October 1st and 2nd, 2011. Wisconsin was at the center of the sports universe. The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers were hosting the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The Milwaukee Brewers took the NL Central for the first time ever, and were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. And most relevantly, College GameDay was coming to Madison for the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ first game in the Big 10. The back-to-back Big XII North champion brought a massive chip on their shoulder, which Russel Wilson and Montee Ball promptly knocked off, 48-17.
If you’ve only known the Huskers as a Big 10 conference foe, you might wonder why there was so much excitement for a team that’s sporting an all-time conference record of 40-37. Nebraska has won one division title, same as Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern - except none of those teams got fly swept out of Indy.
Here’s the weird secret about Nebraska Cornhusker football: it used to be really good.
They have national championships, plural, in my lifetime. So what happened? Let’s chart it out, five decades at once. The top chart looks at total wins and losses, and if those games were by more than 21 points. (Three touchdowns feels like a “crowd meandering to the exit with time left” cutoff.) The bottom chart shows the total margin of victory and defeats, split out. But before we look Nebraska’s way, let’s get our bearings.
Not only can you see the marked improvement in 1990 continue to 2000, but the 2010’s have been a stellar time to be a Wisconsin fan. Winning often and winning big doing it - more blowouts in 2010 than total wins in the 70’s or 80’s.
Now, let’s pick on someone else to see what “ugh” looks like in this chart.
Wonderful. What do you have in a...let’s say, always good program turned into juggernaut?
That one blip of “blowout loss” on the Tide from this decade is when they tried to run a fake field goal where the holder was the lead blocker, since I know you were curious. Now, our featured presentation.
From 1970-1999, Nebraska was a force as consistent as gravity. But then, Tom Osborne took over as full-time athletic director in 1998, handing the dynasty over to Frank Solich.
In 2003, Solich was fired after a 58-19 record. They haven’t had a single season winning percentage over .750 since then. Scott Frost is the fourth attempt at making it happen. While the Cornhuskers could certainly run the table and achieve that mark this season, if their native son wants to hit a .750 coaching mark for the Huskers he’d have to stretch that winning record out to 39 straight games.
Anyway, if you were wondering why Nebraska wanted to play football in 2020 so badly, it’s because they can’t play it in 1995 anymore.