At some point Saturday night during the nationally televised football game between unranked Miami (2-1) and No.24 Nebraska (3-0), most of the 92,000-plus fans at Memorial Stadium will revel in the 20th anniversary celebration of the Cornhuskers’ third national championship team that defeated the Hurricanes 24-17 in the Orange Bowl.
A few thousand other fans garbed in green and orange, and likely thousands more in front of their TVs, will drift back 13 years to the 2001 Hurricanes, who cruised to a 34-0 halftime lead before winning their fifth national title against the Huskers, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl.
Then again, maybe they will go back further, say 31 years, to the 1983 Hurricanes, who won their first national title 31-30 in the 1984 Orange Bowl against — you guessed it — Nebraska.
“I still think it was the biggest win in the history of our program,” said offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who has been at UM for all five national championships.
But on Saturday, while others debate which title meant more and which team was best, the 2014 Hurricanes and Cornhuskers will be entrenched in the present, each trying to assert their dominance in the here and now.
“From our standpoint, the last time both programs played, most of our guys were 6 or 7 years old,” UM coach Al Golden said. “It’s really important for our guys to just focus in on the game, not everything that surrounds the game.
“We know the tradition of both programs. Obviously, everybody who came to Miami came to be a part of our tradition, the great players that came before them, the championships. But none of that is going to matter when we kick the ball off Saturday night.”
What matters is the final score, and what the Hurricanes could badly use is a big victory. As of this moment, Nebraska, which has won at least nine games the past six seasons, would qualify.
During Golden’s tenure, which began in 2011, the Canes have defeated three teams that were ranked in the Top 25: Ohio State and Georgia Tech in 2011 and Florida last season. All three games were at Sun Life Stadium.
By the end of those seasons, OSU finished 6-7, Florida finished 4-8 and Georgia Tech finished 8-5.
Golden is 0-9 against teams that finished in the Top 25 during his tenure at UM.
The Cornhuskers, favored by 71/2 points, went into this week ranked fifth nationally in total offense (343.7 yards per game), eighth in rushing offense (270 yards) and 10th in scoring (47-point average).
Their total defense is ranked 18th, as they have allowed an average of 294.7 yards. They’re 19th in passing yards allowed (165.3 yards). Their scoring defense ranks 20th, holding opponents to an average of 16.7 points.
Huskers defensive end Randy Gregory, 6-6 and 248 pounds, led the Big Ten with 101/2 sacks last season. This will be his second full game of 2014 after having arthroscopic knee surgery on Sept.1.
Gregory was asked by a Nebraska reporter this week, that, considering UM quarterback Brad Kaaya is a freshman, “as a defense, do you kind of lick your chops hoping to get after a guy in front of 92,000 …?”
Gregory explained that the Canes haven’t played in front of a crowd like the one they will see. “It’s big,” he said, “for our crowd to get into it … because he is young, and if we can rattle him up a little bit early we’ll be alright toward the end of the game.”
Gregory said “speed” is what he noticed most about UM star running back Duke Johnson, who will likely see more carries than the 14 he got last week against Arkansas State. “But if we keep him within the tackles and get a lot of guys on him and swarm to the ball, we’ll be fine.”
The Cornhuskers also have one of the best runners in the nation in Ameer Abdullah, who is averaging 178.3 all-purpose yards per game and is 10th nationally with 396 rushing yards.
“We’re going to be challenged and find [out] a lot about ourselves — how well we tackle, how well we have gap integrity,” Golden said. “Clearly, this is one of the best backs in the country.”
Though the series, which dates to 1951, is tied at 5 wins apiece, only three of those games were played in Lincoln. UM lost all three, in 1953, ’75 and ’76.
Saturday: Miami at No. 24 Nebraska
Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Memorial Stadium, Nebraska.