Down Day for Upstarts

BC and Kansas, hungry for big-time victories, ate humble pie
November 16, 1992

On the desk of Kansas football coach Glen Mason is an index card with an anonymous quote: "Winners form the habit of concentrating on what they want to have happen. Losers concentrate on what they don't want to have happen. In pressure situations, winners call up past wins, losers call up past losses. Both are self-fulfilling."

And that, aphoristically speaking, is the story of how the nation's two top-ranked wannabes—Boston College, which was ranked No. 9 entering last weekend's action, and No. 13 Kansas—were sliced, diced, mutilated and humiliated on Saturday. The Eagles and the Jayhawks each harbored a spectacular fantasy of upsetting one of the college game's big boys, No. 8 Notre Dame in the case of BC and No. 7 Nebraska in the case of Kansas, followed by New Year's Day riches and national acclaim. Instead, both succumbed to the pressure of the situation and produced losses that were painful to watch.

In South Bend the Eagles were mauled 54-7, and the pasting was made even uglier when Irish coach Lou Holtz put his first-team defense back in the game in the final two minutes to prevent BC from scoring at all. That was about the only thing the Irish couldn't do all day.

In Lincoln the Jayhawks got steamrollered 49-7. Kansas, 7-1 before the game, came to Nebraska thinking highly of itself—an unusual frame of mind for one of the traditionally weaker teams in the Big Eight. The Jayhawks even entertained thoughts of becoming the conference champs, which hadn't happened since 1968. It was not to be.

The two losers will have to take consolation in the notion that neither Boston College nor Kansas can possibly be as bad as it looked. Similar as the trouncings were, though, there was one major difference: Notre Dame almost certainly is not as good as it looked, while Nebraska, remarkably, may very well be.

What the Jayhawks didn't want to have happen was for the Cornhuskers to get their top-ranked running game in gear. But the Huskers did just that, rushing for 351 yards, which was precisely their season average. And going into the game, Kansas clearly did not want to reflect on its 23 consecutive losses to Nebraska. But last Thursday in Lawrence, two days before the clash, Mason admitted to being a bit in awe of his counterpart: "Imagine. I get to walk out on the field and shake hands with Tom Osborne. I don't know whether to shake his hand or ask for his autograph. What's fun is we're going to find out how good we are." Alas, Mason had no fun at all, and the Jayhawks found out they weren't as good as they thought.

Nebraska, however, has been better than expected. Osborne should have been taken at his word last summer when he said, "I think we're going to have a good football team this year." For the low-key Osborne that's like screaming, "Strike up the band!" Still, most observers concluded, just as they had in the Cornhuskers' three previous seasons, that the team would win the little games and lose the big ones. Since 1988, Nebraska had been whipped by all eight Top 10 teams it faced.

Until, that is, a fortnight ago, when the Cornhueskers thrashed then No. 8 Colorado 52-7. Suddenly, as funny as it sounded, Kansas versus Nebraska was a Big Game, with the winner almost certainly getting a trip to the Orange Bowl. The game, though, was a mismatch, a sight to behold only if brutal domination is your thing. Said Osborne afterward, "Gosh, I thought if we played real well, we might beat Kansas by a couple of touchdowns."

There are two main reasons for the Cornhusker resurgence. The first is freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier, who was made the starter in the sixth game of the season. On Saturday, Frazier completed 6 of 11 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns. That may not sound like much, but by Nebraska standards it's filling the air with footballs. Said Frazier after the game, "I don't want to be cocky, but I'm good. I just don't know how good l am."

The second is that the Cornhuskers' two I-backs, junior Derek Brown and sophomore Calvin Jones, are happy as clams to be sharing time. It hasn't always been that way. Before the sixth game of the season, against Missouri, both went to running back coach Frank Solich, said they didn't like sharing and asked Solich to pick a starter. Solich took the suggestion to heart and picked Brown. But, with no further discussion of the situation, Brown and Jones found themselves again sharing time against Colorado and Kansas. Neither complained, and the results were stunning. Against Kansas, Brown carried 15 times for 156 yards; Jones had 13 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns. A fan handed Brown a sign after the game that read WE-BACKS FOR HEISMAN. Says Brown, "I'm glad he's here, he's glad I'm here, I'm glad to be here, he's glad to be here."

The Eagles hoped they would be similarly gladdened by their visit to South Bend. The game looked to be an intriguing match between two Top 10 teams that happen to be the only Catholic universities that play Division I-A football. Boston College, 7-0-1 heading into the game, was having its first winning season in five years and its best start since 1942. The Eagles' defense was ranked seventh in the nation, their offense sixth. But Notre Dame, 6-1-1 and out of the national-championship picture at this stage of the season for the first time in six years, had three clear objectives on Saturday: to earn a major bowl bid, to uphold the Irish reputation and to secure Catholic bragging rights.

There was no disguising Notre Dame's irritation at the fact that BC was suddenly considered its peer. The Eagle players—not their Irish counterparts—had gotten most of the attention during the week. Boston College tailback Chuckie Dukes was getting Heisman mention for his seven straight 100-plus rushing games, while Notre Dame tailback Reggie Brooks was being ignored.

The Irish took out their frustrations by dealing the Eagles one of the worst losses in their history. In all, Notre Dame rolled up 576 yards of total offense, Brooks rushed for 174 yards, and quarterback Rick Mirer threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. The Irish scored on their first five possessions and led 37-0 at the half. "This is as bad as it gets," Eagle quarterback Glenn Foley said afterward. "They just whipped us."

The Eagles—as well as the Jay-hawks—would do well to remember that index card on Mason's desk and put the loss out of their minds lest the memory become a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, next Saturday there's another game.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVERBrooks (40) and the Irish flattened the Eagles' hopes for Catholic bragging rights. PHOTOAL TIELEMANSThe Cornhuskers' surprising air show included this touchdown catch by Corey Dixon. PHOTOAL TIELEMANSJayhawk quarterback Chip Hilleary, like his dream of an upset, was dashed to the ground.