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Injury-plagued Nebraska waits for bowl assignment

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)

Nebraska's priority is to heal up during the weeklong wait to find out its bowl destination.

The 22nd-ranked Cornhuskers' first run through the Big Ten took a physical toll. Five starters were injured or re-injured during the regular season-ending 20-7 victory over Iowa on Friday.

''I appreciate the effort those guys gave out there,'' coach Bo Pelini said. ''I think our resolve was something special. I loved the approach our football team has. They had a never-say-die attitude.''

The Huskers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) will find out Dec. 4 where they'll go for a bowl. They're hoping for the Capital One in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 2 if a second Big Ten team receives a bid to a BCS game. Otherwise, they could be looking at the Outback in Tampa, Fla., on the same day.

Nebraska had been a popular pick to win the Legends Division but was knocked out of contention for a spot in the first Big Ten championship game when it lost at Michigan a week ago.

Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said he and his teammates are disappointed they won't be playing for a title, as they did the last two years in the Big 12, but they are excited about the prospect of winning 10 games for a third straight season.

''It's the ultimate goal right now,'' Sirles said. ''If we're not competing for the championship, we want to go out and have as many wins as possible. We have a chance at 30 wins in three seasons, and that's pretty special.''

Nebraska's athletic training staff will be working overtime to get players back on the practice field after the rugged game against Iowa.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez dinged his left ankle and was limited to handing off and passing after the first quarter.

''He's going to be hurting for a few days,'' Pelini said. ''We basically couldn't run him in the second half. He sucked it up.''

Defensive linemen Terrence Moore and Baker Steinkuhler were banged up on the first play from scrimmage; Moore returned, Steinkuhler lasted two more plays.

Another defensive lineman, Chase Rome, has been playing hurt for weeks and Eric Martin missed the game with an injured right foot. Reserve defensive ends moved to the interior to shore up things.

Offensive tackles Marcel Jones and Jermarcus Hardrick had to be helped off the field with undisclosed injuries, requiring Sirles and Tyler Moore to shuffle in and out.

Rex Burkhead might have appeared fine running a school-record 38 times for 160 yards. But his right foot was in a walking boot four days earlier, and he twisted his left ankle during the game.

Offensive line coach Barney Cotton played both sides of the line for Nebraska in the late 1970s when the Huskers were known as one of the most bruising teams in the land.

Cotton isn't happy about all the injuries, but said the Huskers are comfortable in the Big Ten environment.

''We're in a great conference for us,'' he said. ''We like to think of ourselves as a physical team, and every year the Big Ten is going to be as physical as any in the country. The league is everything we thought it would be as far as how physical it is.''

Hardrick said there was a huge difference between playing in the Big Ten this year and the spread offenses of the Big 12 a year ago.

''Every defense in the Big Ten was big and physical, not a lot of finesse,'' Hardrick said. ''In the Big Ten, you really get to know your opponent because you're going to hit him about 80 times a game.''

Nebraska's offense meted out its own punishment, with Burkhead hammering away at the Hawkeyes' front seven all afternoon.

Running backs coach Ron Brown said Burkhead grudgingly sat out of two practices last week because of his sore right foot.

''His worst nightmare, because he loves to play,'' Brown said. ''Considering he didn't practice a whole lot this week, he played real well.''

Burkhead's longest run went for 14 yards, and he averaged 4.2 a carry. He didn't lose yardage until his record-setting 38th, and final, carry, when he took a knee in victory formation.

After that, he made his way off the field with a slight limp.

''We knew it was going to be a physical blood bath,'' Brown said. ''We tried to get the guys through it and they played with great heart.''

Tagged: Nebraska, Jeremiah Sirles, Rex Burkhead, Terrence Moore, Jermarcus Hardrick, Tyler Moore

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