LINCOLN, Neb. -- As Nebraska linebacker Ed Stewart walked off the field, he was pelted by an orange from one of the many crazed fans standing outside the stadium. Stewart picked it off the cement floor, and then squeezed some juice on his jersey.
Then he kissed it, juice running down his lips.
"There is nothing sweeter than the taste of orange in my mouth right now," said Stewart. "I think we're No. 1 again. It has been a great day."
No. 3 Nebraska earned new respect by defeating No. 2 Colorado, 24-7, yesterday before a sellout crowd of 76,131 at Memorial Stadium.
The 1994 version of the Game of the Century was nothing more than a power flex by Nebraska letting the rest of the nation know that the Cornhuskers (9-0 overall, 4-0 Big Eight) are still possibly the best team in the country even without quarterback Tommie Frazier.
"The only reason they lost ground in the rankings was because they had problems at quarterback and they satisfied me their problems are resolved," said Colorado coach Bill McCartney. "Nebraska is the best team we've played to date and I don't see any reason they shouldn't be No. 1."
If Nebraska isn't No. 1 when the polls come out today, the Cornhuskers have put themselves in postion to overtake top-ranked Penn State if the Nittany Lions lose. The win over Colorado (7-1, 3-1) gives Nebraska the inside track on the Big Eight title and an Orange Bowl berth.
"We're taking every step to win that national championship," said Nebraska quarterback Brook Berringer, who made his fourth straight start for Frazier, out for the season after a blood clot formed over his right knee. "All we can do is put ourselves in position, and winning will take care of the rest."
Berringer, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown, was only part of the reason Nebraska overwhelmed Colorado yesterday.
Nebraska's defense was superb, negating Colorado's three Heisman Trophy candidates. The Cornhuskers' offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and their kicking game kept Colorado pinned down early.
But the day also belonged to Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who won the chess match with McCartney with an imaginative first-half offense.
"They ran things we had never seen before," said Ted Johnson, Colorado's starting inside linebacker. "They kept us off balanced. We were a day late and a dollar short all afternoon."
Osborne had kept his offense simple after Frazier went down. He didn't want to put any pressure on Berringer, who also had recurring lung problems two weeks ago.
But yesterday, Osborne toyed with Colorado. Nebraska ran constant motion. The Cornhuskers used the two tight end and I formations. They used the one-back back and full-house sets. Even went to the shotgun.
lTC And after running back Lawrence Phillips started ripping off big yards (he finished with 86), Berringer would play action and throw to his tight ends, Mark Gilman and Eric Alford, who would turn short passes into big gainers.
"We had the perfect game plan," fullback Cory Schlesinger said of Nebraska's offense, which finished with 314 total yards. "Who said Brook couldn't pass?"
Berringer also ran the option, which stopped Colorado from crowding the line of scrimmage with eight players. It was Berringer who ran the option for 11 yards, setting up Schlesinger's 14-yard dive run up the middle that gave Nebraska a 7-0 lead with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
Then right before the half, Berringer completed passes of 15 and 16 yards to Gilman and Alford that took Nebraska to the Colorado 2. On first and goal, Phillips took a pitch right and followed a crunching block by fullback Jeff Makovicka on strong safety Donnell Leomiti to score and put Nebraska ahead 17-0 at the half.
Nebraska scored on its opening drive of the second half, a 30-yard pass to a wide-open Alford running down the middle of the field off the play action, to take a 24-0 lead with 10:42 left in the quarter.
Nebraska's offense faltered after that drive for the remainder of the game, but its defense carried the team the rest of the way.
Nebraska had an equally impressive plan against Colorado's offense, which came in averaging 502.9 yards per game. The Cornhuskers would blitz up the middle, and contain the outside with ends Dwayne Harris and Donta Jones. Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart, a Heisman Trophy candidate, completed only 12 of 28 passes for 150 yards. He was sacked three times, two of those on fourth down-stopping drives in the final period.
And whenever Stewart ran the option, Nebraska immediately would have a player key on running back Rashaan Salaam, another Heisman Trophy candidate, forcing Stewart to run and make the big play.
Stewart had only 24 yards rushing. Salaam had 134, but 41 came on a draw play as the Buffaloes caught Nebraska on a stunt. Other than that and a 6-yard touchdown run in the third period, Salaam was no factor.
"Anytime you hold an offensive team like Colorado to seven points with the weapons they have, then you have played outstanding defense," said Osborne. "I didn't think we could play them that well."
His players did. They were at home for homecoming, playing in front of the 200th consecutive sellout crowd. At stake was a possible conference championship and Orange Bowl berth as well as Colorado's reputation for having one of the nation's best offenses, and Nebraska for having one of the country's best defenses.
"I was confident, so was the whole team," said Berringer. "We were thought of as an underdog, and we don't take that lightly, especially at home. I think we proved we are No. 1."
Notre Dame 58 Navy 21
Morgan 24 Fla. A&M; 20
Frostburg 27 New. News 27
Auburn 31 Arkansas 14
SMU 21 Texas A&M; 21
Fla. State 59 Duke 20
Wisconsin 31 Michigan 19
Oregon 10 Arizona 9