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Florida State, Nebraska both change for better


MIAMI -- In many ways, Florida State and Nebraska personify the parts of the country they represent. The Seminoles are the best team in what has become the bold and glitzy epicenter of college football, while the Cornhuskers are the best team in what has become a black hole for legitimate national contenders.

During the past seven years, Florida State (11-1) has been the most consistently dominant team in the country not to have won a national championship, while Nebraska (11-0) has been the most consistently disrespected among the nation's Division I-A powers. That part of this equation hasn't changed.

But something else has: the respective attitudes of the teams going into Saturday night's showdown in the Federal Express Orange Bowl. The top-ranked Seminoles are not quite the irreverent trash-talkers they were earlier this season, while the second-ranked Cornhuskers are more outwardly confident than in recent New Year's Day games.

"If we had beaten Notre Dame, we probably would've taken Nebraska lightly," Florida State cornerback Clifton Abraham said yesterday during the team's Media Day session. "It [losing to Notre Dame] might have been a blessing in disguise. We know we're the best team in the country, but we also know we can be beat."

Said Nebraska safety John Reece: "The past few years, the bowl has just been another game for us. We didn't have much to gain, except for pride, and a lot of guys played like that. Any time you're No. 1 [in some polls] and have a chance to play for a national championship, that gives you a lot of confidence."

It is why both teams believe that a spread of 17 points is not only unheard of in a national championship game, but unrealistic as well. Losing to the then-second-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind., back in November knocked the Seminoles out of the No. 1 spot for a while, but also knocked some sense into them.

"I think we went into that game overconfident," quarterback Charlie Ward said this week. "We can't afford to do that against Nebraska."

Said cornerback Corey Sawyer: "If we had beaten Notre Dame and finished undefeated, everything would be the same. But when we lost to Notre Dame, it sort of settled us down and got us focused."

Meaning that Florida State didn't stroll into the Orange Bowl yesterday wearing caps with Nebraska's colors and logos, as it did with the Irish's for a media session at Notre Dame Stadium the day before what was then called "Game of the Century II."

In fact, the Seminoles were downright respectful of the Cornhuskers, a team they beat in last year's Orange Bowl, 27-14. Even wide receiver Matt Frier tried to quiet the controversy he stirred after the Notre Dame game, when he allegedly said, "Nebraska doesn't even belong on the same field as us."

Frier has denied ever making the remark, and said that the difference between last year's Nebraska team and this year's is remarkable. "It's like night and day, just because of their confidence level," said the Florida State co-captain. "When it gets down to a close game, they just know they're going to win. You just can tell watching their films."

Said Abraham: "They're pretty good on tape."

Whether the Cornhuskers will be better on the field come New Year's Day than in their past six bowl games is debatable, especially when you consider the astronomical point spread. This isn't a team that just blew through its opponents as past Nebraska teams have done, only to self-destruct in the bowl games.

While Tom Osborne doesn't want to make excuses for his team's bowl losing streak, he admitted yesterday that the Cornhuskers might have had problems getting ready.

"Every team we've played the last three or four years had more at stake than we did, and that gave them an edge," Osborne said. "I'm not saying that we wouldn't have lost them anyway, but we haven't had much to play for. This year the stakes are a lot higher."

Not that the Cornhuskers are a totally confident bunch. They still speak about how they must play mistake-free against Florida State, as Notre Dame did, and how it wouldn't hurt their chances if it rained a little, or even a lot, so that both teams would have to run more.

Nor have the Seminoles lost all of their swagger. While most of the trash has been taken out of their pre-game comments, courtesy of what happened in their 31-24 loss to the Irish, some still remains. It happened yesterday when somebody asked RTC Abraham, who has a reputation for making outrageous remarks, about the point spread.

Asked how many points it should be, Abraham thought for a moment.

"Eleven," he said with a laugh.

Attitude adjustments can only go so far.

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