He suddenly has found himself in the spotlight of college football's biggest game this season, transformed from an obscure reserve quarterback into perhaps Nebraska's most important player.
Brook Berringer is one good hit away from being history, but he also is another good game away from helping the Cornhuskers take an important step toward their ultimate goal: winning the national championship.
"I don't think there's been any game with as much hype as this one," Berringer said earlier this week, "but I think I only need to go out and do what I've done. I don't think any one player has to play a great game. If we play well as a team, that's what we need to do."
Many expected Berringer to fail -- and the Cornhuskers to fall -- when the 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior replaced Tommie Frazier last month. Frazier, a Heisman Trophy candidate, suffered a leg injury in the team's fifth game and had surgery to remove blood clots in the leg.
When Frazier's season ended, it appeared that Nebraska's best chance to win an elusive national title for long-suffering Tom Osborne was gone, too. For good reason. Berringer was a little-used backup whose career had been hampered by a sore right elbow, the result of tearing a ligament as a high school pitcher in Goodland, Kan.
"There aren't many people who have given me a chance all season," said Berringer.
Berringer's opportunity nearly slipped away after a partially collapsed lung suffered during a victory over Wyoming was discovered at halftime the next week against Oklahoma State. Then, after sitting out the second half and most of the next week's practice, Berringer returned for the second half of a victory over Kansas State.
Osborne has been hesitant to let Berringer do much more than hand the ball to running back Lawrence Phillips or throw off quick drops in fear of risking further injury to his rapidly diminishing list of available quarterbacks (walk-on Matt Turman, who replaced Berringer, is questionable because of a banged-up shoulder).
"I can't say anything about his development, because we haven't let him go," Osborne said. "But I think where Brook has improved the most is in terms of his focus and preparation. He's always been pretty good at it, but when you're carrying the load, you pay more attention to it."
Said Berringer, who is wearing a flak jacket to protect his lung: "I think I've done well. I came into a tough situation. Maybe some people questioned whether I could get it done. The people who know football know that we've been able to move the ball."
This week will be different. The Buffaloes, though susceptible to the pass, will have by far the quickest defense Berringer has seen. This isn't Pacific or Wyoming or Missouri, the teams against whom Berringer compiled most of his 527 passing yards and all six of his touchdowns.
And Colorado knows that Berringer isn't nearly as dangerous as Frazier. Nor does Berringer have the quick release of Kansas State's Chad May, who gave the Buffaloes fits last Saturday. And Nebraska, which leads the country in rushing offense, doesn't have the kind of receivers Michigan and Texas possess.
Colorado's main concern will be shutting down Phillips, who is second in Big Eight rushing behind Ra- shaan Salaam of the Buffaloes and third nationally behind Salaam and Washington's Napoleon Kaufman.
"I think you have to defend Nebraska's offense no matter who the quarterback is," Colorado defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said this week. "Obviously, Frazier is a very gifted athlete, but what makes their offense so good is their offensive line. They also have one of the best play-action schemes in the country. And that's something Berringer can do well."
Said senior linebacker Ted Johnson: "They've been going back to what Nebraska teams have done for a long time -- running the ball down your throat. But I expect them to mix things up a little bit. Our goal is to make them pass more than they want to."
Opp. .. .. .. .. Com-Att .. Yds .. TD .. Int
W. Virginia . .. ... 0-0 .. . 0 ... 0 .. . 0
Texas Tech .. .. ... 0-2 .. . 0 ... 0 .. . 1
UCLA .. .. .. .. ... 1-1 ... 12 ... 0 .. . 0
Pacific .. .. .. .. 8-15 .. 120 ... 3 .. . 0
Wyoming .. .. .. . 15-22 .. 131 ... 0 .. . 1
Okla. St. ... .. . 10-15 ... 75 ... 0 .. . 0
Kansas State ... ... 2-7 ... 37 ... 0 .. . 0
Missouri . .. .. .. 9-13 .. 152 ... 3 .. . 0
Totals ... .. .. . 45-75 .. 527 ... 6 .. . 2