Tommie Frazier or Johnny Rodgers? Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne?
Even for the best college football programs, certain eras are better than others. And even the most successful programs have their lean years.
In a semi-regular series, Athlon Sports will look at the best times to be a fan for college football’s major powers -- when the stadium was a little louder, when the tailgates were a little livelier, and when it was just a little more fun to hang out on campus.
For Nebraska, was it more fun to be in Lincoln when Tommie Frazier was king? Or when Johnny Rodgers won the school its first Heisman? What about when the storied program was in its infancy?
Of course, there’s a flip side. Forgettable and even painful seasons when fans found better things to do on Saturdays, or worse, nothing to do during bowl season.
Here's when it was fun to be a Nebraska fan and the times best forgotten.
BEST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN
National titles: 3
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Tommie Frazier, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom, Zach Wiegert, Trev Alberts, Brendan Stai, Ed Stewart, Jason Peter
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne’s long wait for a national title ended in ’94 with a 13-0 record and a 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl. That was only the start. With Tommie Frazier at quarterback, Nebraska’s offense was one of the best in college football history, and the ’95 team was one of the sport’s legendary teams. The 62-24 demolition of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl for a second national title in two years was par for the course -- Nebraska defeated opponents by 38.7 points per game that year. In the final season before the BCS, Nebraska split a national title with Michigan in 1997, going 13-0 and finishing first in the coaches’ poll. Frazier was gone by then, but Nebraska produced an Outland winner (Aaron Taylor) and Lombardi winner (Grant Wistrom) that season.
National titles: 2
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Johnny Rodgers, Rich Glover, Bob Newton, Larry Jacobson
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The era brought Nebraska’s first AP national champion in 1970 and the Cornhuskers’ first Heisman winner, Johnny Rodgers, in 1972. Nebraska went 24-0-1 in 1971 and ’72, earning back-to-back national titles. The 1971 squad may have been Devaney’s best team. That year, the biggest matchup became the Game of the Century against rival Oklahoma on Thanksgiving. Led by Rodgers, the Cornhuskers defeated the Sooners 35-31 in a wild matchup between the top two teams. Devaney avenged earlier bowl losses to Alabama and Bear Bryant to defeat the Tide 38-6 in the 1972 Orange Bowl to seal the title. Bryant called the ’71 Nebraska team one of the best he had faced with good reason -- Nebraska defeated teams that finished No. 2 (Oklahoma), No. 3 (Colorado) and No. 4 (Alabama).
National titles: 0
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Mike Rozier, Turner Gill, Irving Fryar, Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Roger Craig (right)
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne set the tone for the remainder of his tenure during the late ’70s and early ’80s when the Huskers won five Big Eight titles and three outright. Rozier won the Heisman in 1983, but the undefeated Huskers missed out on a national title with a 31-30 loss to national champion Miami in a classic Orange Bowl upset. This may have been the most heartbreaking time to be a Nebraska fan: Of the 14 losses during this span, 12 were by a touchdown or less.
National titles: 0
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Wayne Meylan, Bob Brown, Larry Kramer, Freeman White, Walt Barnes, LaVerne Allers
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The mid-'60s would be upstaged, but Nebraska entered new territory when Devaney was hired in 1962. The previous coach, Bill Jennings, went 15-34-1 in four seasons. In his first season, Devaney led Nebraska to its third bowl game in school history in 1962 and the following year led Nebraska to four consecutive Big Eight titles. Nebraska fans of this era were the first to get a taste of success.
WORST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: Think fans of the Bill Callahan (right) era had it bad? It’s tough to remember a time when Nebraska wasn’t relevant, but the Huskers cycled through eight different coaches before 1962, each experiencing various degrees of futility. During this time, Nebraska won two or fewer games six times. The rivalry with Oklahoma wasn’t even a blip on the radar at the time as Nebraska lost 16 in a row from 1943-58.
Coach: Bill Callahan
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: The previous four decades set the standards that Callahan failed to meet. He was supposed to bring Nebraska into the modern era on offense, but he ended up in the record books for the wrong reasons. Callahan’s first season (5-6) ended a streak of 35 seasons without a bowl and was Nebraska’s first losing season since 1961.
IT WASN'T AS BAD AS YOU THINK FROM...
Coach: Frank Solich
Why this wasn't so bad: Solich was Osborne’s preferred successor, but he struggled to live up to his former boss. Still, Solich led Nebraska to a 33-5 record from 1999-2001, producing a national title game appearance and a Heisman winner. Solich remains the last Nebraska coach to win a conference title (in 1999).
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