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'Husker title path still not blocked by fluke play, polls

Published Oct. 2, 2005

It must be the end zone. How else to explain the miracle in Missouri, the bizarre bounce of a ball off one player's toes into the fingertips of another. Nebraska might look back at the end of the season and call it destiny.

True, the Cornhuskers are no longer the No.

1 team in the country. In fact, they dropped two spots in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, falling behind Michigan and Florida State.

That is highly unusual. But so was Nebraska's 45-38 overtime victory against Missouri. Voters in both polls penalized the Corn- huskers because they were extremely fortunate to win despite being 29-point favorites.

But the drop in the polls is far from devastating. The Corn- huskers remain undefeated and ranked third, still in line for an alliance bowl slot in the Orange Bowl to play for the national championship.

And their road is much easier, given the fact that FSU and Michigan each have games against highly-ranked bitter rivals; FSU plays at No. 12 Florida on Nov. 22, the same day Michigan hosts No. 4 Ohio State.

The bottom line for Nebraska is the goose egg, and the Cornhuskers are 9-0. With victories against Iowa State and Colorado and a win in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Cornhuskers will be in position to claim their third national title in four years.

The fluke play, no matter how long it is discussed, will cease to be a factor if the Cornhuskers make it to Jan. 2 without a loss.

Just ask Colorado, which won in bizarre fashion in a 1990 game at Missouri _ in the same end zone where Nebraska found its fortune Saturday. The Buffaloes scored the game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds, but only after officials lost track of downs. The score came on fifth down.

Although the victory was highly controversial, it counted. And it did not cost the Buffs when they went to the Orange Bowl, defeated Notre Dame and won the national championship with an 11-1-1 record.

Saturday's outcome was far more dramatic. Put it alongside Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie's desperation pass against Miami, Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart's desperation heave to Michael Westbrook against Michigan, Cal's five-lateral kickoff return as time expired against Stanford.

Nebraska freshman wide receiver Matt Davison made just his sixth catch of the season, snaring Scott Frost's pass that deflected off the foot of Shevin Wiggins as time expired in regulation. That capped a 67-yard, 10-play drive that sent the game into overtime, when Frost scored his fourth touchdown of the game.

DISBELIEF: Nebraska's improbable comeback denied Missouri one of the school's greatest victories. The Tigers were riding the wave of wins over Texas, Oklahoma State and Colorado and looking forward to their first bowl berth since 1984.

"I was shocked. No one could talk or look at each other without breaking down," said Missouri running back Brock Olivo of his team's locker room afterward. "It was like a morgue, a funeral. This is total heartbreak. Shock. Disbelief. Did this really happen to us?"

Quarterback Corby Jones, who burned the Cornhuskers time and again, completing 12 of 20 passes for 233 yards with three touchdowns, also was smarting.

"If they're No. 1, we're in the Top 10," said Jones, whose team received a No. 25 ranking in the AP poll. "We had it. But we didn't give them the knockout blow."

THORN IN THE ROSE: Despite Michigan's No. 1 ranking in the AP poll and No. 2 status in the ESPN/USA Today poll, the Orange Bowl is still in position to make a claim for the national championship game Jan. 2. No. 2 FSU and No. 3 Nebraska can make it to the game undefeated.

Meanwhile, No. 1 Michigan, if it gets past Ohio State, will be forced to play a team with at least one loss _ and perhaps not ranked in the Top 10 _ in the Rose Bowl. With Washington's loss to Oregon, UCLA (7-2) is the highest-ranked Pac-10 team at No. 9.

AROUND THE NATION: Missouri's 38 points were the most allowed by Nebraska since the 1991 Citrus Bowl when Georgia Tech scored 45. It was the seventh time in the '90s the Cornhuskers allowed 30 or more points. They are 3-4 in those games. Michigan State was ranked 11th, Stanford 17th before their free falls began. They combined to open the season 9-1, but are 0-8 since. Alabama's 27-0 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium was the Tide's third straight at the field on the Tuscaloosa campus. It had not lost three in a row there since 1954-56, and never three straight in the same season.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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