Would you believe: Nebraska and Northwestern, both ranked, playing each other in a bowl game? Sure enough; it happened on Dec. 30, 2000, the Alamo Bowl.
The Huskers were No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, Northwestern No. 18.
It wasn’t the most amicable of meetings. All-America linebacker Carlos Polk, a co-captain, was among the Huskers who claimed afterward that Northwestern players were punching and grabbing facemasks in pile-ups. The Wildcats were “doing a lot of cheap maneuvers,” Polk said.
Husker All-America center Dominic Raiola made similar post-game comments.
Coach Frank Solich tempered his post-game remarks, although he did say he thought “there was more activity unrelated to football than I had seen for a while.”
He also acknowledged that he and his assistants addressed that throughout the game, and maybe it had something to do with his play-calling, too. Consider the play he called late in the third quarter with Nebraska leading 52-17. Junior quarterback Eric Crouch lateraled to wingback Bobby Newcombe who passed to split end Matt Davison, who was wide-open, for a touchdown, 69 yards.
Solich said because of Northwestern’s explosiveness – the Wildcats ranked third nationally in total offense, averaging 475.6 yards per game – he wasn’t comfortable until the fourth quarter.
Newcombe’s touchdown pass and Josh Brown’s extra-point kick made the score 59-17. Dahrran Diedrick would run 9 yards for Nebraska’s final touchdown with 5:22 remaining.
The score was 38-17 at halftime. In addition to shutting out Northwestern in the second half, the Husker defense gave up just 93 yards of offense after the intermission.
The Wildcat touchdowns, both in the second quarter, included a 69-yard touchdown run by Damien Anderson with 1:10 remaining. But Nebraska responded 50 seconds later with a 58-yard touchdown pass from Crouch to Newcombe, in a frantic finish to the half.
Anderson’s touchdown had come 18 seconds after a 51-yard Brown field goal.
Husker senior rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch was named the game’s most valuable defensive player. He was credited with five tackles, three of them for loss, one sack and a pass break-up.
Nebraska senior I-back Dan Alexander was the game’s most valuable offensive player, after rushing for 240 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
The Huskers broke a dozen Alamo Bowl offensive records, among them points, total yards (636), rushing yards (467), first downs (28) and average yards per play (7.7).
Solich’s third team had been ranked No. 1 seven of the first eight weeks of the 2000 season. The Huskers inexplicably dropped to No. 2, behind Florida State, following a 42-24 victory against Missouri in the fourth game but moved back to No. 1 a week later, after Florida State lost to Miami and they won at Iowa State 49-27. They remained No. 1 before losing at No. 3 Oklahoma in late October.
The Sooners would finish 13-0 and BCS national champions.
Two weeks after the Oklahoma loss, Nebraska, ranked No. 4, lost to Kansas State, which had been ranked as high as No. 2 before losing to Oklahoma. The Wildcats were No. 16 when they beat Nebraska at Manhattan, 29-28, on a touchdown pass with 2:52 remaining.
As a result, Kansas State and Nebraska tied in the Big 12’s North Division and the Wildcats advanced to a rematch with Oklahoma in the conference championship game.
The Huskers also missed an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl, making the trip to San Antonio for the first of three appearances in the Alamo Bowl over six seasons.
Northwestern shared the Big Ten championship with Purdue and Michigan. All three had 8-3 records. Purdue went to the Rose Bowl, Michigan to the Citrus Bowl.
Big 12 teams played in six other bowls, winning three including Oklahoma by 13-2 against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Big Ten teams went 2-4 in bowl games.
Nebraska’s decisive victory against the Wildcats “shows you what the Big Ten is,” Polk said. “I don’t think they had any room being on the same field with us.”
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.