The Nebraska Cornhuskers won back to back national championships in 1970,and 1971 under head coach Bob Devany.
Husker National Champions '70,'71
1970 First National Championship for Nebraska
Early in the 1970 season, Jerry Murtaugh predicted Nebraska would win the national championship. Murtaugh was a senior linebacker and co-captain who, in just three seasons, set the Cornhusker career record for tackles. A quarter of a century later, Murtaugh's mark still stands.
It was obvious that Murtaugh was capable of backing up whatever he said, which, in the case of the 1970 season was not without some justification. Nebraska had been 9-2 the previous season, winning its final seven games, including a decisive 45-6 victory against Georgia in the Sun Bowl.
After the Sun Bowl game, Georgia coach Vince Dooley said the Cornhuskers hadn't belonged in El Paso, Texas; they deserved better competition than his team could provide.
Still, 1970 was a new season. And though Nebraska had several starters returning on offense, Murtaugh was one of only three defensive starters returning. Dave Walline and Jim Anderson were the others.
Besides, winning a national championship wasn't something over which a team had complete control. It would depend not only on being successful, but also on the votes of writers and broadcasters in the Associated Press poll of selected coaches in the United Press International poll.
Two games into the season, Murtaugh's brash prediction became a longshot, at best. After opening with a 36-12 victory against Wake Forest, the ninth-ranked Cornhuskers played Southern California to a 21-21 tie at the LA Coliseum. The Trojans tied the score with 8:16 remaining, after a failed 12-yard field goal attempt, resulting from a poor center snap, kept Nebraska from putting the game away.
"We should have won the game," Johnny Rodgers said years later. Rodgers was a sophomore in 1970, his first varsity season.
A tie at USC was certainly no disgrace. Coach John McKay's team was ranked No. 3. Nebraska even moved up in the next weeks Associated Press poll. But No. 8 was still a long way from No. 1.
And the Cornhuskers' record had a blemish, however slight.
Nebraska returned to Memorial Stadium to defeat Army 28-0 the next week, to begin what would be a 23-game winning streak and include not one but two national championships.
The Cornhuskers rolled through the Big Eight, moving up to No. 3 in the AP rankings after a 51-13 victory against No. 20 Kansas State in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Nebraska intercepted Wildcat quarterback Lynn Dickey a school-record seven times, and Cornhusker I-back Joe Orduna rushed for 105 yards and four touchdowns against what had been the conference's best defense.
Orduna, a senior who sat out the 1969 season as a medical redshirt, led Nebraska in rushing in 1970.
A week later, the Cornhuskers won the Big Eight championship outright by defeating Oklahoma 28-21 at Memorial Stadium. Though unranked, the young Sooners could have earned a share of the conference title with a victory. Nebraska had to come from behind twice during the game. Junior quarterback Jerry Tagge scored the winning touchdown, capping a 53-yard drive, with 7:42 remaining.
Nebraska finished 10-0-1, its first undefeated regular season since 1965, and ranked No. 3 in both wire service polls, behind two unbeaten and untied teams: No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Ohio State. The UPI didn't conduct a poll after bowl games, so Texas was its national champion for 1970.
The Cornhuskers were matched against No. 5 LSU in the Orange Bowl game on New Year's night. Texas played Notre Dame, which had been No. 1 until a late-season loss to USC, in a rematch of the previous year's Cotton Bowl. And Ohio State drew Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska's hopes of earning the AP version of the national championship were slim. Both Texas and Ohio State would have to lose, and the Cornhuskers would have to win. But it happened.
Notre Dame upset Texas 24-11, and Stanford staged a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Ohio State 27-17. Nebraska learned of the latter result during the Orange BowlÃs pre-game warmups.
The Cornhuskers appeared ready to seize their opportunity, jumping ahead of LSU 10-0 in the first 13 minutes of the Orange Bowl. But the Tigers controlled the ball during the second and third quarters, scoring on a 31-yard pass on the final play of the third quarter to take a 12-10 lead.
Nebraska responded by driving 67 yards for the winning touchdown, scored by Tagge from 1 yard away with 8:50 remaining. Junior linebacker Bob Terrio, a junior college transfer who had arrived at Nebraska as a fullback, preserved the victory by intercepting a Bert Jones pass with 45 seconds left.
Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian argued that his team should be the AP national champion because it had defeated top-ranked Texas. But Nebraska was a decisive No. 1 in the final AP poll. "I was afraid Ara's comments might influence the voters, but I guess the writers are too smart to take some coach's word," Cornhusker Coach Bob Devaney said. "The writers knew who was best."
Nebraska also received a national championship endorsement from President Richard Nixon, who proclaimed the Cornhuskers No. 1, to the delight of 8,000 at the NU Coliseum, on Jan. 14, 1971. Co-captains Murtaugh and fullback Dan Schneiss joined Devaney alongside Nixon.
It was just as Murtaugh had predicted.
