There are giants towering over college football this season—great teams that seem to be unstoppable. And then there are the teams hoping to be giant killers.
Nebraska is one of those teams looking to become a giant killer this season.
College football used to be ruled by the few—the elite, storied programs with names big enough to attract America’s brightest talent. That was then.
When a team fell from the heights of the elite, it could never seem to regain its composure and win its way back to the top. From 1980-1985, Southern Methodist University had the winningest program in Division-1 football. When the team was given the “death penalty” (termination of a sports program for a set amount of time) in 1987 by the NCAA for paying players and other recruiting violations, it never returned to its former greatness following its return to football in 1989. That was then.
When a Top Five-ranked team played an unranked team, the Top Five team won. That was then.
This is now.
Before 1982, collegiate sports programs could have as many scholarship athletes as their schools could afford. The NCAA began to scale back the number of allowed scholarship athletes to prevent the football elites from hoarding all the most talented players. By 1994, the number was set at 85.
This allowed talent that would normally be spending four years on the bench at a major school to trickle down to starting positions at minor schools, spreading the talent around. The effect this change would have on college football took more than a decade to show, but it’s finally surfaced in “the upset.”
The upset has become a staple of college football the last few years. Ranked teams are beaten by unranked teams. What used to be unthinkable is now reality.
In 2007, five of the top-10 ranked teams in the pre-season rankings lost to unranked opponents. Texas, 4, lost to Kansas State. Michigan, 5, to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division-II) Appalachian State, then to Oregon. Florida, 6, to Auburn. Oklahoma, 8, to Colorado. Louisville, 10, to Kentucky, then to Syracuse.
The vulnerability of top teams had been exploited like never before and other unranked teams with “Goliaths” on their schedules had a new hope—teams like East Carolina.
After two weeks of play in 2008, formerly unranked East Carolina has already beaten then-ranked 17 Virginia Tech and 8 West Virginia. The Pirates are now ranked 15th.
This begs the question in the hearts of every underdog football team: Could we be next to bring down a giant? Husker fans, ask yourself: Could Nebraska be next?
In 2001, Nebraska took its last trip to the national championship and lost to Miami (Fla.). Since then, the program has slowly declined, having losing seasons two of the last four years.
With hope spurred on by other teams’ success and the installment of a fresh coaching staff, Nebraska looks to topple upper-echelon teams on its schedule this year. Nebraska plays formerly-ranked Virginia Tech and No. 5 Missouri at home and travels to No. 11 Texas Tech, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 19 Kansas. But is there a possibility for Nebraska to upset these teams?
The 85-scholarship rule has allowed Nebraska to field talented players year after year, statistically comparable to other giant killers. At least on paper, the possibility is there.