One team is here on a mission; the other is here to play a football game.

That's the scenario for Friday when Clemson and Nebraska meet in the 48th Orange Bowl game. The Tigers come into the game with the nation's only 11-0 record and a chance to win their first national championship. Nebraska (9-2) has an outside shot at the title, but Coach Tom Osborne has played that down all week.

In their own ways, coaches Osborne and Danny Ford have provided clues to how their teams are approaching the game.

Ford, 33, is in his third bowl game, the first on New Year's Day. He admits his skin is peeling because of his nerves. Asked about the game, he has said simply, "This is the most important football game Clemson has ever played."

Osborne, 45, is in his ninth bowl in nine years as Nebraska coach, his fifth on New Year's Day. The last few days, he has been seen frequently in the hotel lobby, talking easily with anyone who wanders by. How does he feel about the game, about the national championship?

"We'd rather win than lose."

Even though it is the team with the unbeaten record and the No. 1 ranking, Clemson feels it is the team with something to prove. The point spread backs up that feeling: Nebraska is a 4 point favorite. "There's been a lot written and a lot said about Clemson, what we can and can't do," Ford said. "I'm anxious to find out what we can do against a program like Nebraska's."

Although both teams have impressive offensive statistics, their defenses got them here. Clemson gave up only 8.2 points a game; Nebraska, after losing two of its first three games, gave up only 9.4 points a game. Clemson struggled only once: against North Carolina in a 10-8 victory. It has not trailed in the fourth quarter this season.

Ford, whose practices have been closed this week, has been coy about whether the Tigers will wear their good-luck orange pants. "I'm a little worried," he said. "Nebraska wears red. All that color might clash."

The decision on the pants lies with the Clemson seniors, however, and one of them said today, "It's supposed to be a secret, but I would bet serious money on the orange if I were you. We've never lost (3-0) in them."

Predicting what will happen when the players finally pull on their pants is difficult because the schools have never met and have had no common opponents this year.

"You can only do so much by looking at film," Osborne said. "I don't think we'll have any idea of how good they really are until we put player on player out there."

Clemson appears to have the edge at quarterback. Homer Jordan, the painfully quiet 6-foot junior who plays the position for the Tigers, has improved steadily all season, especially in terms of picking up secondary receivers.

Nebraska had its quarterbacking situation in good shape with Turner Gill, a quick, option-running sophomore, until the 10th game of the season when he suffered paralysis in his left foot. Backup Mark Mauer has a slightly sore arm but will start. The Cornhuskers' third-string quarterback, Nate Mason, is also out, meaning that if Mauer's arm bothers him, Bruce Mathison, who is one for four for seven yards this season, goes in.

"You just have to have faith," said Gill. "I think our offense will produce what it has to for us to win."

Faith has been Clemson's key word all season. The Tigers began the season with more questions than answers. They were 6-5 a year ago, there was dissension between players and coaches, there were racial difficulties and, last spring, the NCAA began an investigation into the program that may result in probation.

But, buoyed by an early 13-3 victory over Georgia, the defending national champion, the Tigers have jelled, Jordan maturing at quarterback and the defense playing superbly all year.

Now, in spite of their complaints about not being respected, about being mistreated by the media, they stand one victory away from completing one of the most remarkable stories in the history of the game.

"That's why this is the most important game in the history of the school," Ford said. "Clemson has never had this opportunity before. It's there. We're the only ones who will decide our fate. We're going to win the game or lose the game; nobody else, not the oddsmakers, the press or anyone else. Just us.

"If we win, then I guess we're No. 1. If we get our butts beat, we don't deserve to be No. 1.

"I told our kids that we're Cinderella, glass slipper and all. I don't know yet if I believe in Cinderella or not, though. I won't know whether I do or not until Friday night.

"I hope it's a great game and it's decided in the last 10 seconds."

If it is, it will be decided a few minutes before midnight.