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Bowl to decide NCAA champ(s)?

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PASADENA, Calif. — Huskers vs. Hurricanes in the Rose Bowl — what a way to finish college football's craziest season.

No. 4 Nebraska challenges No. 1 Miami in the national title game of the Bowl Championship Series on Thursday night, and the result will determine whether there will be one or two champions.

If the favored Hurricanes win, there's no debate. Miami (11-0) would finish as the nation's only unbeaten team and win its fifth national title, all since 1983.

Miami would collect trophies from the two polls that crown national champions, the AP media poll and the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll.

"Our goal is to win by one point," Miami rookie coach Larry Coker said, "and if we win by one point, we're the undisputed national champions."

If the Cornhuskers win, then No. 2 Oregon (11-1) would have a strong chance to become AP national champions when the sports writers and broadcasters cast their ballots.

The Rose Bowl winner is automatically crowned national champ in the coaches poll. The AP voters are not restricted in who they vote for in the final poll.

In both polls, Miami is first, followed by Oregon, Colorado and Nebraska. Oregon beat Colorado 38-16 in Monday's Fiesta Bowl.

The Huskers, beaten 62-36 by Colorado in their last game on Nov. 23, are ready to redeem themselves.

"We are very hungry for a victory," Huskers Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch said. "And we want to go out and prove to the whole world we're a better football team than we showed the last time we played."

All week here in L.A., Nebraska players and coaches fielded questions about whether they deserve to be in the Rose Bowl, which is playing host to the BCS title game for the first time since the series started in 1998.

The Hurricanes won AP national titles in 1983, 1987, 1989 and 1991. They were edged out of last year's BCS title game by Florida State, a team they beat earlier in the season.

Nebraska hasn't lost two games in a row since 1990 and also is going for its fifth AP title. It won in 1970-71 and 1994-95. In 1997, Michigan was the AP national champion, and the Huskers won in the coaches poll.

Only an extraordinary string of upsets allowed Nebraska to get here after its humiliating loss to Colorado. Oklahoma lost, then Florida, Texas and Tennessee, and Nebraska was back in the chase.

Miami and Nebraska have played three national title games, all at the Hurricanes' home field in the Orange Bowl. Miami won 31-30 in the '84 game and 22-0 in the '92 game; the Huskers won 24-17 in the '95 game.

The game could be another classic, matching Nebraska's power against Miami's speed.

As usual, the Huskers led the nation in rushing at 314.7 yards per game, while averaging 37.4 points. The Hurricanes were the nation's top defense, allowing just 9.4 points per game and coming up with 45 turnovers, 27 from interceptions.

Miami will rely on its speed to stretch the option and force Crouch to pitch early.