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In 1994, the 10th-best Nebraska team of the Tom Osborne era finally won him a ring

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The 1983 team famously lost to Miami via missed two-point conversion. The 1980 team barely lost to awesome Florida State and Oklahoma teams. The 1996 team missed out on a title chance because of a Big 12 title game upset. The 1982 team lost in controversial fashion to Penn State. The 1987 team lost the Battle of the Century of the Year to Oklahoma. The 1981 team barely lost to Iowa and Penn State. The 1993 team missed a last-second field goal for the national title.

All of these teams were, according to Est. S&P+, better than the 1994 team that finally won a national title for Osborne in Lincoln.

The 1994 Nebraska team is why my eyes roll back into my head anytime the words "can't win the big one" come up. First of all, it's an asshole of a phrase -- it can mean whatever you want it to mean, and you can endlessly move the goalposts so that the data set is only what you say it is and no more. (Plus, there's the matter of how winning big games create more big games that you might lose, allowing you to disqualify all the ones that came before.) And beyond that, it ignores consistency. The best way to break through and win the national title is to keep putting really good teams on the field and hope the breaks go your way at some point. For Bob Stoops and Oklahoma, the good breaks came immediately, followed by bad breaks. For Osborne, Bobby Bowden, Mack Brown, and others, the good breaks came a little bit later. Or, in Osborne's and Bowden's cases, a lot later.

Regardless, this was pretty good delayed revenge for 1982, I would say. Penn State got a series of shaky calls on its game-winning drive against the Huskers in '82 (it was really bad), but then NU completely screwed a superior Nittany Lions team out of a title by beating Miami in the Orange Bowl while the Nittany Lions were stuck playing Oregon in the Rose. The universe balanced itself out ... eventually.

Yes, Penn State was superior, and because of one specific side of the ball. This wasn't the best defense of the Paterno era (not mentioning the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator not mentioning the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator not mentioning the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator not mentioning the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator not mentioning the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator), but the offense was an outright wrecking machine. It was by far the best of 1994 and, with a 99.93 percentile grade, one of the best of all-time. Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Bobby Engram, Freddie Scott, Mike Archie, and an awesome line? Goodness.

And if you combined a Big Ten Special team with Penn State's offense and Illinois' defense, it would have won every game by 40 points.

