Nebraska to honor 1997 title team that punctuated dominating run

Nebraska to honor 1997 title team that punctuated dominating run

This weekend, Nebraska will honor its 1997 team that won the national championship.

It was a great squad led by stalwarts like Grant Wistrom, Aaron Taylor, Jason Peter, Ahman Green, Scott Frost, Mike Brown and Ralph Brown, who all still cast a big shadow in Lincoln. Even cooler: The crew punctuated the season with a win over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl in what was Peyton Manning’s final game. It also was the final game for legendary Tom Osborne, as the triumph allowed Nebraska to claim the coaches’ poll national title; Michigan won the AP championship.

The title was Nebraska’s third in a four-year period. Heck, with a few breaks, the Cornhuskers may also have won it all in 1993 and 1996, too. But Nebraska missed a potential game-winning field goal vs. Florida State in the Orange Bowl that cost it the 1993 crown. And a 10-1 NU squad got stunned by 7-4 Texas in the inaugural Big 12 title game in 1996.

That’s how close Nebraska came to winning five national championships in a row. Think about that.

It was a dominating run that few have been able to match in the last 20 years. But two schools have come close: USC and Alabama. And, it can be argued, Alabama’s current run of excellence is on par or perhaps even more impressive than what Nebraska did in the mid-1990s.

– USC: The Trojans under Peter Carroll were an NFL team masquerading as a college unit in the early-2000s. USC won titles in 2003 and 2004. And it could have made it three in a row but the Trojans got stunned by Texas in the epic 2005 BCS title game.

– Alabama: The Crimson Tide machine is still smoking. Bama won four titles in seven years, taking home the hardware in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Alabama could have made it five championships in eight years but it lost to Clemson in the title game last season. Don’t look now, but the Tide may win it all this season.

College football has changed a lot since that 1997 season. Scholarship limits have played a big role in leveling the playing field. And for the Huskers, the formation of the Big 12 in 1996 gave it increased competition with the likes of Texas and Texas A&M.

Nebraska got close to winning it all in 2001, when a Frank Solich-led team lost the BCS title game to a monster Miami (Fla.) squad. Since then, the Huskers have done a slow slide from the elite level. That makes clinging to memories of 1997 that much more special for Husker fans.

The end of the 1997 season was unique. Michigan entered the bowl season No. 1 in both the AP and coaches polls. Nebraska was No. 2. So, it stood to reason that if the Wolverines beat Ryan Leaf’s No. 7 Washington State team in the Rose Bowl, they would be the national champ. And, Michigan prevailed, 21-16, behind Brian Griese.

But after the Huskers dispatched No. 3 Tennessee, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl, Nebraska lobbied and argued that it deserved to be national champs. There also was a sentimental aspect around the Cornhuskers, as prior to the bowl, Osborne announced he was retiring.

That confluence of events led Nebraska to being vaulted to No. 1 in the coaches poll and getting a share of the national title. The 13-0 Cornhuskers received 32 first-place votes in the coaches poll to 30 for the 12-0 Wolverines. Entering the bowls, Michigan had 53.5 first-place votes to Nebraska’s 8.5 in the coaches poll.

Was it right for Nebraska to leap Michigan? Wrong? Doesn’t matter. The Huskers were a champ … again. And it was a fitting way for Osborne and the program to end one of the most dominating runs in college football history.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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