer but doesn't shine as a passer, which may prove troublesome if Nebraska cuts off the overland routes. When Brown stumbles, Yeoman sends in junior Terry Elston, who has been responsible for pulling out four games in the fourth period (out of six that Houston has won with fourth-quarter rallies).

Nebraska also utlizes two quarterbacks. Jeff Quinn is the starter, while Tim Hager, who actually began more games, is expected to see action. But the Huskers rely more on the running of Jarvis Redwine (1,042 yards), I. M. Hipp (577 yards) and Andra Franklin (543 yards).

Tight end Junior Miller (6-4, 242, 21 catches) will be the primary receiver against an experienced Houston secondary. The Cougars will mount a pass rush behind huge tackles Leonard Mitchell and Hosea Taylor. Linebacker David Hodge made some All-America teams.

"We think we are quicker in some areas than they are," said Yeoman.

"We better be or they'll stomp on us with their size. I think each of their guys can bench-press every one of ours."

As for Nebraska, Osborne isn't sure how his team will perform, considering this game is not what anyone had in mind prior to the Oklahoma loss.

"I told them that anyone who didn't want to play should tell me and I'd get someone else," he said. "But you never know. We had our worst game against Oklahoma. I thought we were ready to play well.

"It will be interesting to see what we do in this one."