S&P+ Rk Team Record* Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Penn State 12-0 24.0 99.03% 46.1 1 22.1 38
2 Florida 10-2-1 21.6 98.26% 40.3 2 18.7 21
3 Florida State 10-1-1 21.0 97.97% 36.7 4 15.7 10
4 Nebraska 13-0 21.0 97.96% 34.4 5 13.4 6
5 Miami-FL 10-2 18.2 96.20% 29.6 25 11.4 2
6 Colorado 11-1 17.9 95.94% 37.1 3 19.2 23
7 Michigan 8-4 17.2 95.34% 33.5 7 16.3 11
8 Illinois 7-5 14.9 92.67% 26.8 43 11.9 4
9 Utah 10-2 13.6 90.81% 32.7 9 19.1 22
10 Alabama 12-1 13.4 90.40% 25.0 51 11.6 3
11 Ohio State 9-4 13.2 90.16% 27.6 37 14.4 8
12 Auburn 9-1-1 13.0 89.73% 32.5 10 19.5 26
13 USC 8-3-1 12.7 89.16% 31.3 13 18.6 20
14 Tennessee 8-4 12.0 87.96% 29.8 22 17.8 16
15 Texas A&M 10-0-1 11.7 87.34% 27.0 41 15.3 9
16 Kansas State 9-3 11.3 86.47% 25.6 48 14.3 7
17 Wisconsin 7-4-1 10.5 84.80% 30.1 20 19.5 25
18 Notre Dame 6-5-1 10.3 84.28% 31.1 14 20.8 31
19 Boston College 7-4-1 10.3 84.24% 23.4 61 13.1 5
20 Oregon 9-4 9.6 82.66% 26.7 44 17.0 14
21 Washington State 8-4 9.6 82.42% 18.3 89 8.8 1
22 Colorado State 10-2 9.1 81.29% 32.5 11 23.4 45
23 Virginia 9-3 9.0 80.91% 28.3 32 19.4 24
24 Washington 7-4 7.7 77.46% 27.9 35 20.1 29
25 Virginia Tech 8-4 7.7 77.42% 27.8 36 20.1 28
S&P+ Rk Team Record* Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Michigan State 5-6 7.5 76.78% 28.6 29 21.1 34
27 Texas Tech 6-6 7.2 75.74% 26.8 42 19.7 27
28 Texas 8-4 6.2 72.69% 30.5 17 24.3 51
29 Arizona 8-4 6.0 71.99% 22.4 65 16.5 12
30 Bowling Green 9-2 5.4 70.21% 28.4 31 23.0 44
31 BYU 10-3 5.2 69.32% 29.0 26 23.8 49
32 Purdue 4-5-2 5.0 68.71% 33.6 6 28.6 81
33 East Carolina 7-5 4.6 67.15% 26.0 46 21.5 35
34 Duke 8-4 4.4 66.50% 29.8 23 25.4 58
35 Mississippi State 8-4 3.9 64.86% 28.4 30 24.5 52
36 Iowa 5-5-1 3.8 64.61% 30.7 16 26.8 71
37 Oklahoma 6-6 3.8 64.50% 22.4 66 18.6 19
38 Georgia 6-4-1 3.7 64.14% 30.7 15 27.0 72
39 NC State 9-3 3.3 62.65% 25.7 47 22.4 39
40 LSU 4-7 3.3 62.61% 26.2 45 22.9 43
41 Air Force 8-4 2.9 61.19% 28.8 27 25.9 64
42 Southern Miss 6-5 2.8 60.61% 24.6 55 21.8 36
43 South Carolina 7-5 2.5 59.70% 25.3 49 22.7 41
44 North Carolina 8-4 2.5 59.44% 28.0 33 25.5 60
45 Indiana 6-5 1.9 57.47% 27.3 40 25.4 57
46 Baylor 7-5 1.8 56.78% 27.5 38 25.8 62
47 Arkansas 4-7 1.7 56.60% 20.1 81 18.4 17
48 Ole Miss 4-7 1.6 56.37% 20.2 79 18.6 18
49 Nevada 9-2 1.6 56.27% 32.3 12 30.7 90
50 Minnesota 3-8 0.8 53.28% 27.9 34 27.1 74
S&P+ Rk Team Record* Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 West Virginia 7-6 0.7 52.89% 22.7 64 22.0 37
52 Kansas 6-5 0.5 51.98% 24.5 57 23.9 50
53 Central Michigan 9-3 0.2 50.97% 30.0 21 29.7 85
54 Syracuse 7-4 0.0 50.09% 23.4 62 23.4 46
55 Oregon State 4-7 -0.1 49.42% 20.9 76 21.0 32
56 New Mexico 5-7 -0.3 48.86% 32.7 8 33.0 100
57 Wyoming 6-6 -0.4 48.29% 27.3 39 27.8 77
58 TCU 7-5 -0.6 47.66% 24.8 53 25.4 59
59 Rutgers 5-5-1 -1.3 44.95% 22.1 67 23.5 47
60 UCLA 5-6 -1.3 44.93% 23.6 59 24.9 54
61 San Diego State 4-7 -1.6 43.64% 29.8 24 31.4 94
62 Fresno State 5-7-1 -1.7 43.44% 30.1 19 31.8 96
63 Clemson 5-6 -1.8 42.86% 14.9 97 16.8 13
64 Stanford 3-7-1 -1.9 42.65% 30.3 18 32.2 98
65 Northwestern 3-7-1 -2.1 42.02% 24.5 56 26.5 67
66 Pittsburgh 3-8 -3.0 38.51% 23.6 58 26.6 68
67 California 4-7 -3.1 38.24% 19.3 83 22.4 40
68 Arizona State 3-8 -3.2 37.81% 25.2 50 28.4 80
69 UNLV 7-5 -3.7 35.77% 23.5 60 27.2 76
70 Vanderbilt 5-6 -3.7 35.75% 19.9 82 23.7 48
71 Western Michigan 7-4 -4.5 33.16% 18.4 88 22.8 42
72 Toledo 6-4-1 -4.5 32.95% 28.6 28 33.2 101
73 Oklahoma State 3-7-1 -4.7 32.43% 15.9 96 20.6 30
74 Louisville 6-5 -4.9 31.73% 20.6 77 25.5 61
75 Hawaii 3-8-1 -5.0 31.35% 20.2 80 25.2 55
S&P+ Rk Team Record* Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Maryland 4-7 -5.0 31.22% 24.6 54 29.6 84
77 Eastern Michigan 5-6 -5.0 31.13% 21.7 71 26.7 69
78 Rice 5-6 -5.1 30.93% 16.0 95 21.1 33
79 Memphis 6-5 -5.4 30.08% 11.8 104 17.2 15
80 Miami-OH 5-5-1 -5.6 29.12% 20.9 75 26.5 66
81 Ball State 5-5-1 -6.3 26.93% 22.9 63 29.2 83
82 UL-Lafayette 6-5 -6.6 26.09% 18.0 90 24.5 53
83 Missouri 3-8-1 -7.2 24.09% 18.6 87 25.8 63
84 UL-Monroe 3-8 -8.1 21.58% 21.7 70 29.8 86
85 Northern Illinois 4-7 -8.9 19.40% 22.0 68 30.9 93
86 Pacific 6-5 -9.1 18.76% 21.1 74 30.2 88
87 Utah State 3-8 -9.9 16.68% 17.1 92 27.0 73
88 Iowa State 0-10-1 -10.3 15.74% 20.5 78 30.8 92
89 Georgia Tech 1-10 -10.3 15.73% 16.5 94 26.8 70
90 Temple 2-9 -10.3 15.65% 24.9 52 35.3 104
91 UTEP 3-7-1 -10.5 15.32% 21.5 72 32.0 97
92 SMU 1-9-1 -11.0 14.25% 19.1 84 30.0 87
93 Cincinnati 2-8-1 -11.4 13.35% 14.7 98 26.0 65
94 Tulsa 3-8 -12.3 11.56% 18.0 91 30.2 89
95 Kentucky 1-10 -12.4 11.24% 19.0 85 31.4 95
96 San Jose State 3-8 -14.8 7.43% 18.8 86 33.7 102
97 Army 4-7 -15.0 7.14% 13.3 101 28.3 79
98 Kent 2-9 -15.2 6.89% 11.9 103 27.1 75
99 Navy 3-8 -15.8 6.18% 21.2 73 37.0 106
100 New Mexico State 3-8 -16.3 5.55% 21.8 69 38.1 107
S&P+ Rk Team Record* Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Wake Forest 3-8 -16.5 5.40% 16.5 93 32.9 99
102 Tulane 1-10 -16.7 5.15% 14.0 100 30.7 91
103 Louisiana Tech 3-8 -19.0 3.18% 9.0 106 28.0 78
104 Ohio 0-11 -19.8 2.69% 5.5 107 25.3 56
105 Arkansas State 1-10 -19.9 2.63% 9.2 105 29.1 82
106 Houston 1-10 -20.6 2.21% 13.2 102 33.8 103
107 Akron 1-10 -21.6 1.74% 14.2 99 35.9 105

