During his weekly news conference before the 1995 opener at Oklahoma State, Tom Osborne said something un-Osborne-like for much of his 17 seasons as Nebraska’s head coach: “Somebody has to win the national championship. It might as well be us.”
His attitude had been the Huskers needed to control what they could control, winning the Big Eight. Winning a national championship was out of their control. It depended on voting.
After Nebraska won the 1994 national championship, however, his attitude seemed to change. Not that his never-look-past-an-opponent approach changed. Just his belief in what was possible, a belief he had realized his players needed to share.
That might have been part of the reason he agreed to move the Oklahoma State game from Oct. 7 to August 31, a Thursday night to accommodate ESPN, which would televise the game nationally. An obvious reason was revenue. Plus, Osborne said, it would be a game before what would’ve been the opener against Michigan State in East Lansing on Sept. 9.
That would be the Spartans’ opener, under a new head coach—Nick Saban.
New coach, new system.
“A lot of times, a team will improve the most between the first and second games,” Osborne said.
Oklahoma State also had a new head coach, Bob Simmons. But he had been an assistant at Colorado, so there wasn’t likely to be many surprises. Besides, Nebraska had dominated the series with the Cowboys, winning 22 in row and not losing since 1961. A 34-game unbeaten streak included one tie, 17-17, in Osborne’s first season as head coach.
Even so, the Huskers were taking nothing for granted.
Nebraska, opening against a conference opponent for the first time since 1948, took 66 players to Stillwater, six more than Big Eight rules allowed for conference road games. The Big Eight allowed six more in this case because of a hot-weather forecast.
Temperature at kickoff would be 99 degrees.
All 66 Huskers would play, and not just because of the heat. After a 6-0 first quarter, Nebraska scored 30 in the second quarter and led by 29 at halftime.
Barely 2 minutes into the second half, Tommie Frazier passed to Reggie Baul for 76 yards and a touchdown and less than 3 minutes later, a 5-yard, Frazier-to-Jon Vedral touchdown pass made the score 50-7. As a result, “we got a lot of experience to a lot of young players,” said Osborne.
Those young players included three true freshmen: I-back Ahman Green, rush end Chad Kelsay and kicker Kris Brown, who, ironically, missed his first extra-point kick. Brown would finish his career with NCAA records for extra points attempted and made, as well as three other Husker kicking records.
Lawrence Phillips scored the first-quarter touchdown from 3 yards out in the 64-21 victory, adding touchdown runs of 80 and 27 yards in the second quarter. Three plays into the second half he was done for the day, his numbers, 153 yards and the three touchdowns on 12 carries.
Frazier gave way to Brook Berringer, with Matt Turman finishing up, after completing 6-of-10 passes for 120 yards and the two touchdowns and rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Green carried six times for 52 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. TV viewers missed the touchdown because ESPN cut, briefly, to a baseball game in which New York Yankee Paul O’Neill came to bat, trying for a fourth home run. He did not succeed.
I-back Jay Sims scored the final touchdown. Nebraska finished with 671 yards, 513 by rushing.
Linebacker Jon Hesse led the Blackshirts with nine tackles. Linebacker Terrell Farley, the only junior college transfer in Nebraska’s 1995 recruiting class, had one of three Husker interceptions, returning it 29 yards for the first touchdown in the second quarter.
The Huskers finished with 12 tackles for losses of 46 yards and four sacks.
Oklahoma State managed 282 yards of offense. The Cowboys would finish the season 4-8, including 2-5 in the conference.
Afterward, Osborne said he hoped the Huskers “came across well” on the telecast, adding: “That’s a terrible thing to say, but you’ve got to look good on television these days to have a chance.”
Meaning a chance at a national championship.
There was a time when Osborne wouldn’t have said such a thing.
Next up: On to East Lansing, and a regionally televised game.
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.