For Nebraska faithful, stay loyal to Berringer

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MIAMI -- What is this, a death wish? It isn't enough that Nebraska has lost seven straight bowl games. Coach Tom Osborne is so comfortable playing the martyr, he's going to ensure the Cornhuskers lose one more.

A quarterback controversy in a national championship game. Who ever heard of such a thing? Even Mark Duffner figured it out -- you play one quarterback or the other. Maybe Osborne should give the Maryland coach a call.

Think about it: What if Phil Simms had recovered in time to replace Jeff Hostetler for the 1991 Super Bowl? Would Bill Parcells have changed quarterbacks? Would he have ever considered playing both? That's what Osborne is going to do. A little Brook Berringer, a little Tommie Frazier, whatever strikes his fancy. He's expected to announce his starter today. He already has announced his ingenious plan to rotate the two.

Osborne's policy is that a starter cannot lose a job because of injury. It's a fair policy, one that surely plays well in humble Lincoln, Neb. But this isn't Week 4 against Pacific. This is for the national championship.

For the national championship, against a Miami team with the No. 1-ranked defense in the country. Osborne might consider making an exception, rather than conduct this bizarre experiment.

There's an old saying in sports: You go with what got you there. It doesn't always work -- see Mitch Williams, 1993 World Series -- but it's how a manager or coach shows faith in his players when the pressure is highest.

Indeed, that might explain why Osborne insists on running the option in bowl games against super-quick Florida teams. At the same time, it leaves him with no excuse for creating a quarterback controversy when so much is at stake.

Already, he is on the defensive. He said Tuesday that Alabama's Bear Bryant occasionally used three quarterbacks in games, "and they seemed to win a lot." As if Bryant ever pulled this stunt on New Year's Day.

Frazier hasn't played since Sept. 24 because of blood clots in his right leg. Berringer replaced him and led Nebraska to victories in all seven of his starts, including the 24-7 triumph over Colorado that decided the Big Eight title.

Now, Frazier is healthy, or as healthy as a quarterback on blood thinners can be. It's safe for him to play, and reportedly he is practicing well. Fine, let him be the backup.

Berringer should start. Berringer should play. Only if Nebraska struggles should Osborne make a change. Frazier probably isn't fit to play more than a half anyway.

Naturally, Frazier begs to differ, but who really knows? At one point during a news conference yesterday, Frazier conceded he's "a little bit behind." Later, he took a more defiant stance. "I don't feel I've lost anything," he said.

The Nebraska offensive line is so strong, many believe Osborne could play Smokin' Joe Frazier at quarterback, and it wouldn't matter. Miami, of course, finds such talk ludicrous.

Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp was asked Tuesday what would happen if the burden was on the Hurricanes defense to stop Nebraska and win the game.

"Chalk it up," he said.

Another widespread notion is that the Cornhuskers might confuse Miami by using two quarterbacks -- they run the option more with Frazier and pass more with Berringer.

Even Berringer says it's a stretch.

"A lot of people think you have to prepare for both guys, but both of us can run all phases of the offense well enough," he said. "We're not going to go out and do just one thing."

So, why play both? Yes, Frazier was once considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. Yes, he played Charlie Ward to a draw in last vTC year's Orange Bowl. But none of that is relevant to this game.

Frazier led Nebraska to its 4-0 start, but he hasn't taken a snap in three months. He'll get another chance -- both he and Berringer are juniors. What's he going to do, transfer like Kevin Foley to Division I-AA?

Right now, the job is Berringer's, or at least it should be. He, too, battled back from injury, suffering collapsed lungs two straight weeks in October. He also completed 62.3 percent of his throws, dragging Nebraska into the modern age.

Berringer threw for 267 yards against Kansas, the most by a Nebraska quarterback in 22 years. He came off the bench to replace walk-on Matt Turman in the victory over Kansas State. And now he might not even start the Orange Bowl.

Crazy as it sounds, Osborne might actually lead off with Frazier, the better to get his beloved option attack rolling. Miami will respond by tossing Frazier into the Atlantic, and it will be hell night for Nebraska all over again.

Why should anyone expect different? This is Osborne's 22nd season at Nebraska, and he has yet to win a national championship. Bobby Bowden won one only when he got the chance to play Osborne in a title game last year.

Now, Osborne is back, back in the Florida heat, back in his very own house of horrors. A quarterback controversy in a national championship game. Some people prefer to suffer. Some people just can't get enough.

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