Another fascinating hypothetical Playoff

So who would have gotten into a hypothetical 1994 College Football Playoff? The top two names are obvious, but here's how the polls took shape heading into bowl season...

AP Poll (pre-bowls)
1. Nebraska (12-0)
2. Penn State (11-0)
3. Miami (10-1)
4. Colorado (10-1)
5. Florida (10-1-1)

And here's how Est. S&P+ saw the world without the bowls.

Est. S&P+ (pre-bowls)
1. Penn State (11-0)
2. Florida (10-1-1)
3. Nebraska (12-0)
4. Florida State (9-1-1)
5. Miami (10-1)

Florida was the SEC champion and had only lost to Auburn (No. 9 in Est. S&P+) by three points and tied Florida State. Florida State had lost at Miami and tied Florida and won the ACC. Colorado had lost to only Nebraska and was sixth in Est. S&P+. Miami had gotten roughed up by Washington (No. 26 in Est. S&P+) but beat Florida State and won the Big East. Four deserving teams, two spots.

The AP poll suggests Miami and Colorado get the third and fourth spots in the playoff; the numbers say give it to Florida and Florida State. My guess: Miami gets in, and Florida's conference title bump lifts the Gators past Colorado. So we get...

1 Nebraska vs. 4 Florida
2 Penn State vs. 3 Miami

Yes, please.

Other thoughts

  • This year was like 2015 in its "lots of have teams have either great offenses or defenses, but not both" tendencies. Nebraska and Florida State were the only teams to rank in the top 10 in both O and D. Meanwhile, you had Illinois (fourth on D, 43rd on O), Alabama (third on D, 51st on O), Kansas State (seventh on D, 48th on O), Boston College (fifth on D, 61st on O), and Washington State (first on D, 89th on O) on one hand, and you had Penn State (first on O, 38th on D), Colorado State (11th on O, 45th on D), Purdue (sixth on O, 81st on D), Georgia (15th on O, 72nd on D), and Iowa (16th on O, 71st on D) on the other.
  • That Illinois defense, with Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy, was positively ridiculous.
  • Hey there, Utah. After three years of winning six or seven games under Ron McBride, the Utes shot to 10-2 and finished 10th in the polls. They cruised by Oregon and Colorado State and beat BYU and Arizona late, but a two-week funk -- 23-21 at New Mexico, 40-33 at Air Force -- knocked them back a bit.
  • This was the year of the glorious five-way SWC conference title. Texas A&M (15th in Est. S&P+) was 6-0-1 in conference but was ineligible for the title, so it went to No. 27 Texas Tech, No. 28 Texas, No. 46 Baylor, No. 58 TCU, and No. 78 Rice, all 4-3 in conference. Tech got the honor of getting destroyed by No. 13 USC in the Cotton Bowl.
  • Meanwhile, sanctions had caught up to Houston. The brazen violations of the Bill Yeoman era kept the Cougars off of television when Andre Ware was breaking records, and after keeping the winning going for a while (28-6 from 1988-90), it was all over by 1994. The Cougs went 1-10, barely beating another awful team (SMU) for their only win.

Next up: 1993.