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Posted: 1/7/2006 6:47:11 AM EDT
By M. Edward Guest Sports Central Columnist

Who was the greatest college football team of all-time? I have been asked this many times and given the matter a fair amount of thought, and recognized that, depending on your criteria, numerous teams can fit the bill.

I don't think the choice is nearly as important as the argument surrounding it. That having been said, I now offer my argument for the 1993-1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers, as the greatest college football team this nation has ever produced.

60-3. It has a nice ring to it, does it not? Sixty wins, mostly dominating, especially at Lincoln, and just three losses. Consider that entering Sun Devil Stadium in 1996, the Huskers had won an astonishing 37 of their past 38, and were coming off back-to-back national championships. In fact, the lowest AP poll finish for Nebraska during this magical run? Sixth, in 1996. In order, they finished 3, 1, 1, 6, and 2 in the AP poll -- going undefeated four times in the regular season, capping it off with a bowl triumph three times.

In a five-year period, the Huskers averaged 42.7 points an outing, less impressive than the obscene numbers of the 1982-1983 Tom Osborne teams (84 in the Minneapolis one year), but Dr. Tom often called off the dogs early, so as not to embarrass (horribly) some of the nation's elite. As if that wasn't enough, the Blackshirts allowed just over two touchdowns a game -- including dominating performances in all five bowl games.

Florida '95 was a superb team and they got only 24; they'd win the championship with 52 in the next year's Sugar Bowl. The 1993 Florida State Seminoles had the nation's highest-scoring offense, led by Heisman Trophy-winning QB Charlie Ward, managed a measly 18, escaping with a two-point victory.

My greatest team of all-time lost precisely one conference game, and amassed an incredible 23-1 record on the road -- notwithstanding the debacle in Tempe (19-0 loss to Pac-10 champion Arizona State), to a team that came within minutes of running the table. This was the most intimidating college football team in recent memory -- they ran over you, whether you were adequately prepared or not. Postcards from the era...

Over 200 yards rushing in a single quarter at the Orange Bowl (vs. '97 Tennessee), punctuating a 42-17 blowout over the SEC champion Volunteers and a 13-0 season.

A 24-7 smashing of previously unbeaten (and eventual No. 3 in the polls) Colorado in Lincoln, without the services of legendary QB Tommie Frazier -- the pinnacle of the unbeaten 1994 campaign.

Twice scoring 27 points in a single quarter, in '95 and '97, and yes, in both cases the Big Red had 63 at halftime.

It was not all wine and roses, to be sure. A missed field-goal against FSU prevented the '93 team from winning the national championship; a desert ambush (shutout?) by ASU, and the clutch running of Priest Holmes (TX RB during the '96 Big 12 Championship) ... and that's it.

One starting quarterback missed time with blood clots, another tragically perished in an accident. Lawrence Phillips had a chance to be one of the greatest collegiate running backs of all-time, but Ahman Green (among others) certainly picked up the slack.

Sure, they never played the unbeaten, untied, Big 10 champions from 1994 -- the very team that won in Ann Arbor and decimated Ohio State. And speaking of Michigan, the Huskers did not play them in 1997 either, and indeed, needed a miraculous "kick save" to thwart upset-minded Missouri in Columbia. Yeah, their legacy is a bit tarnished by a two-loss season, but remember, if they would have prevailed over Texas, they likely would have been in New Orleans -- playing for an unprecedented third-straight championship.

This is a team that won 95% of its games in a five-year span, something that not even Bobby Bowden's Seminoles or those great Miami teams could accomplish. There is an argument for the 1986-1992 'Canes (72-6, three AP championships, never lower than third), but the winning percentage still is not sufficient. Five years is continuous and is not constrained to a single class, e.g. 1968-1970 Ohio State Buckeyes; 1944-1946 U.S.M.A. Cadets, etc. Florida State finished in the Top-Five (AP) for an astounding 14 (1987-2000) consecutive seasons. Nice, but they don't top these Huskers.

Of course, this was a Nebraska unit that was in the midst of 40-consecutive winning seasons, a 47-game home winning streak, and an .864 decade winning-percentage. Sure, Nebraska was great before (1970, 1971, 1982, 1983) and after (1999), but those teams, for myriad reasons, just don't match up with this era. I now turn to the crown jewel; the '39 Yankees of our time -- the '95 Huskers.

It is because of the '95 juggernaut that the Huskers lay claim to the top spot. In 1993 and 1996, they were terrific, and in 1994 and 1997, they were unquestionably one of the two best teams in the nation. Then there is 1995. Tommie Frazier's senior season, a 33-3 QB by the way, commenced in shocking fashion. No, the Huskers had no problems in either Stillwater or East Lansing -- the shock was that no reputable publication picked Nebraska as No. 1.

This is from a team that had finally beaten Miami in a crucial bowl game, finally won Coach Osborne a championship, and had their field general ready to go. This, I must admit, was the first time I realized that I might have something on the FSU-lovin' "experts." In fact, it took an FSU loss in Charlottesville to cement the Huskers as No. 1. Ah, but we still had the Mighty Gators. A former No. 1 team in 1994, Steve Spurrier's crew was in the process of capturing three-straight SEC championships, and after besting FSU in Gainesville -- many thought they could handle Nebraska. Oops.

Nevertheless, Florida (not to mention Kansas and Kansas State) was a genuinely great team -- and very few people remember that. That might have something to do with a 62-24 (wasn't that close) pistol-whipping in the Fiesta Bowl. Yes, Phillips had returned from his "suspension," but the star of the night was Frazier -- 199 rushing yards, including one of the most memorable runs in college football history.

1995 was just 1993-1997 to a higher degree. Average game? 52-14! Just shy of 400 rushing yards per game, and yes, it could have been higher. An NCAA record seven rushing yards per attempt, despite not having the three-headed monster available for the entire season. Excepting the game against Pacific (569 rushing yards), their opponents had a .626 winning percentage {1993-1997 -- counting the six major conferences opponents and Notre Dame -- it was a cumulative .601}.

The '95 Huskers also had a "clutch" rating of .145 (for comparison the modern-era record is .175 by the '71 Huskers), which takes into account winning road and neutral-site games, with points increasing with the winning-percentage of the opponent -- and a special bonus for beating an otherwise undefeated team. A .425 over a five-year span is a modern-era record, besting even the 1986-1990 Hurricanes.

1993-1997 Nebraska never failed to appear in a conference championship game, and won four conference titles -- three of them in the old Big Eight. They vanquished Oklahoma five times, including a 69-7 demolishing (1997) at Memorial Stadium, a massacre well-remembered by Oklahoma's seniors in 2000 (when they won the national title, dropping Nebraska in Norman along the way). Three times, they defeated a team that otherwise did not lose, last coming with a 56-26 defeat of Kansas State in Lincoln (1997), a team that went on to win the Fiesta Bowl.

Calvin Jones, Trev Alberts, Jared Tomich, Aaron Taylor, Zach Wiegert, Grant Wistrom, Tommie Frazier, Ahman Green, Michael Booker, and even Darin Erstad are some of the famous names of the period. I have omitted a plethora of all-conference players and even more starters; all of them can say that they contributed to the greatest team in college football history.

60-3. End of story.

Article courtesy of Sports Central.
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