Nebraska Early Enrollee Preview: Defensive Back Jaiden Francois
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

A Strong Start, Then a Long Wait: The Huskers’ History with College GameDay

September 27, 2019

When ESPN’s College GameDay program concluded, Kirk Herbstreit told the crowd of nearly 14,000 he hoped it wouldn’t be another six years before he and his colleagues returned.

The date was Sept. 15, 2007. The game that followed was USC at Nebraska. GameDay had last visited Lincoln in 2001—twice, for games against Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

The Huskers were still consistently in the national conversation at that time. Ironically, perhaps, the Oklahoma game, a 20-10 victory by No. 3 Nebraska against the No. 2 Sooners could be seen as something of a last hurrah in that consistent national relevance.

The Huskers have not had a victory of that magnitude since. Nor have they been ranked as high as they were following the victory—No. 2 for four weeks and then No. 4 for one.  They have been in the top 10 in the national rankings a relative handful of times since 2001, for that matter.

GameDay originated in 1987 and was set in Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN, where it remained until 1993, when it moved to college campuses. It visited Nebraska twice during Tom Osborne’s first national championship season, 1994, for the UCLA and Colorado games. It returned in 1998 for the Washington game. The Huskers were 5-0 on GameDay visits until 2007.

To that point, the record turnout for GameDay reportedly had been 15,808 for the 2001 Notre Dame-Nebraska show. Notre Dame was ranked No. 17, the Huskers No. 5.

USC came to Lincoln in 2007 ranked No. 1, the primary appeal for GameDay, no doubt. Nebraska was ranked No. 14, moving up from No. 20 following victories against Nevada and at Wake Forest.

USC opened with a 38-0 victory against Idaho and then had a week off.

The season was Bill Callahan’s fourth at Nebraska. And it would be his last.

But there was Husker enthusiasm on that cool September morning, when fans watched Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard discuss the day’s action.

Interest in the game was such that more than 600 media credentials had been issued, though nearly 200 of those were to ABC/ESPN. Still the number was about 50 more than had been requested for the first home game against Nevada. Besides the media outlets that regularly covered USC, the Washington Post and New York Times were in town, as were Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.

Will Ferrell and Keanu Reeves were among the celebrities on-hand.

A USC practice on Friday before the Trojans’ walk-through at Memorial Stadium, conducted at Omaha Westside High School, attracted so much interest that Coach Pete Carroll moved it to Westside’s baseball field, which had an artificial surface, in hopes of more privacy.

As is the case this Saturday, the evening kickoff—officially 7:13 p.m.—allowed more recruits to get to Lincoln. Nebraska played host to two dozen official and unofficial visitors that day.

USC scored first, but the Huskers responded with the first of two Cody Glenn touchdowns and an Alex Henery field goal for a 10-7 lead with 9:04 remaining in the first half.

A crowd of 84,959, consecutive sellout No. 284, was energized.

But a curious occurrence on the kickoff following Henery’s field goal proved to be an omen of what was to come. Trojan returner Vincent Joseph, who suffered a bruised larynx on the play, was hit by Rickey Thenarse and fumbled. USC teammate Malcolm Smith ended up with the ball and carried it 31 yards to the Nebraska 45. Five running plays later, the Trojans had regained the lead.

They would score touchdowns on their next four possessions as well, three of them in the third quarter, while holding Nebraska scoreless to take a 42-10 lead.

The first two touchdowns of the second half were set up by interceptions of Sam Keller passes. The first was returned to the Nebraska 33-yard line, the second to the Nebraska 1.

Keller had transferred to Nebraska from Arizona State and then redshirted—2007 was his only season of eligibility remaining. He finished 36-of-54 for 389 yards and two touchdowns, both to Todd Peterson in the final 4:32 of the game. Take away the interceptions, and well . . . 

The final score was: USC 49, Nebraska 31.

It hadn’t been that close.

Near the end of GameDay, Corso made his game prediction, holding up a corncob, much to the delight of the fans, then spiking it like a football and pulling on Trojan gear, waving a sword.

That was in 2007. Finally, GameDay is back.

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