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Best of both worlds for Nebraska's Crouch

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

LINCOLN, Neb. - Eric Crouch expected the worst. Instead, the Nebraska quarterback is coming home with the Heisman Trophy and a chance to lead the Cornhuskers to a national title.

"It's something that I never thought could happen," Crouch said Sunday from New York. "It's been a real fun ride."

The wild ride continued Saturday night and Sunday, with Nebraska sneaking back into the national championship game.

LSU's 31-20 upset of No. 2 Tennessee in the Southeast Conference title game knocked the Volunteers from the Rose Bowl and jumbled the Bowl Championship Series for the third straight week.

When the computers were done sorting out the poll averages, eight computer ratings, strength of schedule, wins and losses and bonus points for big wins, Nebraska ended up second in Sunday's final BCS standings.

The Huskers will play No. 1 Miami for the national title in the Rose Bowl.

"Coming out here and being able to win a Heisman Trophy and now playing in the national championship is like a dream come true. It really is," Crouch said after Sunday's BCS announcement.

Crouch's Heisman and title hopes looked bleak three weeks ago when Colorado humbled Nebraska with a 62-36 win. But in the weeks that followed, none of the other contenders stood out.

Crouch, Florida's Rex Grossman, Joey Harrington of Oregon and Miami's Ken Dorsey were the finalists and nobody was quite sure of the front-runner.

Crouch said before he left for New York that he wasn't getting his hopes up. But after an hour-long introduction ceremony, Crouch finally was announced as the winner.

"The anticipation up to the announcement was just a feeling that's almost unexplainable," Crouch said. "Your heart's beating out of your chest, just waiting to hear the name that they call.

"When they called my name it was almost a sense of relief that it was all over with now and I had finally won."

Crouch joins Johnny Rodgers and Mike Rozier as Nebraska's only Heisman winners.

Although the ceremony wasn't at the Downtown Athletic Club, which was damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, pictures of previous winners were displayed in the banquet room. Rodgers and Rozier were among the former winners who attended Saturday.

"It means a great deal to me. It's a huge honor to be associated with the type of players that have received this award in the past," Crouch said. "You could feel the magnitude and how much it really meant just sitting in that room. The atmosphere was great."

Crouch, a senior from Omaha, edged Grossman in the voting with the lowest point total since 1962. There were 924 ballots sent to voters, but only 585 - or 63.3 percent - were counted. Heisman officials said the typical return rate is about 80 percent, but would not say why so many ballots were missing this year.

Crouch, Nebraska's offensive centerpiece for the past three years, had his finest season this fall. He ran for 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns, passed for 1,510 yards and seven TDs and had a catch for a touchdown.

His 59 career rushing touchdowns are the most by a Division I-A quarterback.

Nebraska coach Frank Solich, who gave Crouch a pat on the shoulder after his acceptance speech Saturday, was beaming about the quarterback who in 1999 Solich had to coax back to Lincoln after Bobby Newcombe was named the starter.

Crouch took over the job in the third game that season and has led the offense since.

"Everyone associated with our program thought that Eric was very deserving of the award, and now the rest of the nation honored him as well," Solich said. "He is a great athlete and a great young man."

Crouch has said all season that if given a choice between the Heisman and the Rose Bowl, he would pick the title game every time. Now he could have both.

"It's amazing," he said. "It's slowly sinking in."

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