The Three Great Periods of Nebraska Football

The topic often comes up of who the greatest college football team of all time is. If you talked to 10 people, you’d possibly get as many as 6 or 7 different answers and maybe more.

On the West Coast, they might say the Southern Cal Trojans of 1972 were the best, or the USC Trojans of 2004.

In the Southeast, they might say one of Bear Bryant’s teams at Alabama, or Nick Saban’s. In Florida, they could say the Miami Hurricanes of 2001, or the Florida State Seminoles of 1999, or 2013.

In the Big 10 areas, they may say Ohio State and it’s Super Sophomores of 1968, or even 1973. They might even say the team of 2014 which was the first ever playoff winner.

But, a lot of people would say the Nebraska Cornhuskers. But, which year?

There was the undefeated and untied national championship team of 1971. Then, there was the 1983 team that just unfortunately lost in the Orange Bowl by 1 point to a just arriving Miami Hurricanes team.

Or, there was the Cornhuskers of 1994 and 1995, where Tom Osborne finally got over the hump and won that elusive national title.

The Huskers of Bob Devaney’s last coaching years were special. After both Texas and Ohio State lost in their Bowl games in 1970, the Huskers were declared national champions and that carried over into the 1971 season.

Big, tough Jerry Tagge was their Quarterback and he tossed the ball to hard nosed I-Back Jeff Kinney. Tagge threw for 2,178 yards in 1971 with 17 Touchdowns against only 4 Touchdowns. Those were great numbers for a running team of this time period.

Kinney ran for 1,136 yards and 17 Touchdowns.

Johnny Rodgers was also a more than talented weapon for the Huskers and he went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1972. Rodgers was a real killer in the return game and his punt return for a Touchdown is one of the most famous college football plays of all time.

But, not only did they possess a great offense and special teams, the defense was also really talented. It was especially good up front in the defensive line. Rich Glover, Willie Harper, Larry Jacobson, John Adkins, John Dutton and Bill Janssen were special players.

This team just blew everybody out other than 2nd ranked Oklahoma who gave them the battle of a

life time in the fabled Game of the Century in 1971.

Nebraska beat Colorado, 31-7, and the Buffaloes would finish the season ranked #3. Maybe their most impressive win was over then 2nd ranked Alabama and Bear Bryant in the Orange Bowl. The game was never close as Nebraska wiped them out, 38-6.

Proving more of the superiority of the Big 8 in this time period, Oklahoma beat up on Auburn in the Sugar Bowl as well.

One conference finishing 1, 2 and 3 in the final Polls is almost unheard of. 1971 Big 8

The 1983 Nebraska football team will not get as many comments about being the best simply because they were upset by Miami in the Orange Bowl by 1 point.

But, this team was awesome.

Tom Osborne stepped in when Bob Devaney retired and kept things running smoothly.

Osborne found his perfect option Quarterback in Turner Gill. The Fort Worth, Texas native was heavily recruited by all of the teams that ran an option type offense. The Oklahoma Sooners wanted Gill to run their Wishbone Offense which should be a great indication of what kind of an athlete he was.

Turner Gill was an experienced senior in 1983 and it showed. His play was nearly flawless.

Behind Quarterback Turner Gill, the Huskers averaged 52 points a game and just over 400 yards rushing per game.

Gill passed for 1,516 yards and 14 Touchdowns. He also ran for 531 yards and 11 Touchdowns.

Husker I-Back Mike Rozier came from the mean streets of Camden. New Jersey. Rozier didn’t have quite the grades to get into a Division 1 school so he had to spend a season at Coffeyville, Junior College where he led the team to an unbeaten record.

As a senior in 1983, Rozier had a season anyone could have been proud of when he ran for 2,148 yards and 29 Touchdowns.

Rozier went on to win the Heisman Trophy  in 1983 while Turner Gill finished 4th.

Another huge weapon for the this Husker team was Wide Receiver Irving Fryar. Another product of a New Jersey high school, Fryar was a deep threat flyer that caught 40 passes for 780 yards and 8 Touchdowns. He averaged almost 20 yards per reception.

Fullbacks Mark Schellen and Tom Rathman were powerhouses and Dean Steinkuhler was one of college football’s all time awesome Offensive Guards.

The defense was not on the same level as the offense which may have cost them in the end.

They were ranked #1 all season long until the brutal upset which put Miami on the map.

The 1994 and 1995 versions of the Cornhuskers may have been the best team of all time and certainly the greatest of Tom Osborne’s teams.

Brook Berringer Quarterbacked the 1994 team with Tommie Frazier taking over in 1995. Berringer was good, but Frazier may have been one of college football’s best all time players. He was certainly one of the best option Quarterbacks in the history of the game.

Running Back Lawrence Phillips ran for 1,722 yards and 16 Touchdowns in 1994. Ahman Green ran for 1,086 yards in 1995 with the ever controversial Phillips only running for 547 yards.

Of course, they had the always big and powerful Fullbacks like the Mackovicka brothers Joel an Jeff, and Cory Schlesinger, plus Brian Schuster.

Aaron Taylor, Aaron Graham and Chris Dishman led the Offensive Line

This version of the awesome Husker team had a defense. The Line was really stout with Christian and Jason Peter a pair of brothers from New Jersey were scary good.

Grant Wistrom was an outstanding Defensive End.

Linebackers Jay Foreman, Doug Colman and Terrell Farley were excellent. Their Defensive backfield was talented and deep.

The 1994 Huskers finished 13-0 and the 1995 version finished 12-0.

No game better demonstrated the quality of these teams better than the national championship game against Florida in the January 2nd, 1996 Fiesta Bowl. The Cornhuskers completely dismantled the Florida Gators 62-24. If possible, the game was not even as close as that. The Nebraska Cornhuskers just completely dominated the game from start to finish.

The Huskers took 1996 off, but then, they bounced back in 1997 and went 13-0 and shared a title with the Michigan Wolverines.

Nebraska was probably much better than Michigan and they crushed Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl, 42-17.

I can’t honestly tell anyone who the best teams of all time are because it’s impossible to prove. But, for my money, the 1995 and 1971 teams were as good as it gets. The 1983 team was right there, too, and just lost the title game on a fluke mishap.

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