Throughout the years, there have been many teams that have staked the claim as the greatest college gridiron unit of all time from Knute Rockne’s 1924 “Four Horsemen” through the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Given the impossibility of comparing teams from different era with different rules and different styles of play, it’s an argument with no definite answer.
But with that bit of political correctness out of the way, the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers have the strongest claim to the greatest dominance and the greatest accomplishments against the strongest competition. Just look at the record.
Let’s take the “competition” part first. In 1971, Colorado lost just two games to Oklahoma and Nebraska. Oklahoma lost but one game, the “Game of the Century” to the Cornhuskers. And the Alabama Crimson Tide sported a perfect 11-0 record in the regular season – until they ran into Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
In the AP’s final rankings top four teams were Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado and Alabama. The Cornhuskers beat those last three teams by a combined score of 104-44. Think about that for a minute and marvel. It was like an exclusive private club with only four members, but only one of those members had the key to the safe.
It wasn’t as if they let down against other good teams, either. Eight-win Utah State fell to the Lincoln juggernaut by 42-6. Eight-win Iowa State fell 37-0. And seven-win Hawaii picked up its broken hula hoops following a 45-3 shellacking right in their own stadium. But all this was just a prelude to the finale.
The Orange Bowl against unbeaten Alabama was supposed to be yet another “Game of the Century” and it was the first time since 1955 that two teams with perfect records had met on New Year’s Day. But the Cornhuskers quickly erased any Alabama hopes by parlaying a 77-yard punt return by future Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers and two interceptions into a 28-0 halftime lead, and coasted to an easy 38-6 win. Alabama coach Bear Bryant said it all in five short words: “They just toyed with us.”
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