We wondered if this was an aberration. We found out the next week at Beaver Stadium when the Lions took a quick 21-0 lead over No. 13 USC, led 35-0 at the half and easily won 38-24. None of us had seen a Penn State offense like this before. Even the multiple offense of the school’s national championship teams in 1982 could not compare to this one. We now realized if the defense was anywhere near as good as the one in ’82 or the one on the 1986 championship team, this team was destined to be champions, too. We never gave a thought to the empathy for Nebraska’s Tom Osborne. The Nittany Lions moved up to No. 6 after the USC win (2 first place votes) while Nebraska slipped to No. 2 behind Florida after beating Texas Tech, 42-16, but increased its first place votes to 22. In the next three weeks, Penn State moved up slowly from No. 5 to No. 4 with drubbings of Iowa (61-21) and Rutgers (52-27) at Beaver Stadium and Temple (48-21) at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field.
Meanwhile, Nebraska remained at No. 2 with wins over UCLA (49-21), Pacific (70-21) and Wyoming (42-32). At this juncture Penn State still had 2 first place votes but Nebraska was down to 13. However, Colorado had now crept up to No. 5 with its stunning 27-26 upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor on a 65-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the last play of the game. That had taken the luster off what had been an expected Big Ten showdown game when Penn State traveled to Ann Arbor on October 15.
The game on a perfect late fall afternoon before a national TV audience was a classic, with Penn State spurting to a 16-0 second quarter lead, falling behind 17-16 in the third period and winning in the last two minutes, 31-24, on a 16-yard touchdown reception by Ingram and a subsequent defensive shutdown near midfield. When the polls were released October 17, Penn State had leaped to the top, thanks to Auburn’s 36-33 defeat of Florida, and Colorado was now No. 2 with Nebraska third. "Penn State: The New No. 1," blared the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Penn State had 1,487 points in the AP rankings compared to Colorado’s 1,474 and Nebraska’s 1,463, but Nebraska still had more first place votes with its highest number of the season, 25. The Lion had 19 first place votes and Colorado 15. The coaches’ voting was even closer between Penn State and its No. 2 team Nebraska: 1,504 points to 1,498 with the Lions trailing in first place votes 31 to 22. Of all the regular season Penn State games we have missed seeing in person since 1955 this was the most exasperating one. I was attending another broadcasting news convention and Carole and I watched the game in my suite at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Because the game started so early on the west coast, I missed much of the first half because of a convention conflict.
By the fourth quarter, the suite was jammed with Penn State fans, including more than a dozen Penn State journalism students attending the convention, and one of my Northwestern grad students who was a Michigan undergraduate. He was en route to a station in Northern California for his first job interview and was almost ready to jump out of my 15th story window during last minutes of the game. He did get that job, which led ESPN to hire him a short time later, and Rich Eisen is now famous as the lead man on the NFL network.
For more on the undefeated 1994 squad, as well as this year's team, order the magazine below!