Now that Nebraska has been approved as a future member of the Big 10 and will play a Big 10 schedule in 2011, it's time to renew a debate that has been been going on since 1994.
1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers or the 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions
First off, it's difficult for anyone to say how dominant, or just how good the 1994 Cornhuskers could have been. Yes, they were down right good, but it's plain scary what this team may have done if not for unfortunate fate intervening.
With the two-headed monster of Tommie Frazier at quarterback and Lawrence Phillips at running back, the 1994 Cornhusker's just might have had the most dominant quarterback/running back duo to ever run a ground based "Power I" offense (with some option football mixed in) to ever play the college game.
But that thing called unfortunate fate intervened and this dynamic and dangerous backfield duo only played four full games with each other in 1994, (only 5 in 1995) because of Frazier missing eight games due to his blood clot issues. With Frazier out and on the mend, Nebraska turned to back up QB Brook Berringer, RIP, and ran more out of straight power sets.
Now, there are some that will say that injuries are part of the game, and they are, and that teams must over-come that. Well, they did just that by going 13-0. This is more an example of potential that was never completely fulfilled, of never getting the chance to truly see just how great the 1994 Cornhusker's may have been.
With Frazier on the sidelines and defenses not having to worry about stopping Frazier and Phillips at the same time, the big plays out of the option were far less than with Frazier. Defenses could take Phillips away and make Brook run the option. Berringer turned out to be adept at running the option but he was not the game breaker, the game changer, the make you miss and go for a touchdown talent that Frazier was.
For opposing defensive coordinators when Nebraska did run option with Frazier and Phillips in the game, it's hard to imagine a more difficult assignment. Are they going to take Frazier away and then Lawrence Phillips runs around the corner for big gains or do they take Lawrence away and Tommie chews up the defense?
Tough chore that not even the best defensive coordinators want to have to design a defense to stop them.
Say what you will about Lawrence Phillips' off the field behavior, but it doesn't take away from his phenomenal athletic talent. In this Cornhusker fan's mind, and there are many others that also agree, Lawrence was the best running back to ever play at Nebraska.
Lawrence was a big, fast, physical runner with unbelievable moves and quickness for a man of his size. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was once asked who the toughest player he ever played against was in college or pro. I will clean it up, but Lewis said, "Lawrence Phillips is the toughest guy I ever saw in college or the NFL."
And he could catch the ball out of the backfield too.
All this talent makes the failure that is Phillips life that much harder to digest.
Why bring up the unfulfilled potential? Well, Penn State fans were upset that Penn State fell in the polls in 1994 after seeing Penn State win the previous week. Well, this happened first to Nebraska after the second week of the season. Nebraska had just beat Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX and they fell from #1 to #2 after winning by 26.
Then in week 7, Nebraska beats the #17 Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan by 11 points, while playing a third string quarterback, who was subbing for the injured Brook Berringer.
Kansas State knew the offense would consist of little more than Matt Turman taking the snap and turning around and giving the ball to Lawrence Phillips and Nebraska still got out of town with the victory.
Some how the voters saw reason to demote a team playing a top 20 team on the road and winning comfortably with a third string quarterback.
The point is, that if not for Frazier missing these games, these games that were close are likely not close and Nebraska likely goes wire to wire number 1.
Lets not forget that the 1994 Nebraska team was a great team, not just Frazier, Phillips and friends. Up front Frazier and Phillips had what was very likely the best offensive line ever produced at Nebraska blocking for them. There were many great offensive lines at Nebraska but the 1994 unit goes down as easily the best of the "pipeline" Nebraska offensive lines.
It was the pinnacle of offensive line play at Nebraska lead by two All-Americans in guard Brendan Stai and tackle Zac Weigert.
Penn State fans love to talk offense when referencing 1994, almost as if the game has changed somehow and that not so very good, pretty average Penn State defense never has to come on the field with the 1994 Nebraska offense on the other side of the line of scrimmage. No question the Nittany Lions were very good on offense in 1994 but that team had a serious Achilles heel; the defense.
That 70th ranked defense of 94' Penn State has to come on the field at some point. Frankly, that Lion's defense wouldn't be ready for what awaits them. Behind that nasty physical offensive line, Frazier , Phillips and Co. would run circles around, run over, and through that defense. It's hard to tackle guys like Frazier and Phillips anyway, let alone after getting trucked and dominated by a great offensive line.
Behind that offensive line, running interference for Frazier and Phillips, Nebraska has a 10-12 year NFL starter at fullback in Cory Schlesinger. The Penn State defense just isn't likely to hold up to the physical pounding that they will get from the Nebraska offensive line. After getting manhandled by that offensive line, that defense has to try to tackle exceptionally talented athletes like Frazier and Phillips. Good luck. Penn State gets absolutely dominated on defense by the Nebraska offense, especially in the second half.
Any football fan knows what happens when the 70th rated 1994 Penn State defense is getting gashed by the Frazier and Phillips running game. Penn State is forced to start playing safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, and sooner or later, Nebraska runs play action off a straight run play or option. With that, there goes a Nebraska tight end or wingback down the seam behind the safeties and Frazier hits them with a long pass! More than once likely.
Since the 1994 Penn State defense can't get Frazier and Co off the field, that Penn State offense is standing on the sidelines watching! Long drive after long drive with many big chunk runs probably mixed in with some long touchdown runs of the 40+ yard variety!
So, this begs a question...
Of Nebraska's opponents in 1994, which had the best defense?
Without question, the Miami Hurricanes with Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis.
This Hurricanes defense was the #1 total defense and #1 scoring defense and they gave up 24 points to the Cornhuskers in a game that saw Frazier play less than a half of the entire game. If this Hurricane defense had faced a truly healthy, game ready Frazier, with Phillips for a full game this game isn't nearly as close as it was.
It wouldn't be at all out of the realm of possiblities to see Frazier and Phillips put 35 or more points in the #1 ranked Hurricane defense if the Hurricanes had to defend Frazier and Phillips for 60 minutes.
The Penn State defense of 1994 was nothing close to the 1994 Hurricanes defense.
I haven't even mentioned the Nebraska defense of 1994!
Penn State fans like to bring up the names of Collins, Carter, Brady, Engram, and Hartings.
As if the 1994 Cornhuskers never saw an offense with a bunch of future NFL players.
Enter the 1994 Colorado Buffaloes.
Well, the 1994 Colorado Buffaloes came to Lincoln with an offense filled with future NFL talent. QB K. Stewart, RB and 94' Heisman winner R. Salaam, TE C. Fauria, WR's Westbrook and Carruth, G. H. Irwin and other future NFL lineman.
How did this group of talented Buffalos fair against the Nebraska defense?
The Nebraska offense and really the offensive line just wears out the Nittany Lions on defense, especially in the second half. Frazier and Phillips bust off numerous big chunk runs and dominate the Nittany Lions.
The Nebraska offense dominates time of possession leaving the Lions offense standing and watching.
And when the Penn State offense does get on the field, they would have been facing what is by far the best defense they would have played against in 1994.
As much as Penn State fans hate it, the 1994 Cornhuskers were the best team in 1994.
1994 Nebraska 35+ 1994 Penn State 17-21