Chris Fowler
Thursday, September 7
Updated: September 9, 12:50 PM ET
Golden corn vs. Golden Dome

Look out South Bend -- here comes Herbie Husker. Catholics versus Combines, if you go for semi-catchy matchup monikers. The college football nation will be glued because most everyone takes sides where Notre Dame is concerned.

Eric Crouch
Eric Crouch is healthy, which means Nebraska could be back in a BCS bowl.

For Irish lovers, it's perhaps the ultimate "Gipper Game." Big, bad No. 1 rumbles to the house Rockne built as a two-touchdown favorite, full of quiet bravado and hardly awed by the Notre Dame mystique. Time to summon the ghosts, awaken the echoes, rally the faithful, and play out of your skulls -- slewing Goliath and regaining global respect for the program and instant-if-temporary job security for the embattled coach.

For Irish haters, it's the ultimate "Woodshed" opportunity. If any outfit can drag the Irish behind the shed, physically humiliate and humble them, it's Nebraska. A loss to Big Red is no disgrace. But being manhandled under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus would undo the momentum built by surviving Texas A&M.

For the record, I come at this game from a position of cold neutrality. Just because I share the same hometown as Husker linebacker Carlos Polk (Rockford, Ill.) does not mean I share his view of Notre Dame ("deep-seated hatred"). And just because Nebraska is the arch-nemesis of my alma mater (Colorado) doesn't mean I have ill will for the Big Red. Nope, as a consummate fence-sitter (just ask Corso or Herbstreit), I just love what an intersectional September showdown does for college football. You don't even have to love or hate the Golden Domers to appreciate that.

College Gameday's road show concept sprang from this very soil. The last visit by a No. 1 to South Bend was the show's first journey to a campus: Notre Dame's epic upset of Florida State in November 1993, Seven-years time hasn't dimmed the ultra-vivid memories of witnessing that drama ringside, from the pregame warm-ups to Charlie Ward's final incompletion. No regular season game since has matched the hype or equaled the energy of that one, including Nebraska's arrival. Why? Notre Dame was No. 2 at the time, and the placement of the game in late November gave it a national title feel. Of course, the ironic footnote will always be that the team that lost the battle, won the title a month later.

The only other visit by a No. 1 was every bit as big: Notre Dame's controversial 31-30 triumph over Miami in 1988. Now, the cold reality: the Irish are 3-9 against the top 10 since '93. In each case, the team Notre Dame beat finished out of the top 10.

Bottom line: Beating the Huskers is too tall an order for these Irish. They need:

  • The Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized biceps of Dan Alexander to squirt the football loose about three times. The bad news is that big Dan has conquered his one-in-fifteen carries fumblitis of a year ago. The Husker coaches are right: it's high time Alexander got props for being a bigtime back, not just a big musclebound back. He simply cannot be brought down by one tackler. With his speed, he looks like a future pro now. Willie Miller is a fine fullback, too.

  • A much better effort from the secondary, which was flagged three times for interefence and got lucky when A&M receivers dropped two would-be touchdowns. Nebraska has a whole sack full of plays involving wingback Bobby Newcombe just waiting for the day when the basic stuff is getting, well, stuffed. They practice them -- they are in the game plan -- and we may see them Saturday if things stay interesting.

  • A miracle. Nebraska's O-line is not just huge, it's perhaps the school's most agile and athletic ever. They have no doubt that they can pancake Notre Dame, regardless of how many defenders crowd the box. There, a little motivation for Greg Mattison's group.

    Since they renew a compelling cross-continental rivalry Saturday in Seattle, let's dredge up a nine-year-old debate.

    They struck an uneasy peace the day they shared the White House lawn, at the invitation of George Bush. But players on the 1991 Miami and Washington co-championship teams will never agree on who was better.

    Tom Osborne, whose Huskers lost to both, offered no insight but gave early evidence of a future in politics by saying it was a "coin toss." Colorado fans wish he'd been so wishy-washy the previous year, when he voted for Georgia Tech in the final poll, creating a shared title. Oops, I'm supposed to be wishy-washy, too. Sorry for the relapse.

    The passage of time offers this argument: Washington sent 13 of its 22 starters to the NFL. Miami sent 10. But five of those Canes' alums are still active (Michael Barrow, Jesse Armstead, Darryl Williams among them). Only two of the Husky alums are still on rosters and only Lincoln Kennedy is a starter.

    But time hasn't changed my view. Corso was wrong and I was right. Washington was the better team.

    And now for the 2000 Edition:

    It's a perilously long trip for the Canes and a major challenge, despite the monstrous gap in team speed. Vegas knows it, too. Washington is only a slight underdog.

    The Huskies are slow but sound. Under Rick Neuheisel, they will not beat themselves (no turnovers and no major penalties in the opener continues last year's trend). They will try to smash the ball right at Miami behind a large if slightly flabby 0-Line. If speedy Paul Arnold isn't up to the hard-nosed running style, UW will look to other backs quickly.

    No one in Washington is laughing at the Canes shabby defensive effort against McNeese State (the I-AA guys averaged a healthy 5.3 yards per play and gained 409 total). Reason? The Canes were beyond vanilla, doing "the safety dance," -- Coach Rick's term for cautious play aimed at avoiding injuries. Marques Tuiasasopo will see different looks Saturday, and a different look in Miami's eyes.

    However, the Dawgs were howling about something they saw on film: Miami's fine linebacker Dan Morgan suffered an exorcist-like episode, losing his lunch, breakfast and perhaps several other meals during a play. Morgan had a pretty eventful afternoon, considering he also gave himself a mild concussion diving over a pile and headplanting into the Orange Bowl turf.

