||Friday, January 4
Updated: January 5, 5:35 PM ET
Crouch's standout year ends in disappointment
By Wayne Drehs
PASADENA, Calif. -- Eric Crouch admitted he's not quite sure when it will hit him. Maybe on the airplane ride back to Omaha. Maybe when he gets back on campus. Maybe the next time he sees the Cornhuskers on TV and he's not there.
Whenever it happens, there will come a time when Crouch will realize that his 'Husker career his over. That he pulled the red No. 7 jersey over his head for the last time. And that the end was a far cry from what he wanted.
"I still feel like an NU player," Crouch said after Nebraska's 37-14 loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl on Thursday night, donning a black-and-white warmup suit and a backwards white Boston Red Sox hat. "None of this has settled in yet. At some point, I'll realize my life is going to change. I'll realize that I'm not needed to contribute to this football team anymore. And that will be hard to swallow."
If the rules could be bent any other way, so that Crouch's college career could be extended, the 'Huskers would put a plan into action. Replacing the Heisman Trophy winner next year will be no easy task.
But no such plan exists. So it will go down in the Nebraska record books that Nebraska's loss to Miami, a blown chance at a national championship and a giant piece of the Nebraska legacy, will be Crouch's lasting memory.
In a cruel twist of fate, it almost fits. For as athletic and talented and spectacular as Crouch was at Nebraska, he was frequently knocked for not being able to win the big game.
The Rose Bowl was no different.
Though Crouch played admirably, rushing for a game-high 114 yards, he only completed five of 15 passes for 62 yards. His first-quarter fumble on the Miami 49-yard line set up the Hurricanes' opening score. And some eight minutes later, a 47-yard interception by James Lewis gave Miami a 21-0 lead and all but put the Nebraska case to rest.
"This is something that hurts pretty bad," Crouch said. "You wait your entire lifetime for a game like this, an opportunity like this. It's something that's hard to handle."
For the winner of the Heisman Trophy, though, it's nothing new. Last year, Florida State's Chris Weinke won the hardware, but it was Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel who won the national championship and the ring that comes with it.
Not many Heisman winners have won national titles. The most recent was Charles Woodson, who accomplished both with Michigan in 1997. And that was a split national championship with Nebraska, and a controversial Heisman victory over Peyton Manning.
Crouch hoped he could buck the trend of postseason Heisman winners who struggle, but it didn't happen.
"I am proud of what he accomplished today and what he accomplished throughout his career," Husker coach Frank Solich said. "I think he played a great football game today. He did everything he could to put his team at the top."
On the cover of the Nebraska postseason media guide stands Crouch, grasping a brand new football and wearing a red-and-white Nebraska letterman's jacket. He's looking into the distance, at a picture of the Sears National Championship trophy set in a pile of roses.
As it turns out, that trophy will be the one major achievement absent from his career. Just this year, he won not only the Heisman, but the Walter Camp Player of the Year, and the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award. He was a first-team All-American and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
But not a national champion. And all along, he said that was the goal.
"To be honest, it really hurts to lose this game. I'm embarrassed that it was 34-0 at the half," said Crouch, who will end his career with 32 Nebraska records. "But I don't think I played that terribly. We can win any football game in which we don't turn the ball over. And tonight, we didn't do that."
As for whether or not Crouch will go down in history as the greatest Nebraska quarterback ever, that's cause for debate. His main competition, Jerry Tagge, Tommie Frazier and Scott Frost all won national titles.
"I don't judge him by championships. I judge him by the type of person he is," Nebraska senior Dave Volk said. "And by the type of leader he is. So as far as I'm concerned, he's the greatest."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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