Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tom’s Time: Poll Positioning Was a Wild Ride in 1994

November 25, 2021

It probably wasn’t logical. But that was the nature of the ratings.

Maybe it still is to some degree.

Anyway, remember, the week after Nebraska’s 17-6 victory at No. 16 Kansas State in mid-October of 1994, Penn State and Colorado jumped ahead of the Huskers in the AP poll.

Nebraska dropped from No. 2 to No. 3. Penn State moved from No. 3 to No. 1 with a victory against No. 5 Michigan, and Colorado moved to No. 2 with a victory against No. 22 Oklahoma. Auburn opened up the top spot for Penn State by upsetting No. 1 Florida. The Tigers went from No. 6 to No. 4.

The top four teams remained the same the next two weeks.

Confused by the poll shuffling? Here’s more.

Despite a 63-14 victory against No. 21 Ohio State, Penn State fell behind the Huskers in the AP poll following the Colorado game. The Nittany Lions remained No. 1 in the USA Today/CNN coaches’ poll, however. Nebraska earned 33 first-place votes and 1,520 points in the AP poll. Penn State drew 28 first-place votes and 1,514 points. Auburn received the other first-place vote and was No. 3.

Penn State received 32 first-place votes, Nebraska 30 in the coaches’ poll. The difference in their point totals was also two. Miami was third in the coaches’ poll; Auburn was on probation and ineligible to be ranked or play in a bowl. Colorado dropped to seventh in both polls.

The Huskers had positioned themselves to play for a national championship, with talk already that their opponent in the Orange Bowl would be Miami. There couldn’t be a Nebraska-Penn State match-up in the Orange Bowl because the Nittany Lions had joined the Big Ten in 1990.

If the Nittany Lions remained undefeated, they would play in the Rose Bowl.

Auburn couldn’t play in a bowl, but even if it were undefeated, it would represent the Southeastern Conference in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers lost their final game against Alabama after tying Georgia the week before. So the probation would be no factor in the national-title discussion anyway.

Tom Osborne wasn’t involved in that discussion following the Colorado victory, though he did acknowledge a team would like to be “in a position where you can play for the whole thing at the end, or at least have a chance to,” and the Huskers had put themselves in such a position.

The focus, however, had to be Kansas, which had pushed No. 6 Nebraska to the brink the previous season, losing 21-20 when a 2-point conversion pass with 52 seconds left was incomplete.

The 1993 game was something of an aberration in the Kansas series, though, at least since 1968, the last time the Jayhawks won. The Huskers’ 25-game winning streak included eight shutouts, 14 times in which Nebraska scored 50 or more points, three 60 or more and 70-0 in 1986.

Coach Glen Mason’s 1994 team would come to Memorial Stadium with a 5-3 record

Immediately after the Colorado game, there was talk ESPN would televise the Kansas game. But that would have required moving the kickoff from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Given the weather forecast for the weekend, Athletic Director Bill Byrne said Nebraska would prefer not to.

What, turn down TV money? How times have changed.

So ESPN would televise Alabama-LSU instead. Alabama was No. 8. LSU was unranked.

Osborne’s sense of humor came out during his weekly teleconference when a caller pointed out that a couple of weeks earlier he had said of college football’s two major polls, there was more credibility in the USA Today/CNN coaches’ poll than in the AP media poll.

That had changed, he said. He couldn’t believe “how much smarter” sports writers had gotten and “how badly demented the coaches are at the present time. I don’t know how it all switched around that way. I’m like (Lee) Corso. I can take any position, any time. And not even be ashamed of it.”

Maybe the former coach, an ESPN analyst, wasn’t a paragon of consistency.

He thought Penn State should be No. 1.

Next: An offensive surprise, of sorts, for Kansas  

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