    If Morgan remains conscious and holds his food down, he and the Canes should be good enough to prevent UW's ball control mission from bleeding the clock. It's a supreme statement about Neuheisel's growth as a coach that he contradicts his own Spurrier-like instincts to score quickly and tailors his gameplans around his talent. His style will change in a few years, when he's got the burner skill guys. Saturday, he's got no choice.

    Washington will not get much of a pass rush on Miami (three sacks against Idaho don't convince me that the Pac-10 team with last season's lowest sack total has gotten quicker). Ken Dorsey will have enough time to throw most of the time, and he'll have fast, open guys to throw to. If he doesn't come mentally unglued and revert to the opossum-in-the-headlights rookie we saw in an emergency stint at Virginia Tech, Miami will make the most of however many possessions they get.

    By the way, here's a weird footnote: Neuheisel and Butch Davis have identical records: 41-19 in the early stages of their sixth seasons. Only Lloyd Carr has more wins among coaches who debuted that year.

    Other reasons to love Saturday
  • Marshall's the MAC underdog, but Michigan State's Bobby Williams is trying to sound like the little guy facing the jaugernaut. The Herd's 18-game win streak is in danger, but don't be shocked if they prevail.

  • Ole Miss faithful have made Saturday "Tommy Tuberville Appreciation Day," saluting the coach who up and left for Auburn. I love their sarcasm -- and love the feisty backdrop for an early but important SEC West hoedown. Should be fun. I want to see if JUCO sensation and opening night hero Rudi Johnson is SEC-good.

  • Penn State's game with Louisiana Tech is suddenly "monstrous," to quote JoePa. At 0-2, he's right. Paterno is showing the wisdom of his many decades by not overreacting to the rantings of young tailback Larry Johnson. Joe knows how not to lose a team, even though several other Lions no doubt privately share Johnson's belief that the PSU offense is predictable and outdated. When Toledo coaches are high-fiving and yucking it up in the booth because they can spot your tendencies from Altoona, it's time to do something.

    But the something is not panicking, and that's why Paterno has won 317 games. If he doesn't get No. 318 Saturday, though, then panic.

    Baffled Bob
    I'm with Bob Toledo, I'm "baffled." UCLA beats Alabama with its' backup quarterback, despite giving up TDs on punt and interception returns, and dominates the Tide in the trenches.... and is still ranked behind Bama in both polls? That's a joke.

    The Bruins may not develop into world beaters as the season wears on, but don't you have to put them in your top ten of the moment? They clocked the third-ranked team. Assuming they don't stumble against Fresno State Saturday, their battle with Michigan September 16th ought to be for the right to jump into the top five. Would any other team have wins over the SEC favorites-slash-defending champs and the Big Ten co-favorites in the opening three games?

    Preseason polls are based on best guesses about who's got the goods. Any poll after that should begin to somewhat reflect what's happened on the field. Bruin Bob is using the polls' snub as more motivational fodder. In this case, I don't blame him.

    Poll tid
    Florida has three of the top five teams for the first time since 1994. My question is, how could anyone rank the Gators up there after watching them bumble and stumble around the Swamp against the lowliest I-A program in the land. Ball State played valiantly, blocking two punts, recovering a fumble for a TD and trapping Jesse Palmer for a safety -- but Florida did not resemble a top five team.

    Very early returns
    Pleasant surprises include:
  • West Virginia, which blended in eight newcomers in a surprisingly stout defensive debut against BC -- ever-grumpy Don Nehlen only wishes he didn't have a bye this week interrupting Mountie momentum.

  • Temple, which can dare to dream about a 4-0 start if they upset Maryland as Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan follow.

  • South Carolina, which might just shock Georgia Saturday, and then also welcomes Eastern Michigan. Teams suddenly become better by simply tasting victory and the starved Gamecocks have confidence now that the defense realizes the offense is capable of reaching the endzone occasionally. The Bulldogs need to step it up from the sluggish start against Georgia Southern, or beware.

  • Arizona, picked eighth in the Pac-10, survived the worst game Ortege Jenkins will ever play to upset Utah, thanks to a defensive flash-back to the Desert Swarm era. Now, if Ohio State piles up 136 yards in penalties again and run blocks like pacifists again, who knows?

    Unpleasant surprises include:
  • Foul Weather. Let's see, Mike Vick's debut is cancelled, Kentucky-Louisville is delayed for an hour, and Pittsburgh-Kent delayed twice -- what's with the sudden lightning trend?

  • Kansas. My God, the Jayhawks were awful. Terry Allen's troops were a trendy pick to snag a bowl bid from the Big 12's growing allotment, but they stunk something terrible in falling behind SMU 24-0 after a quarter.

    In three-plus seasons under Allen, KU has won exactly one road game. They don't look trendy to me.

  • Illinois' crowd. Yeah, it was brutally hot and your team was playing Middle Tennessee State. But for a school with such lofty hopes of breaking into the Big Ten elite, more than 35,000 should have shown up on opening day. Is Champaign ready for a Gameday road show September 23rd, when Michigan visits?

  • The ACC. You saw the scores and the narrow escapes by Georgia Tech and NC State. Please, can somebody try to play football that the Seminoles would be proud to be associated with?

    Shameless plug
    Kirk Herbstreit and I have a new radio show on ESPN's network Friday nights live from 7-9 p.m. Eastern, broadcasting from Gameday's site. This week, of course, we're at Notre Dame. Hope you can find us on the dial. Arnaz Battle, Neuheisel and TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson will join us, among others.

    Chris Fowler hosts College Gameday and his column appears every Thursday.

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