It was a great season for Nebraska,but suprisingly the following one would be even better.
1971 Back to Back for Devany
1971 National Champions
Nebraska's 1971 season came down to a single game, at Owen Field in Norman, Okla., on Thanksgiving Day. At least, that's how it is most often remembered. The No. 1-ranked Cornhuskers played No. 2-ranked Oklahoma in what still is regularly regarded as college football's "Game of the Century."
The teams were undefeated and untied, and they included 17 of 22 first-team All-Big Eight players. Nebraska had the nation's top-ranked defense. Oklahoma had its most productive offense.
The cover of the issue (November 22, 1971) of Sports Illustrated published the week of the game included photographs of Nebraska linebacker Bob Terrio and Oklahoma running back Greg Pruitt, nose-to-nose, beneath the headline: "Irresistable Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska."
The game was equal to its build-up. Johnny Rodgers opened the scoring less than four minutes into the first quarter with a 72-yard punt return, and Rich Sanger finished it by kicking an extra point with 1:38 remaining, following a dramatic, 74-yard drive capped by Jeff Kinney's 2-yard run.
Rodgers' punt return is among the most memorable moments of the game. But he also made a key play to keep the winning touchdown drive alive, improvising on a pass route to get open on third-and-8, then making a diving catch of a Jerry Tagge pass for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Cornhusker middle guard Rich Glover, who made 22 tackles that afternoon, put the finishing touch on Nebraska's 35-31 victory, deflecting a fourth-down, Jack Mildren pass with barely a minute left.
Except for the Oklahoma game, Nebraska was never seriously challenged in its quest to repeat as national champion. The Cornhuskers overwhelmed 12 other opponents, including Alabama in the Orange Bowl game to earn themselves a place among the best teams in college football history.
Coach Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide went to Miami undefeated, untied and ranked No. 2. It left a 38-6 loser, providing proper payback for Nebraska's 39-28 and 34-7 bowl losses to Alabama following the 1965 and 1966 seasons. The first of those losses, in the 1966 Orange Bowl game, cost Coach Bob Devaney's Cornhuskers a perfect season and, most likely, a national championship.
Although Nebraska averaged what was then a school-record 437.7 yards on offense, including a Big Eight-leading 179.3 yards passing, and ranked third nationally in scoring, averaging 39.1 per game, it was defense that set apart the Cornhuskers - as the Sports Illustrated headline pointed out.
Nebraska ranked second in the nation in rushing defense (85.9), third in scoring defense (8.2) and fifth in total defense (202.9). The Cornhusker Blackshirts included seven first-team All-Big Eight selections, four players who would earn consensus All-America recognition during their careers and two Outland Trophy winners: Glover and tackle Larry Jacobson. Glover would win both the Outland and Lombardi Award in 1972. They were joined in the starting lineup by junior end Willie Harper, like Glover a two-time All-American. John Dutton, an All-American in 1973, was a sophomore back-up.
Besides Glover, Jacobson and Harper, the other first-team all-conference defenders were Terrio, Jim Anderson, Bill Kosch and Joe Blahak. Anderson, Kosch and Blahak played in the secondary.
Anderson and Tagge, one of five Cornhuskers on the All-Big Eight first-team offense, were the captains. Both were from West High School in Green Bay, Wis., as was starting monster back Dave Mason, a junior who had sat out the 1970 season as a medical redshirt.
The other first-team offensive players were Rodgers, Kinney, Carl Johnson and Dick Rupert.
The Cornhusker defense was opportunistic as well as immovable, contributing to a school-record plus-26 turnovers. Nebraska recovered 20 opponents' fumbles and intercepted 27 passes.
Nebraska was No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason rankings but moved to No. 1 after opening with a 34-7 victory against Oregon at Memorial Stadium. Bobby Moore, now known as Ahmad Rashad, scored the Ducks' lone touchdown with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Only three opponents scored more than one touchdown against the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma State and Kansas State each managed two touchdowns, and Oklahoma, of course, scored four. The only time all season that Nebraska even trailed during a game was against the Sooners.
The Cornhuskers opened conference play with back-to-back shutouts against Missouri (36-0) and Kansas (55-0), during a stretch in which they posted 12 consecutive scoreless quarters.
In addition to everything else, the Cornhuskers almost always had good field position because of the punt and kickoff returns of Rodgers, a key to their success, according to Tom Osborne, an assistant who designed and coordinated the offense. "As great as that team was, take Johnny Rodgers out of there on kickoff and punt returns, and it probably wouldn't have gone 13-0," Osborne has said.
Nebraska extended its winning streak to 23 games and its unbeaten streak to 32 games in 1971. Repeating as national champions "wasn't automatic," Rodgers has said. But going into the season, "we were pretty doggone confident."
Go to the 1994,1995,1997 Championships.
The Game Of The Century
Conference Champion for every year for every conference the Huskers have been in.