Nebraska chased the top teams all season for a chance at an unprecedented third national title. And when it came to clearing one final hurdle, against Texas in the Big 12 championship game, the Cornhuskers ran out of defense.
James Brown baffled the third-ranked Huskers for 353 yards, including a 66-yard TD pass and a daring fourth-down 61-yard completion, and the Longhorns stunned Nebraska 37-27 Saturday before a crowd of 63,109 at the Trans World Dome."This one hurts," said Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who watched the Longhorns score on seven of 10 possessions and amass 503 yards. "It obviously takes us out of any possibility of a national championship. We've got a lot of players who have been in that mix for several years now. It will be interesting to see how they respond in the bowl. It's been a long year."
The loss knocked the Cornhuskers (10-2) out of a Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 1 Florida State and most likely into the Orange Bowl against No. 11 Virginia Tech. Nebraska could also end up in the Fiesta Bowl as it appears certain the Huskers will play in an alliance bowl.
The Longhorns (8-4), meanwhile, struck paydirt with the bowl alliance, locking up either a Fiesta (most likely) or Orange Bowl spot. Either way, the Longhorns will get $8.5 million as opposed to about $1 million if they played in a non-alliance game.
The loss ended Nebraska's three-year string of playing in national title games.
Ever since a 19-0 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 21, the Huskers had been working their way back up the rankings. But Brown, with a big assist from Priest Holmes' 120 yards and three TDs, including a 61-yarder in the second quarter, ended the ascent.
Before the game, Brown boldly predicted the Longhorns would win by three touchdowns even though they were 20-point underdogs.
"Everybody was asking me, I just felt we could beat them," said Brown, who was 19-of-28 and ran away from Nebraska defenders all day. "I didn't make a prediction, I was just confident about our team and I thought could win."
His 66-yard TD pass to Wane McGarity with 8:23 left gave the Longhorns a 30-27 lead.
The Huskers' defense had one last chance to redeem itself, backing the Longhorns up to their own 3 with under four minutes to go. Brown, though, wasn't finished.
On fourth-and-1 from the 28, he found Derek Lewis on a 61-yard pass play to the Huskers' 11. On the next play, Holmes scored and the Longhorns became the first champions of the Big 12 Conference.
No. 4 Florida 45, No. 15 Alabama 30
At Atlanta, thanks to Danny Wuerffel and Texas, Florida will get an improbable second chance to win its first national championship.
Wuerffel threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns in a Heisman-like performance and the No. 4 Gators set up a Sugar Bowl rematch with top-ranked Florida State by beating No. 15 Alabama 45-30 for the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday night.
A week after their devastating loss to Florida State, the Gators (11-1) took the field for the SEC championship knowing No. 3 Nebraska had been upset by Texas, 37-27, in the Big 12 title game. That gave Florida a chance to slide into the Sugar Bowl, and the Gators took advantage.
Wuerffel, making a strong case that he deserves the Heisman, threw for more touchdowns in one night than Alabama (9-3) had given up the entire season. The Tide came in having surrendered only five scoring passes with the top-ranked pass defense in the country.
None of that seemed to matter to Wuerffel, who endured several big hits behind a makeshift offensive line but managed to throw three touchdown passes to Reidel Anthony and one each to Elijah Williams, Ike Hilliard and Jacquez Green.
Alabama tried to match Florida score-for-score, but that was an imposssible task against Wuerffel and the Gators, who put the Fun-n-Gun back in their offense after a 24-21 loss to Florida State the week before.
Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who is stepping down at the end of the season, was denied an SEC title as a going-away present.
No. 24 Army 28, Navy 24
At Philadelphia, quarterback Ronnie McAda led an Army rally that carried the Cadets to a 28-24 victory over Navy on Saturday and into the Independence Bowl with its fifth straight victory over the Midshipmen.
McAda ran for a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown as Army came back from an 18-point deficit in a rain-drenched game, one of the biggest between these traditional rivals in three decades.
Army also got an 81-yard touchdown run by Bobby Williams.
Navy had two chances to regain the lead in the final minutes. On the first, it failed on four tries from inside the Army 10.
The Midshipmen got the ball back with 56 seconds left on the Navy 43, but Army's Garland Gay intercepted a Navy pass in the end zone with 10 seconds left to play.
The Cadets overcame an three-touchdown second-quarter deficit - the largest comeback ever by Army in the series - to win the Commander in Chief's trophy, which goes to the winner in the annual battle among the service academies. The victory stretched Army's winning streak in this series to five games.