PASADENA, Calif. - Top-ranked Miami proved again last night that it is the best team in college football and, in the process, clearly showed why the Bowl Championship Series was a bunch of BCS for sending No. 4 Nebraska to the Rose Bowl.
Miami started slowly in both halves and, each time, gave false hope to the Cornhuskers and their legions of fans who had taken over this fabled stadium. But the Hurricanes were dominant for long stretches, particularly in the first half, en route to a 37-14 victory before a crowd of 93,781.
Leading 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Hurricanes scored three times in a span of less than four minutes and four times before the end of the half in taking a 34-0 lead. The only question left to be answered was who would be more embarrassed by the outcome, the folks at the BCS or Nebraska.
Miami couldn't care less. The Hurricanes completed the third 12-0 season in school history and won their fifth national championship since 1983. The victory also completed a remarkable first season under coach Larry Coker and the resurgence of a program that went on NCAA probation in 1995.
"Obviously, it's very exciting for us," Coker said. "It's been an unbelievable run. I'm extremely proud of the effort we gave and the adversity we've overcome.
"To be in this game, and to win it decisively, is even better. We've played that way a lot this year. ... When we hit on all cylinders, we're a very good football team."
No. 2 Oregon, a 38-16 winner over No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, was hoping for a Nebraska win to claim a share of the title, but the Ducks (11-1) probably will end up second in the final Associated Press media poll and USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll.
Led by the passing combination of junior quarterback Ken Dorsey and sophomore wide receiver Andre Johnson, as well as a suffocating defense that turned Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, this year's Heisman Trophy winner, into a human tackling dummy, the Hurricanes were in total control.
Dorsey threw for a career-high 362 yards, completing 22 of 35 passes for three touchdowns with one interception. Johnson caught seven passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. The two were selected co-Most Valuable Players.
"I have faith in all my receivers," Dorsey said. "One of my goals was to make every ball catchable. I wanted my guys to make plays, and they did. Andre stepped up huge."
While Nebraska (11-2) gained a measure of self-respect in the second half, its performance was not that much different from its 26-point defeat at Colorado to end the regular season.
The loss to the Buffaloes raised questions about whether the Cornhuskers deserved their invitation here. Nothing Nebraska did for much of last night's game showed they belonged on the same field as the Hurricanes.
The Cornhuskers managed only 259 total yards - nearly 200 under their average. Crouch ran 22 times for 114 yards and completed five of 16 passes for 62 yards.
"We played a great team, there's no doubt about it," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "There's a reason they've been able to get through a season undefeated. They're a very talented team in all phases of the game."
Said Crouch: "It's pretty disappointing, but our last two games have been pretty disappointing. But you've got to give Miami a lot of credit. They're a great team.
"They have a lot of team speed. They have a lot of fast legs, and it made if difficult for us to get into our offense."
It took until the second half for the Cornhuskers and their fans to start making some noise.
Nebraska finally got on the scoreboard when sophomore fullback Judd Davies bulled into the end zone from 16 yards away with 2:39 left in the third quarter. After stopping Miami on its next possession, the Cornhuskers scored again, this time on a 71-yard punt return by DeJuan Groce.
With Nebraska fans roaring despite a 20-point deficit, the defense finally began to gain some confidence. Nebraska stopped the Hurricanes during the third quarter and early in the fourth, until a 37-yard field goal by Todd Sievers extended Miami's lead to 37-14.
Things got a little interesting when Nebraska's Josh Davis nearly broke free on the ensuing kickoff before getting slowed down by Sievers and then tackled at the 38. Crouch then broke free for a 42-yard run down the sideline to the Miami 30.
But on the next play, Crouch was sacked for a 9-yard loss by Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma. While the Cornhuskers would eventually get a first down, Vilma came up with a big tackle when he stood up and threw down I-back Dahrran Diedrick on a crucial third-and-seven from the 17.
Faced with fourth-and-six, the Cornhuskers called a timeout with only 4:32 left in the game. Nebraska strangely called a simple handoff to reserve tailback Thunder Collins. But Thunder had no lightning behind him, and he was stopped after a 1-yard gain.
Nebraska tried to make a statement at the start of the game, opting to put its defense on the field after winning the coin toss. It worked, at least for the first two series.
But after stopping the Hurricanes on the opening possession, then intercepting Dorsey the second time Miami had the ball, the Cornhuskers had their first slip - literally.
Taking over at the Nebraska 49 after a fumble by Crouch, Dorsey found his favorite receiver wide-open at the 15 after Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver, who had intercepted Dorsey earlier, fell down at around the 30.
Johnson danced into the end zone untouched for the first score of the game with 6:51 left in the first quarter. As things went for Miami, it would certainly not be the last.
One of the reasons Johnson had been given single coverage was that tight end Jeremy Shockey had been double teamed on a post route after catching passes of 20 yards and 22 yards on Miami's first possessions.
It looked as if Miami would score again when the Hurricanes forced their 20th fumble of the season, this time on the ensuing kick return. But after taking over at the Nebraska 34, Miami wound up punting from the 39.
Nebraska seemed to get its option game working, first with Diedrick and then with Crouch, who broke off a 27-yard run to the Miami 36. This time the Cornhuskers stalled, and punted.
It didn't take long for the Hurricanes to rev up their offense. On Miami's third play of its next drive, and the first of the second quarter, Dorsey found Johnson again for a 34-yard gain against Craver.
Then, on his team's next play, tailback Clinton Portis broke off right tackle and after nearly being pushed to the ground by one of his linemen and touching the ground with his free hand, outraced Craver to the end zone.
It would only get worse for the Cornhuskers - much worse.
On third-and-seven from his team's 37, Crouch tried a short pass in the right flat to tight end Tracey Wistrom. But the ball went through Wistrom's hands and into the waiting arms of free safety James Lewis, who went 42 yards for a score.
The sea of red-clad Nebraska fans was suddenly silent.
It grew even quieter after Miami scored the next time it had the ball, with Dorsey hitting Johnson for a 45-yard gain and then Shockey for a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Things got so desperate for the Cornhuskers that they got their loudest cheer when the extra point by Sievers failed. Sievers, though, made good on his next kick, which came after Dorsey hit Johnson for an 8-yard score at the end of a seven-play, 55-yard drive.
"It was a very unpleasant feeling," Solich said, referring to Nebraska's poor first half. "It seemed like the game was getting away from us. Miami played excellent from the start. We didn't play very well in the first half. If the turnovers had continued [in the second half], it would have been a ridiculous game."