Colorado was a reasonable pick when it came to Lincoln in 1994, Tom Osborne’s first national championship season. Or so I thought.
Yes, the Huskers were 8-0 and ranked third in the Associated Press media poll – second in the coaches’ poll. But Colorado also was undefeated and ranked second by the AP. Plus, the Buffaloes ranked second nationally in rushing and fourth in total offense and scoring offense. They were averaging just over 40 points a game, a fraction of a point less than Nebraska.
Prior to the game, Colorado Coach Bill McCartney said something to the effect that Brook Berringer, who had stepped in when Tommie Frazier was sidelined by blood clots, wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. McCartney didn’t understand Berringer’s character.
If I can interject myself here, I wrote a column for the Lincoln Journal and Star predicting a Colorado victory, not because of what McCartney had said about Berringer but because I thought he might have the better team, with his version of the “Triplets,” the nickname Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer had given Nebraska’s Turner Gill, Irving Fryar and Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier in 1983.
The Buffs’ “Triplets” were quarterback Kordell Stewart, wide receiver Michael Westbrook and running back Rashan Salaam, the Heisman Trophy winner in 1994.
Though I predicted Colorado would win, I wrote, suspending my objectivity – this was a column, remember, so opinion – “my preference is a Nebraska victory.”
Which was the result.
A Homecoming crowd of 76,131, Memorial Stadium’s 200th consecutive sellout, watched Berringer handle the pressure and direct a 24-7 victory.
Nebraska scored on its first possession, fullback Cory Schlesinger carrying 14 yards to the end zone, and the Huskers would increase the lead to 24-0 with 10:42 remaining in the third quarter before Salaam ran 6 yards for a touchdown with 1:06 left in the quarter.
Salaam finished with 22 carries for 134 yards, and Westbrook caught six passes for 80 yards. But the rest of the Buffaloes managed only 100 yards against the Blackshirts.
Colorado did not convert on a third (0-11) or fourth (0-4) down.
Berringer completed 12-of-17 passes, with one interception, for 142 yards and the last touchdown, a 30-yarder to tight end Eric Alford. Nine of his completions were to Alford and Mark Gilman, also a tight end. Lawrence Phillips carried 24 times for 103 yards, Schlesinger finished with 65 on eight carries.
Nebraska leads the all-time series against Colorado 49-18-2. The Huskers won 18 in a row from 1968 to 1985, before being upset at Boulder in 1986, 20-10.
The series began in 1898 and the schools became conference rivals in 1948, in the Big Seven, and continued until Nebraska left the Big 12 following the 2010 season. The Buffs were Nebraska’s final regular-season opponent in the Big 12. The Huskers won 45-17 in Lincoln.
Colorado became the season-ending opponent with the formation of the Big 12 in 1996.
The series was marked by troubles in Boulder, vehicles with Nebraska license plates damaged, snowballs, and worse, thrown from the stands and in 2005 two sections of students cleared by officials in the second quarter – after a confrontation of the teams initiated by the Buffs beforehand.
Zac Taylor directed a 30-3 Husker victory that day.
Colorado almost hired Osborne away in 1978 to replace a fired Bill Mallory. McCartney arrived in Boulder in 1982 and immediately declared Nebraska the Buffs’ rival, a declaration the Huskers were slow to accept. In 1961, a Colorado team that included end Charlie McBride defeated the Huskers in Lincoln 7-0, without allowing a first down.
As mentioned in this week’s Tom’s Time, Nebraska scored 48 points in the third quarter of the 1983 game. And on the down side, in 2001, No. 14 Colorado hammered the No. 2 Huskers in Boulder 62-36. Colorado’s Chris Brown, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore back-up tailback, scored six touchdowns that day, as many rushing touchdowns as the Blackshirts had allowed all season.
The loss signaled the end to Nebraska’s consistent national relevance.
There are many more memorable Nebraska-Colorado moments – Alex Henery’s school-record 57-yard field goal, on fourth-and-25, with 1:50 remaining in 2008, Bo Pelini’s first season, for instance – but I chose the ’94 game here for personal reasons, the Colorado prediction.
In the New York Daily News the next day, a story about the game written by Filip Bondy began: “You would not want to be Mike Babcock today.” I have a clipping as evidence.
If letters to the editor were any indication, Husker fans were not amused.
Oh yes, and at least one Husker in the locker room afterward was clearly upset with my pick.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.