Way Back Machine Goes Way Back to 1994

I'm not sure why, but Corn Nation was reflecting on 1997. If you recall, Nebraska and Michigan split the national championship that year. I'll let CN give you the history lesson.

Michigan had moved to the number one spot on a weekend in which they thrashed number two-ranked Penn State 34-8 (BSD editors note: grrrrrr) while Nebraska had won in overtime 45-38 over Missouri. (The Missouri game featured Matt Davison's flying touchdown catch on the final play of regulation after a Scott Frost pass was deflected up into the air by a fellow Husker receiver  - certainly a case of divine intervention yet I never see the argument that the title was a gift from God.)

As season's end approached Nebraska beat Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 Title game and in the last game of Osborne's career destroyed number three-ranked Tennessee, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan ended their season hanging on to beat a Washington State squad in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. Washington State got the ball back at their own seven yard line with 29 seconds left. They drove to the nine yard line with two seconds left when officials ruled that time had run off the clock, thus ending the game. Had Michigan beaten the Cougars more soundly things might have been different.

Sounds great, right? Both teams went undefeated and were given a share of the National Championship. So what's CN's beef? He's not happy with how the media portrayed Nebraska's half of the title as a "gift" for Osborne who had announced his retirement in December of that year.

The two teams were very close in terms of their schedules and their records. Homerism aside - both deserved the title and since they couldn't settle it on the field a split was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it was portrayed by the sports media that the coaches awarded Osborne a 'gift' of a title since it was his final season.

As you would expect, MGoBlog takes a few exceptions with CN's version of history in regard to the Rose Bowl, but generally he agrees that both teams deserved a share of the National Championship. Nothing special, until Brian said this that caught my eye:

What I would like to see from Nebraska fans is an admission that Penn State deserved a share of the '94 title, which they did.

Indeed. Thirteen years later I have yet to hear a single Nebraska fan admit Penn State deserved a share of the National Championship in 1994. And now they complain about how the media portrays the 1997 split title? Pardon me, but cry me a river! I think a history lesson of our own is in order. Let's get back into the Way Back machine and go back to 1994.

The Penn State offense that year was one of the best offenses in the history of college football. They scored over thirty points in every game and scored over 45 points in seven of their games. In most contests Penn State took a four or five touchdown lead into halftime and the starters sat the entire second half. The major argument against the Nittany Lions that year was their lack of elite competition and poor defense. The Penn State offense was so good they often drove the length of the field in four or five plays. It wasn't uncommon for the defense to spend three quarters of the game on the field as a result of the offense scoring so fast. Most opponents scored most of their points in the second half after the game was already put away.

Penn State rolled over all of their competition that year. The problem was they rolled over everyone in such convincing fashion that critics were convinced their competition wasn't as good as originally thought. They destroyed #14 USC by a score of 38-14 in week two. After a thrilling 31-24 victory over #5 Michigan in the Big House, they returned home and destroyed #21 Ohio State by a score of 63-14 on Homecoming. With an easy schedule to follow, it appeared there was nothing in the way of stopping #1 Penn State from going undefeated and playing in the Rose Bowl.

The week after the Ohio State game, Penn State once again rolled over their opponent. Penn State was up by three touchdowns over Indiana in the fourth quater. Joe Paterno, who is notorious for not running up the score, pulled his starters in a show of class. Indiana scored two late touchdowns to make the final score of 35-29 look much closer than the game actually was. The uninformed poll voters, and there are uninformed voters out there, woke up the next day and saw the 35-29 boxscore thinking Penn State struggled over an inferior opponent. They dropped Penn State in the polls behind Nebraska, who had beaten #2 Colarado the week before.

The similarity between Penn State in 1994 and Nebraska in 1997 is uncanny. Both teams dropped in the polls after a close score to an inferior opponent. Both teams gave up the top spot to a team that had soundly beat the #2 team in the country. The difference is that Penn State beat their weaker opponent soundly before giving up a few late scores to make it closer than it actually was. Nebraska should have lost to Missouri and needed a freak play you'll never seen in a hundred years to win.

Nebraska fans have a sour taste in their mouth over 1997 because Tom Osborne was gifted a National Championship before riding off into the sunset to begin a career in politics. I'm not so sure Osborne was "gifted" a share of the title in 1997. I think both Nebraska and Michigan deserved a share of the championship that year. But Osborne was gifted the title in 1994. NBC and the media were absolutely pulling for Osborne to win his first national championship in the lead up to the bowl games.

That show in Miami made you wonder that if Richard Nixon were still alive, NBC might have brought him to the bowels of the Orange Bowl to present the Cornhuskers with some sort of national championship plaque, again angering an otherwise loyal Republican named Paterno. Remember, Nixon anointed Texas the No. 1 team in the nation after Texas defeated Arkansas in December 1969. That came after Paterno and Penn State had just completed its second consecutive undefeated, uncrowned season.

On New Year's night, here was Bob Costas and the rest of the NBC crew, talking about the power of being No. 1 entering the bowl season, acting as if the national championship had been decided. Hmmm. Wonder how NBC would have reacted if it (and not ABC) had been carrying the Rose Bowl the next afternoon? It's a good guess that the NBC promotional announcement would have sounded something like: "Tune back in for Act II of this national championship drama tomorrow!"

To be honest with you, I don't care that Nebraska got a trophy and rings that year. But it's a crime how Penn State got shafted. The coaches and writers weren't savy enough to split the title until it was too late. Fortunately by 1997 they wised up enough to give each team a trophy, and Michigan has Penn State to thank for it.
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